I just can’t trash old knowledge, not yet

Published 1:42 am Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Oh, they are so pretty with their leather-like bindings, gold lettering and crisp shiny pages. Oh but they are basically useless and so covered in a layer of ever-thickening dust.

I have been on a clearing/organizing tear lately. You know purging the unused stuff to make space. It feels good, but it is not always easy.

In my quest to remove and rearrange, I discovered things that raise questions and make me wonder if there isn’t a little bit of a hoarder in me. For example, why do I have issues of Southern Living from the late 1980s? And, not just a few — a bunch of them. The same goes for old issues of Writer’s Digest. Did not bother me at all to toss those, opened up an entire shelf in the cabinet I can use to store my Yoga Journals.

Other treasures are not so easy to release. Old Christmas, birthday, Mother’s Day cards, etc. did not land in the trash bin, at least not yet. I did, however, place them neatly into a plastic storage container, which is a big improvement over the haphazard tossed-in-the-cabinet-slammed-the-door way they lived before my reordering.

Then as I continued sorting, I arrived at a real dilemma, those pretty books with the gold lettering and crisp pages. If you are old enough you remember them and probably call them, as I do, the world books. Of course, their proper name is World Book Encyclopedia.

In their day, the days before Google, world books held the knowledge you needed for the papers you wrote in elementary school and even worked as references for high school term papers. I wonder how many hours I spent buried in one of those books copying information onto a piece of lined notebook paper.

Of course being a bit of a geek, I enjoyed spending time just browsing through encyclopedias. You could tour the world, learn about how parts of the human body worked and read about famous historical people.

My parents bought a set when we were kids and then I bought a set for my own children. (I also bought a set of Childcraft books that are gathering dust somewhere.) Not only do I have a complete set of encyclopedias from A-Z, I also have several yearbooks from the late 70s-early 80s. For those who don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, you bought a yearbook to update the knowledge added to encyclopedias during the preceding year. I even have one copy of World Book Encyclopedia Science Year.

An example of a science update in the 1980 book reads — “Optical fibers could make the Picturephone and Picturephone Meeting Service — telephones that let speakers see each other on TV screens — as common as the regular telephone in homes and offices.” (Sounds like they are describing Facetime). See why I probably don’t need these books anymore.

So back to my dilemma — what to do with this lovely set of books. I Googled, “how to use old encyclopedias” and got a ton of suggested creative uses for them. I could make a bookshelf, tear out pages and (that felt wrong) fold them to make decorations, attach books to make a stack that becomes a lamp and finally, cut out a hole in the middle so I can hide stuff.

I just cannot bring myself to tear, glue or cut open these books. Yes, they are obsolete. True, I could use the space on the shelf. Indeed, they are gathering dust.

Still, for now I think I’ll leave them where they are, a monument to how we once collected and shared knowledge with the masses. Maybe, I’ll even do a bit of browsing; you know take a stroll down memory lane from amphibians to zoology.

In the meantime, I will dust them off, and I feel sure there is a stack of Reader’s Digest magazines somewhere in my house that will fulfill my need to get on with my purging binge.



Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.