by Staci Shaw, Marina Rose, and Jeannie Standal

A student comes into the library to research the country of Turkey for a class assignment. They need to include information about the structure of the government, and head toward your set of World Book encyclopedias. If the “T” volume of your set is older than 2018 your student is going to write that Turkey has a parliamentary form of government that includes a prime minister and cabinet, a president, and a legislature called the Grand National Assembly. And they would be wrong.

Stack of world book encyclopediasUnless your print reference materials are less than two (or so) years old, we encourage you to open up some space by eliminating those out-of-date encyclopedias from your collection. We know, we know… you have so many reasons to keep those 2015 (or older) sets of expensive encyclopedias on the shelf: the teachers want you to have them in the library; the previous librarian wanted them in the library; you’ll get pushback if anyone sees them in the dumpster; the library spent a lot of money on them; you don’t feel like you have permission to weed them; and so on.

Keep this one fact in mind: The library is the place to go to find the most accurate, non-biased, comprehensive, up-to-date information on every age-appropriate topic.

Here is a challenge: Walk over and pull a random encyclopedia from the shelf, then flip through the pages. Are all the topics current? Is the information accurate for 2024?  

Free Digital Encyclopedias for Every Idahoan

The Idaho Commission for Libraries provides every resident in Idaho digital access to current, accurate, age-appropriate information through the LiLI (Libraries Linking Idaho) databases. At all residents can access online encyclopedias, newspapers, magazines, and other primary sources, such as Consumer Reports articles and Chilton Auto Repair guides, book advisory tools, textbooks, small business resources, a wealth of science, history, art, and other subject area databases, and so much more!

And to limit content to that which is specifically age-appropriate for children and teens, students can login to and find*:

Grades K – 4:

World Book Kids
Explora Primary

Grades 5 – 8:

World Book Student
Explora Middle School
Newspaper Source Plus from Ebsco
World Book Discover (high-interest, lower reading level)

Grades 9 – 12:

World Book Advanced
Explora Secondary School
Newspaper Source Plus from Ebsco
World Book Discover (high-interest, lower reading level)
History Reference Center from Ebsco

Individual age-appropriate subject area encyclopedias are also available, focusing on nutrition, science, history, technology, geography, sports, and more.

*Each age category also provides resources in Spanish.

And we haven’t even touched on other free digital resources, such as the Library of Congress, PBS LearningMedia, Digital Public Library of America, and more!

With student and adult access to all these no-cost up-to-date resources, why keep expensive and outdated resources on your shelves, taking up valuable real estate?

As ICfL staff have been out and about visiting public, school, academic, and special libraries in Idaho, we run across sets of World Book or other encyclopedias in among the unique programs, creative spaces, engaging displays, and well-utilized collections in the library. Often, library staff mention that the students don’t even use the encyclopedias, and that more helpful resources such as a 3-D printer, another computer, a Make-It station, books in other languages, or student displays could be added if space could be opened up.

For those of you who need some talking points to support your decision to weed your old reference materials, here is a summary:

  • Outdated reference materials often contain inaccurate information which can be misleading, and sometimes harmful, to the user. Articles in encyclopedias are often out of date before they even hit the library shelves.
  • Hardbound reference material can be expensive, especially when it needs to be replaced with current editions frequently.
  • It is difficult for one or two sets of encyclopedias to meet the reading level needs of a wide range of student abilities.
  • Current, accurate, age-appropriate reference material is provided to every Idaho student (and adult) through a variety of appealing visual and audio media, and meets the needs for individual reading levels and home languages.
  • This material can be accessed in the library, in the classroom, and at home, and several students can access information simultaneously.
  • While it is true that many students do not have digital access to this material at home because of a lack of internet or personal devices, it does NOT promote equity if the print materials you are giving them to use at home are outdated or inaccurate. Print reference materials like encyclopedias are not a good workaround since they generally cannot be taken from the library and so cannot be accessed anywhere else.
  • Students, parents, and other teachers should be introduced to modern methods of finding information, especially accurate and up-to-date information.

If your staff and/or teachers are still not convinced, ask them to repeat the challenge of choosing a volume at random and flip through the pages. Or ask them to use your set to find out about Turkey’s current system of government.

There are so many reasons why a student might receive a failing grade on their homework, and many of those have nothing to do with the school or public library; but you can ensure that information found in an outdated volume of that World Book will NOT be the reason. We encourage you to invest time introducing your learning community, including students, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, and community partners, to the myriad of online resources available to all Idahoans.

Meanwhile, check out these resources: