To the Editor:
I read your Nov. 8, 2006, article “Scholars Test Out New Yardsticks of School Poverty” with interest, living and working as I do in a small, rural district that sits on the poverty line, as measured by free or reduced-price lunches.
As a school library media specialist who has continued to argue in favor of encyclopedias, in both print and online formats, I was saddened to read the comment from Commissioner Mark S. Schneider of the National Center for Education Statistics that “nobody has encyclopedias anymore.” He said this while talking about alternative measures of family socioeconomic status.
In my professional opinion, encyclopedias still have a place in student learning. Indeed, print versions offer an invaluable tool that online encyclopedias cannot: an index. For many precollegiate students, actively perusing an index aids them in gaining vocabulary and a better understanding of how a broad topic can be narrowed or subdivided. Furthermore, encyclopedias offer readers an often much-needed context for a topic. Should students stop their research having used only an encyclopedia? No—but it can be a good place to begin.
Are print encyclopedias as common in middle-class homes as they once were? Probably not. That does not mean, however, that they (and their electronic offspring) don’t deserve respect and a place in student learning.
A version of this article appeared in the November 29, 2006 edition of Education Week as Encyclopedias Still Have Place in Student Learning