The World Book Encyclopedia in Braille

One of my memories from my time at the Royal School for the Blind (Wavertree in Liverpool), is of reading articles from the braille edition of The World Book Encyclopedia. It was in the school boardroomm and was wholly separate from the books which stood, shelf after shelf in the library.

I well remember being fascinated by articles on a variety of subjects, including one on ghosts.

At the time of my attendance at Wavertree School, there was no internet, consequently the only way in which those who, like me, where unable to read print could access the world of printed literature, was via cassette tape, talking books, having books read aloud by a physically present person and, of course braille. The internet came along much later.

To me being able to access an encyclopedia unaided was a truly wonderful thing and I spent many happy hours looking through the braille World Book.

I remember the encyclopedia being extremely bulky, however it was only on coming across this webpage yesterday that I was reminded of the bulk of that vast tome:

“Only one encyclopedia was ever produced in braille. It was the World Book Encyclopedia, transcribed and embossed by the American Printing House for the Blind in about 1962. The main encyclopedia comprised 144 thick volumes, and was placed at many schools for the blind and some other institutions. Each annual supplement was about 5 volumes long, and only one or two were done. The project required massive amounts of federal funds, and it taught us all how bulky braille could be.
(See https://lbphwiki.aadl.org/braille_encyclopedias_and_dictionaries).

Of course few (perhaps no) visually impaired individuals would have possessed the funds, or indeed the space, to enable them to own their own edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, and I suspect that it was wholly confined to schools for the blind and other such institutions. I did nonetheless dream of owning my own World Book Encyclopedia in braille.

Today of course its easy to access a multiplicity of free reference sources online, including The Oxford Dictionary. I do, however still feel a sense of nostalgia for the days of braille encyclopedias, indeed I still possess the Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought (all 16 volumes) in braille. Many of the entries are dated, but I am reluctant to consign it to the great reference scrap heap.

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