One of my female friends back in Paris was a prolific and eclectic writer. She had decided, a long time ago, to invest in a multi-volumed copy of the Encyclopædia Britannica, and I believe that this big expensive tool played a major positive role in her work as an author.
Today, thanks to Internet tools such as Google and Wikipedia, everybody has access to a far greater encyclopedia than the Britannica. Over the last day or so, I've been in a research situation that illustrates one of the ways in which the Internet is a far more powerful source of encyclopedic knowledge than any mere printed book could ever be.
In my articles entitled First word of a poem [display] and Rilke's hermit [display], I pointed out that I've been working on the creation of a movie script based upon Rilke's novel entitled The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. In the context of the author's fictional personages, there are references to a few dozen authentic historical individuals, some of whom are well known (for example, the French poetess Louise Labé, or the Spanish Carmelite nun Theresa of Avila), whereas others are no longer as well known today as they were back at the time when Rilke was writing his novel. I had trouble identifying two individuals, mentioned briefly by Rilke, named Anna Sophie Reventlow and Julie Reventlow. In a conventional encyclopedia, of the kind printed on paper, these individuals may not have marked their times sufficiently to earn a place in history, as it were. In the context of the Internet, using Google, individuals such as these two Reventlow ladies are often described in genealogical contexts... and that's exactly how I was able to obtain precious information about them, enabling me to understand why Rilke has brought these authentic individuals into the fictional world of his novel.
I was even able to find portraits of the two women. Furthermore, obtaining this information through the Internet enabled me to become acquainted, by email, with the man who produced the genealogical website, who is in fact a descendant of the family in question. And this was like using the Internet to unearth and enter into contact with real-life memories of Rilke's world... which is far more than what you can do with a paper encyclopedia.