I'm pretty happy with a vague anonymity, but a few bookish personal details might be of use to someone.
I like encyclopedias and reference works, and feel sympathy for their inherent frailty and vanity. I own, (and use, it's not exactly collecting...), a set of Arthur Mee's 'Book of Knowledge' circa 1915, a partial set of Nelson's from around that same period, a 1930s Comptons, a 1972 Brittanica, and another early 1980s set Mortimer Adler style, a 1960s Collier's, a 1975 Funk & Wangal's, a set of Herbert Zim's 1960s 'Our Wonderful World', Thewles' daunting 'Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Physics', a 1980 McGraw Hill Encylopedia of Science & Technology, several one volume jobs, (a 1990 Random House, blaaa), and various assorted sets that attempt to comprehend some shifting arcish expanse. Various CD-ROMs from 1990 onward, Americana, Worldbook, Grolier, F&W(Encarta), though seldom used due to their troublesome interfaces. If I had the room, I'd own more old sets.
Much of the beauty of old encyclopedias is their present tense certitude over what now must seem dubious or mistaken. Their respective editorial biases and predilections; the more objective tend to become the most absurd. Some sometimes achieved an admirable humility, but most never attempted or felt any need. The world of the at present holds its chin high these books remind us. Volume 1 Introductions are usually good stuff.
A few good essays about encyclopedias:
Frank Moore Colby's "Trials of an Encyclopedist", which can be found in Clifton Fadiman's 1941 anthology "Reading I've Liked". Colby edited a minor encyclopedia and was a humorist on the side, and tells of how little he knew or could learn, of working with difficult little experts, of warring schools of history, and mainly how for even a well-meaning editor, encyclopedic truth is something of a horserace and crapshoot rolled into one.
Robert Darnton's "Philosophers Trim the Tree of Knowledge: the Epistomological Strategy of the Encyclopedie", from Darnton's 1984 collection "The Great Cat Massacre, and Other Episodes in French Cultural History". Darnton shows pictures of trees of knowledge, with different trunks, comparing Bacon's trunks (human learning, divine learning), with Diderot's (history and philosophy) with Chambers' (natural and artificial). Up in the branches the leaves are facts fluttering in the breeze, but at the bottom is a kind of farmer, trying to raise a big crop to feed his kith and kin. --AC 09:40, 22 June 2007 (UTC)