Even before the Internet:
The sad truth is that most families who stretched their finances to the limit for the sake of a set of encyclopædias would have been better off spending half that money or less on books with beginnings, middles and ends that children might actually read. In many homes, by sheer weight and volume, encyclopædia sets often added up to more than all the other books in the house put together. While they were the most admired volumes on the shelf, they were also the least read.
Sure, every now and again someone would say: ‘Look it up in the encyclopædia,’ or you’d go searching for a fact that was eluding you. More often than not, however, you wouldn’t find it. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who didn’t even really understand the difference and relationship between the 17-volume macropædia and the 12-volume micropædia; or the two-volume index and the one-volume propædia. Trying to find anything in there made me feel like the baffled child who asks how to spell a word and is told to look it up in the dictionary; how can you find the word if you can’t spell it in the first place?