A general almanac is one of the most useful books a library can have. It is a record of facts in every subject area, both past and current. Used with perseverance and imagination, it can act as a statistical abstract, dictionary, atlas, encyclopedia, gazetteer, historical source, biographical dictionary, congressional directory, and encyclopedia of associations - just for a start. The more familiar you are with the ALMANAC, the more useful it will be.

Make every effort to have a current almanac in your library. They are not expensive, and you will get more facts per dollar spent than from any other book you can buy.

One of the most useful of the general almanacs is the WORLD ALMANAC. The WORLD ALMANAC is published each year in November. The publication date for the 2003 WORLD ALMANAC is November, 2002. The cutoff date for information included is early November 2002.

Each year, changes are made in 80% of the tables in the WORLD ALMANAC! That means that in an almanac which is one year old, only 20% of the tables are up to date. The pages toward the middle of the book tend to be the ones that change less. These include more historical information.

Because of the large number of changes, libraries should not keep old almanacs on public access shelves. Libraries keeping historical collections for research purposes find older almanacs good source of historical data. However, considering space limitations and the danger of giving patrons outdated information, branches should make every effort to have the most recent edition in both reference and in the circulating collection.


An almanac may be your only source of current facts in a smaller library. Each year the WORLD ALMANAC includes a good selection statistical information and tables gathered from governmental and private agencies.

Use the statistical tables with caution. For example, a 2002 WORLD ALMANAC in most cases, will include statistics only through 2000, the latest figures available to the publishers at the time it was assembled. Be sure to check the tables carefully to find out how the figures are expressed. Sometimes numbers are given in the thousands or millions, and sometimes they are given in unfamiliar measures.

Statistical tables nearly always give a source and date for their information. You must be sure to find this information and give it to your patron. A two year old figure may be sufficient for the purpose, but keep in mind that later figures, perhaps into the current year, may well be available at or through your central library or reference center. You can always offer to refer the patron's question. You can't guarantee you will be able to supply a later figure, but it's often worth a try.

Also be sure to check the tables carefully to find out how the figures are expressed. Sometimes numbers given are in thousands, sometimes in millions, and sometimes represent the actual number.

As with statistical information, the lists become quickly outdated. Each year the ALMANAC has a "Late Changes" section showing recent changes in officials not listed in the body of the work.

Names of Officials

The ALMANAC has lists of international, national and state leaders. These include heads of state, prime ministers, U.S. legislators and top departmental officials, and state governors. As with statistical information, the lists quickly become outdated. Each year the ALMANAC has an "Addenda, Late News, Changes" section showing recent changes in officials not listed in the body of the work. You should either keep regular updates of regularly requested names, i.e. local representatives or U.S. cabinet members, or verify this information at your main branch or central reference center.

Current Events

Each year, the ALMANAC gives a summary of the year's highlights. In 2001 there was a good summary of the 2000 Olympics. The ALMANAC has a complete chronology of news events which can be a useful source of recent information. The many statistical tables in the ALMANAC also present a good overview of the year's trends.


The WORLD ALMANAC is among the best indexed of the general almanacs in print, but there are quantities of good information included in the various lists and tables which are not entered in the index. It's often helpful to check under a more general subject area in the index to find what you need. For example, if a patron asks for the birth and death dates of Sojoumer Truth, a famous Black American, you won't find her name in the index. There is a subheading under BLACKS - "Noted (past, present)" referring to the proper pages. Scanning the list given there, you will find her name and dates. If you have a biographical dictionary, you would probably look there first for this type of information, but with a little effort, you can often find it in the ALMANAC well.

As with all indexes, if you don't find an entry under the word you are looking for, try a synonym or alternate term for what you want. For example, there is no entry under "Pigs," but there is one under "Pork" or "Hogs".

New Features

Each year the ALMANAC includes new information, drops outdated or incorrect information, and changes the style of certain tables. It is always a good idea to check over each new edition to become familiar with any changes.

Other Almanacs

THE WORLD ALMANAC AND BOOK OF FACTS has been published since 1868, and is probably the best known of the general almanacs. There are others which are also well-known, such as THE INFORMATION PLEASE ALMANAC and THE UNIVERSAL ALMANAC. These contain similar information, but each one has some information not contained in the others. If you do have more than one, be sure to check in each one for information. You may want to compare those you have to become more familiar with what each has to offer.

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This page was last updated on February 28, 2003.