Definition of “almanac(k)”:
The Encyclopædia Britannica Online provides the best definition in terms of comprehensiveness: “book or table containing a calendar of the days, weeks, and months of the year; a record of various astronomical phenomena, often with weather predictions and seasonal suggestions for farmers; and miscellaneous other data. An almanac provides data on the rising and setting times of the Sun and Moon, the phases of the Moon, the positions of the planets, schedules of high and low tides, and a register of ecclesiastical festivals and saints' days.”(1)
Origin and Expansion of Term:
The Encyclopædia Britannica Online also reports that the term ‘almanac’ is of uncertain medieval Arabic origin. There is a very similar word to almanac in modern Arabic, called al-manakh, which is the word for the weather.
Since the beginnings of astronomy, almanacs have been known to exist, though it was in 1457 that the first printed almanac was seen. Before that, however, even the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks were known to have calendars of lucky and unlucky festival dates, and the Romans had lists depicting which days business could be held that resembled the modern-day almanac.
By 1639 the almanac had spread to the New World, and even Benjamin Franklin, under the nom de plume of Richard Saunders, published his own famous American almanac.(2) In short, almanacs have expanded much in definition from its original purpose of special date recording.
Types of Almanacs:
There are a plethora of different types of almanacs today. The Encyclopædia Britannica Online records that the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the “American annual journal containing weather prognostications, planting schedules, astronomical tables, astrological lore, recipes, anecdotes, and sundry pleasantries of rural interest”(3) is the traditional type of almanac. First published in the United States since 1792, it has been more republished than any other American journal.
The more modern and better-known type of almanac includes an array of statistical, historical, and other information. The Encyclopædia Britannica Online notes that the World Almanac and Book of Facts, which was first published in 1868, the Information Please Almanac, and the Reader's Digest Almanac are quintessential English-language examples of this type.
Almanacs in Relation to Reference Services:
An almanac can and is usually published as a yearbook (that is, an annually published compendium of various data), which can provide valuable information for a reference librarian. It is vital to a reference collection because, unlike the encyclopedia and other reference books which are published once in several years, the almanac can be published every year, making its information accurate and up-to-date.(4)
The World Almanac and the Daily News Almanac are excellent examples of almanacs in that they give extensive information on a wide-ranging number of topics. Better yet, they are frequently sold at low price, which makes it possible for libraries to keep their almanac collection updated. Furthermore, a minimal selection of almanacs is necessary to any core reference collection, since it provides information that can hardly be found anywhere else, such as reports of the world’s tallest buildings and longest bridges.
(1) almanac. ( 2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9001606
(2) Franklin, Benjamin. ( 2006). In Britannica Concise Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.search.eb.com/ebc/article-9364852
(3) Farmer's Almanac. ( 2006). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 21, 2006, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online: http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9033756
(4) Rice, O.S. (1920). Lessons on the use of books and libraries: A text book for schools and a guide for the use of teachers and librarians. New York: Rand McNally & Co.