An almanac is not literature, of course, but is a reference work, so few people sit down and read it cover to cover. Instead, we grab an almanac to find the answer to some question–usually factual and historical questions like when did something happen, how large is something, how many are there and were there, where is some landmark, etc. The key to its value is how often it has the information needed.
As a result of this need to be valuable, Almanacs have expanded every year, adding more information to reduce the likelihood that users won’t find the answer they are looking for. When they are reduced in size, it is with careful attention to what information is useful to its audience.
In the Mormon context, this begs the question: “What information is useful to LDS Church members?”
For many years I have been collecting the annual (biannual for most of the 1990s) Deseret News Church Almanac, and my collection is nearly complete (I’m missing 5 volumes out of the 35-year run). It has been very interesting to see how the almanac has changed over time–how the editors have balanced what information is practical to collect with what is useful and with what most Church members are comfortable with. Early editions included information about notable Church members and those in the news–Mormons in sports, business, government, etc., all had their accomplishments noted in the almanac then, but that information was soon eliminated. Later editions expanded tables of information on states and countries into detailed listings on each, complete with area histories, listings of stakes in that geographical area and the number of wards and branches, stakes and districts and missions and temples in the area. The amount of material on the General Authorities and General Church Officers of the Church has also increased over time, especially in the last decade or so.
Despite the fact that some changes in the almanac occur each year, I was shocked at the changes in the 2009 version of the Almanac. The latest version is much slimmer, only 336 pages compared to 672 pages in the 2009 edition. This was achieved by cutting an entire major section of the Almanac, the state by state and country by country information (now represented by the summary statistical table that has been in every edition). Last year this information required 318 pages–virtually all of the pages cut. Other material was also cut–the list of Book of Mormon translations is gone, and the historical chronology has been pared by about 25%, largely by eliminating non-LDS events meant to put the LDS ones in context–although some LDS events were also eliminated, such as the Church’s 1919 support for prohibition. (remembering this is evidently no longer valuable?)
A little material has been added. Pages about General Authorities increased from 97 last year to 115 this year and pages about Temples increased from 69 to 76. It also maintained a 32 page full-color front section on glossy paper introduced last year to carry the highlights of the year. And somehow, despite the fact that the almanac doesn’t carry information about individual Church members who are not leaders, this Almanac maintains a list of LDS summer olympians (which appears in years following a summer olympics).
To me, the elimination of the state-by-state and country-by-country information is a radical change. It is the part of the Almanac that I use the most. I had actually expected this information to be expanded by including state-by-state information for Brazil and Mexico (and perhaps other countries as well) in order to demonstrate the growth of the Church in those areas. I’ve longed for this information, and a more international view of the Church, for several decades now.
This reflects, of course, my own interest and bias. It is possible that most of those who purchase the Deseret News Church Almanac don’t want this information, and want the information about General Authorities and temples that are the bulk of this year’s edition. Perhaps the extra weight and size of the Almanac is something they don’t want, along with the additional cost to print those pages. But, if the latter, I think they are somewhat deceived. Despite cutting the number of pages in half, the cost of the Almanac rose this year from $14.95 to $15.95.
In contrast, the The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2009 is $12.99 and has 1008 pages.