SALT LAKE CITY — When a new set of encyclopedias arrived unannounced at many schools throughout Utah this past week, some librarians were taken aback.

These days students get their information on the Internet, not through a bound encyclopedia, said Warren Child, librarian at Cyprus High School in Magna.

So when he opened boxes that arrived from the State Office of Education filled with the 22-volume, 1,400-page World Book Encyclopedia, he was a bit puzzled.

"They don't get used a lot," he said. "If I had to go spend money on them, I probably wouldn't."

Larisa Steenblik, who is a parent of two West High School students, agreed: "My kids have never opened an encyclopedia. They just use the Internet."

"You don't want to say (students) don't use them — but they don't," added East High School librarian Tamara Paul who said she, too, was surprised when the new encyclopedia set showed up.

Later, she received a letter from the State Office of Education that cleared up the mystery.

Turns out, the encyclopedias, which sell for almost $1,000 per set, were donated to Utah schools through a grant from the Hattie D. Munk Library Endowment Fund, said state education spokesman Mark Peterson.

The terms of the grant required state officials to select some kind of physical reference work, and a survey showed that four or five school districts preferred the encyclopedias, he said.

Students from Salt Lake and other districts have direct access to the same information at worldbookonline.com, Paul noted. That version has advantages, she said. It gets updated more often, and students can access it from home.

Child said he no longer orders any works of nonfiction as much as he once did. Less than 10 percent of the books his students check out are nonfiction. Instead, young adult or fantasy fiction titles are especially popular, he said, and the new trend is toward electronic books, which account for nearly 25 percent of his check-outs.

In contrast, the Salt Lake County public library system still orders a new set of encyclopedias for its branches each year, said Taylorsville branch manager, Maggie Mills.

"The physical items do still get used. Some people are just more comfortable with them."

E-mail: lbrubaker@desnews.com