The "How To" book market is alive and strong after decades of rivaling the fiction market for the top of bestsellers' lists. New "reality based" television shows abound, from "Survivor" to "Big Brother" to "24-7." Why? We all hope for guidance by learning from the experience of others. In ancient times, villages had a "wise one" who gave counsel based on longevity and knowledge of past events. Today our wise ones write books, appear on talk shows, and travel the lecture circuit, boosting sales of their books.
We don't have to buy everything in order to gain insight from others. For years our very own federal government has published guidebooks on almost every consumer topic from car repair to meal planning to home purchase and maintenance. We can still get a catalog of publications to order. Many of the publications are free and the rest are low-cost, due to partnerships with businesses.
By using the Internet, though, we can read, download and print many of the publications without having to wait for them to arrive in the mail, and at no cost except ink cartridges and paper. Reading them online also lets us try out the publication before we order it and pay for it, to see if it will be as helpful as the description indicates.
The U.S. General Services Administration maintains a Federal Consumer Information Center in Pueblo, Colorado, and on the Web at www.pueblo.gsa.gov/. The site is colorful, sleek and easy to navigate.
If you're new to the Internet, one of the publications you can view is "Site Seeing On the Internet." Not only is the text informative, you can click your mouse on numerous words in red to jump to a definition contained in the article. It can be accessed by clicking on "And More" in the topic list that includes: Cars, Children, Consumer Help, Education, Employment, Federal Programs, Food, Health, Housing, Money, Recalls, Scams/Frauds, Small Business and Travel. Travel publications include "Lesser Known Areas of the National Parks System," National Trails System Map and Guide," "Safe Trip Abroad," "Using Credit and Charge Cards Overseas," and "Travel Smart."
"Looking for Books Advertised in the Media" includes many publications that have been mentioned in newspaper articles. Links on the home page bring up the "2001 Consumer Action Handbook" and the FCIC's "Consumer Information Catalog."
The general public can subscribe to "FedInfo," a bulletin sent out four to six times per year with updates and special offers. The media can sign up for "Medialist," a biweekly alert with tips from available publications.
The reason I visited the FCIC Web site was that weeks ago I had read a notice that a cookbook with thrifty and healthy recipes and menus was available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. No links to a cookbook existed when I visited www.usda.gov. I knew from previous experience that a clearinghouse existed for government publications, so I did a search for "government publications." The FCIC site was among the first 10 results. By clicking on "Food" in the topic list, after failing to find the book listed in the "Advertised in the Media" section, one of the choices was "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals" from the USDA. I viewed the entire book to judge whether it is worth the $4.25 price, and decided that the 76-page book of recipes, buying and preparing tips, food safety and food lists for two weeks of menus is well worth it.
The "Money" section of the Web site includes everything from bulletins on bankruptcy, being an executor, and identity theft, to investing and retirement planning.
Anyone with an Internet connection and the time to search for answers can become a "Wise One" of the new century.