Encyclopaedia Everythingiana, The
Time and time again small groups of people have found themselves isolated by the vastness of space, forced to survive with whatever technology and raw materials they have available. Most have of course failed to survive.
In order to remedy this, the Institute for Survival (a Semperist-derived organisation that emerged during the Second Federation and has persisted with some breaks to the present) compiled the Encyclopaedia Everythingiana. It is a kind of high-tech survival guide, containing general technological and scientific information and expert systems that can make use of it. It can help stranded groups (or normal colonists trying to make do) to find out what equipment they need to accomplish some thing, and what they need to do to acquire that, and so on. In principle the Encyclopaedia contains enough information to bootstrap a technological civilisation to the nanotech level.
The most common form of the Encyclopaedia is a rectangular slate 27x12 centimeters across and one centimeter thick, although many other forms exist. The colour of the Encyclopaedia is generally black or a neutral grey or beige. It is solar-powered and very resilient. The Encyclopaedia or local versions are often included in the equipment for starships, as part of the emergency supplies.
There is no doubt that it has saved many crews and isolated colonies through the millennia. Perhaps the most classic case, the one which is often cited as an advertisement for the power of the Encyclopaedia, is the Niu Nomey incident where a number of animants that had been accidentally stranded on a failed terraforming world and equipped with little more than the Encyclopaedia and some emergency tools managed to survive, set up a small society and prosper so well that when they were discovered 130 years later they had a valid planetary exploitation claim on the world. However, the Encyclopaedia has many critics. There have been incidents where it has been used by irresponsible or criminal persons to construct locally forbidden technologies, prompting some empires to require censored encyclopaedias or to produce their own proper ones. At least in one case a traded encyclopaedia led to the Midas Syndrome on an Outer Volume world, where local rulers used it to develop weaponry. There are also complaints that it does not contain essential information on a variety of non-technological topics, such as the construction of stable societies (the particulars of such criticisms vary according to the interests or biases of the critic). The Institute for Survival's response has been that such extensions go beyond the Encyclopaedia's original mandate, and would make it unwieldy.