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Online help to end‐users in a networked environment

Paul Meyer (University of Cape Town Libraries, Private Bay Rondebosch, 7700, South Africa)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 April 1991



Most computer users are familiar with the idea of the online tutorial and online help functions, as these apply to database, spreadsheet and wordprocessing programs. Such programs vary in complexity, and full training of some depth is usually required, which may come from formal courses, manuals or online tutors. Two trends, however, have emerged which require that a simpler approach to computer training is adopted: namely the increasing use of end‐user information retrieval systems, and the spread of networks which make these systems available in a decentralised environment. End‐users in a networked system may now have to rely less on centralised formal training and more on help provided by the systems themselves, which places a burden on system designers to provide such help functions. However, system designers are not always the best people to provide proper help functions as they do not necessarily understand the users' perceptions of the systems. The people better suited for this are the information specialists and librarians who deal with the end‐user on a daily basis. A good example of a networked end‐user system is the OPAC, the online catalogue, which may have thousands of users with different levels of computer experience, all of whom have to be taught to make use of the computer system in the simplest way possible. The challenge here is to understand how the OPAC end‐user perceives the bibliographic record, and how to inculcate an understanding of the new ways of accessing records that the computer provides. In designing an online help system, the expertise of professional teachers may also have to be sought in order to ensure proper communication between the information specialist and the end‐user. In this paper, the experience gained in installing the OPAC at the University of Cape Town Libraries is used to illustrate these points.


Meyer, P. (1991), "Online help to end‐users in a networked environment", The Electronic Library, Vol. 9 No. 4/5, pp. 251-254.




Copyright © 1991, MCB UP Limited

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