A Hardware and Software Primer for Librarians: What Your Vendor Forgot to Tell You

Bob Duckett (Reference Librarian, Bradford Libraries)

Library Review

ISSN: 0024-2535

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Duckett, B. (2000), "A Hardware and Software Primer for Librarians: What Your Vendor Forgot to Tell You", Library Review, Vol. 49 No. 3, pp. 139-156. https://doi.org/10.1108/lr.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

For “old dogs” like me who find themselves floundering in a sea of technohype; for harassed managers too busy to go on training courses; and for those unable to find a library‐friendly “tekkie” who speaks plain English, this smart little book will be a godsend. The sub‐title “What your vendor forgot to tell you” could equally well have been “What you were afraid to ask”, for this is an excellent guide to the IT jungle. It is not a guide to the principles of IT, and it is not a manual of how to work systems, it is an overview of what everything is, a guide to what everything means, and where everything fits together.

The book begins with an account of the important elements of hardware, the central processing units (chips), and progresses through system “add ons”, memory, and other basic components and peripherals. We learn the difference between Apples and IBM‐compatibles, the role of expansion cards, slots and ports, buses and motherboards. We learn that IRQs (interrupt requests) are the most common cause of hardware conflicts but that such problems are becoming, less common as Plus and Play systems are developed. The secrets of memory are revealed in the account of ROMs, RAMs and Cache, and how to upgrade memory. Storage matters – value and mediums – are featured, and we learn the difference between 5.25s and 3.5s, of high density and double density hard drives and CD‐ROMs, and about other storage mediums. At last I learn the correct use of the terms “disc” and “disk” (floppy versus hard) and why I have such problems in getting my PC to read other people’s discs. The maintenance needs of hard drives are stressed. Other items of hardware covered are monitors and video cards; the three types of printer (dot matrix, inkjet and laser) and their pros and cons, sound cards; optical scanners, types of, and their use in document preservation with a note on optical character recognition. Finally, in this section, the author looks at power control devices such as surge suppressors and backup.

In the second part of the book the basics of desktop computers are featured: the operating systems and the software. On the former, file structure, multitasking, and MS‐DOS are explained, then Windows and its upgrades, and nonstandard operating systems such as UNIX and OS/2. A wide range of applications is discussed, including cataloguing networking, graphics and statistics, with a note on licences and utilities. The book moves on to discuss local networks, the Internet, and the problems that go with networking and security. LANs, MANs and WANs are discussed, with their attendant hardware requirements such as modems and Internet connections. Computer viruses are prominently featured, and there are sections on antivirus software, emergency disks, diagnosing problems, and the problems of misuse, intentional and otherwise. The final chapters discuss the advent of low‐cost and network computers, two alternatives that have the potential to usefully change the way librarians and their public use computers. The book concludes with guidelines to use when it comes to go shopping.

Full marks must go the author and publisher for style and presentation. The chapters are pleasingly short, to the point, and well guided by clear and frequent subheadings. At the conclusion of each chapter is a summary, glossary, and occasionally, notes. There are end‐of‐book notes, a 16‐page glossary, a bibliography and an index. The book progresses logically and the author writes lucidly and concisely. No patronising or obscurantist tekkie this. The prose is taut, so attention is needed, but the author is gentle with us, knows libraries, and tells us enough, but not too much. Just the ticket for the busy manager or IT neophyte. Scarecrow Press have a “find” in this author and I hope they can persuade him to write for us again. Something on the mechanics of library and database systems for Bewildered of Libraryland perhaps!The publisher must take credit too: the book is attractively designed and robustly crafted. An invaluable desk and shelf reference work for library staff.

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