How often have we received new computer hardware and we find that the only other item in the box is a single, folded sheet of very inadequate “instructions.” Or we need to use some software or social networking site or database that we have never dealt with before. We go online to find out how our object or site of interest works. We may or may not find further instructions or an online user manual. If we do find something, we quickly learn that the information is not written for beginners. The writer of what we have found assumes that the reader is an experienced user. It usually takes a big chunk of time for determined neophytes to discover anything useful.
We all find ourselves in this predicament at one time or another. In my case, librarian or not, if I’m doing something new, I’m a beginner. And where computers are concerned, there is always something new. We are inundated with suggestions and tips on our social networking sites and websites, as well as the insistent demands that come directly from our computer’s prompts. They all tell us we should do something. Unfortunately they neglect to tell us how.
Confronted with this problem, I start with the website of the company that produces the hardware, software or site. They are the experts, right? Like everyone else, I often waste a lot of time sifting through information I don’t need and not finding what I could actually use. I always seem to end up at the library’s online book catalog. I know I have a lot of company. The books I discover online are often already checked out by people trying to find the same answers I am looking for. Like every other patron, I have to put reserves on them and wait. Once I get a book, I have a fighting chance. I can actually have it open next to me while I’m fighting with my gizmo, software, database, antivirus update, or whatever else some diabolical mind has decided is needed to complicate my technological life.
I thought I would save you some time and recommend some good book series that you might want to try when you find yourself stymied. There are so many computer subjects that it is not feasible to go into each topic. Hence my list of book series. I would suggest looking for these in your local public library’s catalog rather than for immediate purchase. Don’t take out jsut one. Find several, perhaps one in each series. You can see which books work best for you. Different books may have different types of information. One may begin by telling you how to buy an item. Another might just jump in and tell you how to use it. Another may have more detailed instructions for setup, details that might be critical for a beginner’s understanding. In the long run you probably won’t save money by using library books first. But you will have a better working home library.
When I put [ ] with the name of a series, it’s up to you to replace the brackets with your topic of interest. Then you just continue typing the name of the series to see if the library owns it (online catalog) or if the book has been published on your topic in a particular series (wherever you order your books). Each series will have a number of authors writing on different topics. The only constants are the series title and the publisher. You can do a keyword search on the entire series by using the series title and the name of the publisher if you want to see all the books in a particular series. The best place to find all of a series title would be at the publishers website. Libraries can’t buy everything in all subjects. Just because they don’t own a book, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Once you find books you want, you can look for them throughout your library network’s catalog and suggest that your local library buy a particular book (or books) they don’t own.
The whole point of the following books is to turn someone who knows next to nothing about a computer related topic into someone who is knowledgeable and competent. Start your search with these series.
[ ]: The Missing Manual. Publisher: O’Reilly.
This is a brilliant title for a very good series. Each book was written with the express purpose of taking the place of the manual that was not with the computer, tablet, laptop, hardware, software, social networking site, etc.
For example, I was just looking up information on what can be done with an iPad. The author of iPad: The Missing Manual does not assume you know what you are doing. I like authors like this. This particular author begins at the beginning — by explaining how to set up an iPad. Then she takes readers on their first exploration of Apple’s tablet. The rest of the book shows the various ways this thing can be used. It suddenly goes from being an infernal gizmo to something that might actually be useful. Not all authors and their books do this.
[ ] in easy steps. Publisher: Easy Steps Limited. This one is published in Britain. I like the Brits. They are a sensible race.
As the title implies, this is another series that takes you step by step through the labyrinth of setting up, getting acquainted with, and using various computer related items. I find I have a special affinity for this particular series. Take a look at one and see if you agree with me.
Then there is Wiley Publishing. The following three series are all published by Wiley.
[ ] for Dummies. Publisher: Wiley Publishing
This is probably the most widely recognized of the computer help books. IDG Books was there first with their DOS for Dummies. They never looked back. It was so popular that IDG created a whole series of books covering computer based topics and then continued to expand into a large number of other topics. Their computer series has saved my technological life at the library on occasions too numerous to count. IDG was acquired by Wiley. “For Dummies” are still excellent books. Although not in color, their line drawings and other illustrations are easy to follow and their instructions are usually very straightforward. And I do not mind being considered a “dummy” if this gets me information I can work with.
I like illustrations. The more the merrier. The next two series have plenty. And they are in color. Since both are by the same publisher, I wondered why the company decided they needed two separate series. I discovered that Wiley has a hierarchy.
[ ] Simplified. Publisher: Wiley Publishing
This series is definitely just for beginners. If you don’t have a clue, start here.
Teach Yourself Visually [ ] . Publisher: Wiley Publishing
Feeling a little more adventurous? The Teach Yourself Visually starts at a beginner’s level, but then continues into areas that would be considered intermediate.
Until I find additional series that I find particularly useful, I will end here with my posting on books. If you find any of these particularly useful, please let me know. The same goes for a series you have used and like that I may not know. I and other who use this site will be extremely grateful.
Books are always my starting point. When writing a book, authors have the time to think about what they want to say and how they want to say it. A good how to author understands that readers are looking for information and need to have it explained carefully. Material is checked by others and often rewritten. For me, this is the best place to start. If I am pressed for time, which is usually the case, there are other sources that I can consult as well, especially while I’m waiting for those books to come in. I continue with these in the next posting below.
vea/9 September 2014