Computer Troubleshooting for Librarians

Troubleshooting is a specialized domain of problem solving that is mostly concerned with computers, electronics and mechanical systems. As librarians we have to deal with all of these as a part of our job and in our private lives.

The principles of troubleshooting are usually specific to a field, electronics engineers do one type, programmers use another set of tools. There are general principles that apply across all disciplines, and I’ll try to bring out a couple of specific techniques for computers that can help us solve problems on our own.

First, keep it simple, stupid. Most computer problems are solved by restarting the computer. Write down any error code the computer shows. Connection points are the most likely places for any connection to fail, so check the cables by pulling them out and putting them back in carefully.

Second, use your resources. Have any of your co-workers had this problem before? Ask a question on a listserv, or read the manual. If your manuals are electronic, use your search skills. A good desktop search program, like Copernicus or Google Desktop Search, limited to just that set of files, will give you better results than the built-in Adobe or Microsoft search.

Third, just Google it. Operating system errors and program errors will have happened to other people, many of who are more experienced at troubleshooting than you or I. This will not work for your proprietary systems like your ILS, especially if you are using something more than 3 or 4 years old. Use advanced search techniques, you’ll often get better results than the IT department. (Yes, this is what they do.)

Fourth, remember that this computer problem is just a research question. Write down the terminology. Map the concepts, Draw the connection between widget A and widget b. Like any good subject librarian, you need to know a broad overview. Don’t worry about programming unless you’re interested in it. Start with a binder. Move on to a wiki if you have the interest.

Fifth, and finally, only solve the problem once. If you discover a solution, or IT helps you solve it, write your steps. Just like finding aids for students, these pathways will get you thinking when you run into the same or related computer problems.

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