6.2 Choosing a computer

It is important to plan how a computer will be used, before going ahead and getting one. The first step is to think about whether a computer is really necessary. If the collection is small (up to about 500 materials), or consists mainly of books, a database (computerised catalogue) will not be necessary. However, a computer might be useful for accessing information from CD-ROMs or the Internet, or for tasks such as word-processing.

It is important to consider:

  • what services the resource centre offers, and whether the users are within the same organisation or institution, or at a distance
  • whether the conditions are suitable – if the power supply is poor, the computer will be out of use much of the time, and if the telephone service is unreliable, access to e-mail and other Internet services will be disrupted
  • whether a computer is affordable – the ongoing costs for anti-virus software and consumables such as printer ink or ribbons, paper, and diskettes can be expensive.

6.2.1 How to plan for computers

If it seems that a computer will be useful, the steps to follow are:

  1. Analyse existing systems
  2. Define the objectives
  3. Carry out a feasibility study
  4. Plan and set up the system
  5. Test and evaluate the system.

1. Systems analysis 
Start by analysing (reviewing) any manual systems that are being used to organise and retrieve information. There might be an opportunity to improve these systems when they are computerised. Think about what the computer needs to be able to do. Do this for each function that you are considering using the computer for, such as word-processing, accessing CD-ROMs, using e-mail and the Internet, and setting up a database.

2. Define the objectives 
Write down what you want to be able to do. You need to have clear objectives so that you can choose the most appropriate hardware (equipment such as the computer and printer) and software (programs supplied with the computer or on CD-ROMs that enable the computer to function, such as word-processing or database programs). Clear objectives can also provide the basis of a funding proposal, whether you are seeking funds internally or submitting a proposal to an external donor.

3. Feasibility study 
Check whether a computer is feasible in terms of staffing, hardware, software and other costs.

  • Staff Consider who will use the computer, what functions they will use it for, and whether the software to carry out these functions (such as e-mail, Internet or database programs) will only be available in the resource centre or whether it will also be available in other departments. Think about who will set up and manage e-mail, Internet and database systems and who will provide technical support – a member of staff or an external consultant. Also consider who will check the e-mail messages each day and who will enter data into the database.
  • Hardware Consider what computer capacity is needed (memory, processor, hard disk, modem). Some functions, such as databases and desktop publishing, require a bigger capacity than other functions, such as word processing. Note the capacity needed by the function that needs the biggest capacity. Find out the capacity of any existing computer equipment. Consider whether this is sufficient or whether a new computer needs to be obtained. Consider what else needs to be purchased (see Section 6.3: Hardware and software).
  • Software Consider what software is already available, if any, for each of the functions that you want to use the computer for, and whether it is appropriate. Find out what experience and technical support is available within the organisation, locally, or nationally. For example, find out who uses the same software and could provide advice.
  • Other costs Also take into account the running costs such as anti-virus software, diskettes, paper and printer ribbons, and other costs such as training.

4. Plan and set up the system 
It is important to think carefully about how to set up an e-mail and Internet system or design a database, in the same way as it is to plan the layout of the resource centre and the development of information services. The systems must relate to the systems analysis and objectives, and be practical and easy to use.

5. Test and evaluate 
After setting up an e-mail or Internet system or designing a database, it is important to carry out a test to ensure that they can do what they are intended to do. For e-mail and Internet systems, test the various functions, such as sending an e-mail message (to one person or a group of people) and receiving messages, attaching files, and searching and downloading information from the Internet. Make a note of how long it takes, how easy it is to use, and what support is provided by the Internet service provider (ISP) (see Section 6.5: The Internet). For a database, enter about 20 sample records (at least five records of each material type that the database will need to handle). Make a note of how easy it is to enter records for the various material types. Use these records to carry out functions that the database will be used for, such as searching, sorting and printing. These tests will enable you to evaluate the systems, and sort out any problems at an early stage.