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Technology Hardware and Software

Learning Objectives
• Define computer hardware and software.
• Define system and application software.
• Define operating system and provide examples.
• Define file format and provide examples of common formats.
• Distinguish between proprietary and open file formats.
• Define file format and provide examples of common formats.
• Define file extension and identify common examples.
• Differentiate among common file formats.
• Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various file formats.
• Define a backup system for data storage and describe its purpose.
• Distinguish among digital data storage devices.
• Define open source software.
• Troubleshoot technology problems.

Technology is woven into all aspects of the library profession. For a growing number of library and information professionals, the use of technology is at the center of their work.

Regardless of your interest area, all library and information science professionals need to feel comfortable with computers and exhibit basic technology skills.

Computers in Libraries

Digital services librarians, information technology librarians, digital collections librarians, and web services librarians spend a majority of their time dealing with digital tools and resources.

Increasingly, libraries have become the technology hubs and information commons of schools and communities, and in some cases, hospitals and corporations.

Hardware and Software in Libraries

systemRegardless of whether you prefer technology hub, information commons, or some other term, computers and other technology have become important tools for information access in libraries. Most libraries are prepared to handle a wide range of hardware and software.

Computer hardware are the physical components of a computer system including the keyboard, monitor, mouse, hard drive, and system unit. It’s likely you also have peripheral devices such as printers and scanners in your library.

The term hardware is also used to describe laptops, smartphones, tablets, and other devices.

Computer software are the machine-readable instructions used to direct a computer’s processor.

System software including the operating system is used for basic functions of the computer, while application software allows the computer to perform some task such as word processing. Software is used as the bridge between hardware and users.

Let’s explore some of the other basic terminology related to hardware and software you’re likely to encounter.

Open Source Software

Part of the Free Software Movement, open source software stresses freedom of access to the tools of technology. Although the software is generally available at no cost to users, developers must be aware of the restrictions based on copyright and licensing associated with the product.

There are many open source software packages that are as good or better than their closed source competitors. For instance, Audacity is very popular for audio recording and editing. WordPress for blog creation is another example.

In the area of imaging, try GIMP or the children’s tool TuxPaint. You can even find operating systems such as Linux to use rather than Windows. However the biggest barrier to use is incompatibility of software with existing resources and systems.

When you take a professional position, be sure you own legal copies of any proprietary software. If you need software, but don’t have a budget, consider open source alternatives.

Operating Systems

An operating system (OS) is a collection of software that manages computer hardware and provides basic services for computer programs. An OS is essential for a computer or other smart device to function. Today, most operating systems have a graphic interface.

Popular computer operating systems include Microsoft Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. When referring to an operating system, it's important to identify the specific version of the software you're using such as Mac OSX.

Popular mobile operating systems for smart phones including Android, Windows Phone, and iOS for iPhone and iPad.

Unix is a multi-user, multi-tasking operating system used for building many other operating systems such as Apple’s OS X and Linux.

Introduction to File Formats

imageA file format is a standard way information is encoded for digital storage. The particular file format standard specifies how bits are used to encode data. For instance, a text file contains a series of characters.

Some text file format such as HTML have defined syntax that allows them to be used for specific purposes such as displaying web pages.

The image on the right shows a Joint Photographic Expert Group file also known as a JPEG or jpg file. The left side of the image shows an enlargement of the pixels in the image. The JPEG compression is used in a number of file formats, particularly photographs. These are known as raster graphics. The image is stored as tiny pixels rather than as a series of dots, lines, and shapes.

Categories of file formats include text, data, video, image, page layout, spreadsheets, database, executable, game, CAD, web, plugin, system, compressed, and others. Image by Michael Gäbler.

Types of File Formats: Proprietary

Both proprietary and open file formats are available.

A proprietary file format is owned by an individual, company, or organization. It contains data that is only decoded easily by a particular software or hardware generally licensed by a company.

Microsoft Office, Apple iWork, and Adobe Creative Cloud are examples of companies that own software and files formats. For instance, the Microsoft Word software uses a proprietary word processing file format.

Increasingly, these companies are shifting their products to online, subscription-based tools.

Types of File Formats: Open

diceAn open file format is a published specification for digital data storage that can be used by anyone.

They are sometimes called free file formats because their use is not restricted by copyrights or patents.

The Portable Network Graphics (PNG) graphic file format is an example. The image on the right is saved in the PNG file format.

The Ogg free, open container format is gaining in popularity because it can handle a number of different media types. It’s a format used by Wikipedia. Image by POV-Ray.

Popular Text File Formats

A document file is used to store text or binary data.

The Microsoft Word .doc file format has become a de facto standard for office documents. However, it is a proprietary format and not fully supported by other word processors. The Rich Text Document or .rtf format is a good choice when Microsoft Word is not available.

XML is considered to be a standard document file format for many types of web-based data needs.

HTML is the most widely used, open international standard.

The Portable Document Format or .pdf file format has become a common standard for read-only files.

The open standard for e-books is the .epub file format.

Popular Graphic File Formats

A graphic file format is used to storage images.

Raster or bitmap graphics files store images as a group of pixels and include .bmp, .gif, .jpg, .png, and .tiff.

Vector graphics files use geometric points, lines, curves, and polygons to represent images and include .ai and .svg.

In most web-browsers you can right-click an image and view it in a separate browser window. This will provide the URL of just the image. This is particularly useful with infographics.

Popular Audio and Video File Formats

An audio file format is used to store digital audio data.

Uncompressed audio formats include .wav, .aiff, and .au.
Formats with lossless compression include .m4a and .mpeg-4.
Formats with lossy compression include .mp3.

The video file format is used to store digital video data.
Common video formats include .avi, .flv, .mov, .mp4, and .wmv.

Watch the famous YouTube video of Annie Oakley from the Library of Congress.

YouTube supports a wide range of video formats including .mov, .mpeg4. .avi, .wmv, .flv, and others.

File Extensions

A file extension is a suffix separated by the base file name by a dot (period). Many operating systems such as Windows and Mac determine the format of a file based on the characters after the ending period of a file name such as frog.png. However, simply changing the file extension does not make it useable in another format. Common file extensions include .pdf, .jpeg, .exe, and .txt.

File extensions are generally three or four characters long such as .htm and .html. However they can be longer such as .numbers. The default setting on the newest operating systems hides the file extension sometimes causing confusion.

Choosing File Formats

It’s important to pay attention to file formats. If you want to use a document at some point in the future, you’ll need to file software that can open the particular file format. If you used WordStar or SuperText in the 1980s, you might be able to relate to this problem. These proprietary formats no longer exist and without matching software, the files can’t be opened.

The advantage of using an open file format such as PNG for images is that many different software tools can be used to open the file. It’s not dependent on owning a proprietary software package.

Some file formats are created for a specific type of data such as text or images. PNG files are an example of an open, image file format.

Some file formats act as containers for several file formats. Ogg files can contain audio, video, text, and metadata.

Go to FileInfo or Wikipedia to explore common file types and extensions.

File Formats in Libraries

Increasingly, libraries are using open file formats for data storage.

For instance, your library board might wish to begin using open file formats for document shared in new digital collections. You need to be able to distinguish the various file formats and make recommendations to the board.

Sharing Files

Whether posting a class assignment or sharing a document with your boss, it’s important to think about the best file format for the job.

Proprietary file formats can cause problems for users wishing to share files. As long as you and your collaborator both have the same software (and in some cases the same version) such as Microsoft Word, you’re fine. Your peer should be able to open and edit the document without a problem. However, this isn’t always the case.

Let’s say you want to post a newsletter at your library’s website. It’s essential to consider whether end-users will be able to read it.

Microsoft Publisher (.pub) often causes problems. These files can’t be opened without the Microsoft Publisher software which is not available on all computers. For instance, the software isn’t available for Macs or mobile devices at all. Those using Publisher should export their final product to the PDF format for sharing.

Backup Systems

A backup, or the process of backing up, refers to copying and archiving the contents of a hard drive or other data storage device so it can be restored if the original is lost.

The primary purpose of a backup system is to ensure that data isn’t permanently lost if the original storage device fails.

The secondary purpose of a backup system is to provide access to data stored at an earlier time such as archival copies of documents.

Before backing up proprietary data or software, be sure to check your licenses. Although you’re normally allowed to backup, this doesn’t mean you can use multiple copies of software or circulate copies.

Let’s say you’ve just taken a new position and have been informed that the library does not have a backup storage system. You need to justify the purchase of such as system. Think about the reasons that it’s important to keep a back up of our library’s data.

Storage Devices

A digital data storage device is an object for recording information. This recording medium can store small or large amounts of data.

A hard disk drive is commonly found in desktop and laptop computers. They can be internal or external. They cost less per gigabyte than flash drives and are available in the large capacities. External hard drives may contain multiple one-terabyte (TB) drives.

A USB flash drive is a data storage device that involves flash memory. This device normally uses a Universal Serial Bus (USB) interface. They are generally removable and rewritable. Their small sizes makes them very portable and popular. Although most consumers use flash drives that are 32 or 64 GB, one-terabyte (TB) have been developed. They are smaller, faster, and have a larger capacity than CD or DVD discs.

Optical media are writable and rewritable devices stored on CD or DVD discs. They are cheap, but much slower than flash-based devices. A CD generally holds 700MB, while a DVD generally holds between 4 and 10GB of data.

Troubleshooting Technology Problems

Both students and professionals occasionally run into trouble with hardware and software. When asking for help, describe specific technology problems clearly and precisely so they can be understood by technical support personnel. Use the following tips to make your encounter with tech support more effective.


Whether completing coursework or diving into a professional position, it’s important to know the specifics of the hardware and software you’re using.

You should be familiar with both proprietary and open software options including the various file formats and file extensions.

From selecting backup systems for your library’s data to choose the best storage device for your important documents, data storage should be constantly on your mind.

Finally, don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself when technology fails. As a student, make use of the campus technology support systems. As a professional, seek out both face-to-face and online assistance to solve your problems.

| eduscapes | IUPUI Online Courses | Contact Us | 2014 Annette Lamb (Adapted from earlier s401 materials)

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