Your Technical Bookshelf is Getting Dusty

You probably have one in your company: a small library of technical books. Shelves speckled with the words “O’reilly,” “SQL,” and “Java,” not to mention so many images of animals they look like they belong in a university’s zoology department. Whether company-owned or private, at one time technical books were the only available reference employees could use for answers to problems and for help understanding technical concepts. Now; however, company libraries are ignored and employee bookshelves are getting dusty.

Times are changing.

Not that the information there is totally obsolete. Most likely it’s still very relevant information, but no one cares about it. People are getting their answers somewhere else: online.

The Internet makes searching for solutions easier than books do. Now that most technical questions can simply be “Googled,” the act of looking for terms in a book’s table of contents is very laborious and time-consuming. A simple search on the Internet returns hundreds of relevant results faster than someone could walk to a bookshelf. It also provides a way for people to ask specific questions to subject matter experts via user forums. User forums are key to finding answers that specifically apply to you and your situation that documentation maybe didn’t account for. Online documentation is easier to keep up to date as well.

This raises the question, how relevant are technical books with the availability of information on the Internet?

If you say “still very relevant,” be honest. How often do you really crack open that Perl book to look up syntax? Now weigh that against all the times you’ve copied and pasted code examples from some technical website. I rest my case.

Granted, technical books will probably never become totally obsolete. They generally delve deeper into the subject matter than online articles, which make them ideal for classrooms. Also, online documentation tends to only be plentiful for mainstream tools and technologies. More obscure and newer technologies usually have poor online representation. But those are the only advantages printed books have over using the Internet and that gap is shrinking as more technical content is posted each day.

Take for example, a big and bulky dictionary. We now have analysts and industry experts disputing technological definitions online. There’s no need to open a dictionary to find HPC and private cloud  definitions because exascale and cloud bursting probably wouldn’t even be in there.  However, dictionaries aren’t going away because they serve as a tool in the classroom and for literary geniuses.

Technical books are becoming more decorative than anything. Perhaps they serve the non-worthwhile purpose of dawning creditability to the owner from passers-by, but they’re too cumbersome to be used for searches and most of the information is duplicated on the web anyway. One thing is for sure: they definitely aren’t fun to read as a pastime.

Comment and share: Online search engines and technical forums are becoming the norm to get quick and reliable information for your IT needs. What online resource is your go-to?

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  • Wally

    Bookshelves can still provide a good separation when cubicle walls are not tall enough….

  • Corin

    The last time I purchased technical materials, all printed materials were accompanied by a thumb drive containing an electronic version of the printed material. Aside from searching for notes that I wrote in the margins during offline study and training, I almost exclusively referenced the electronic copy. A huge time saver when working through exercises.

    I do love the smell of a new book, but I’m sure there is a new book candle scent or car freshener. Maybe a new book cologne?