Before the Internet spoiled us all with the promise of limitless information available at our fingertips, I had a secret advantage over other techies that allowed me to exhibit expertise in a wide range of technical subjects… I had a huge library of technical books… and I am a good reader. So whenever I was presented with a question about virtually anything, I could say “Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you with the answer”. And if I didn’t know the answer off-hand, I could look it up in one of the books in my library. And if the answer wasn’t in any of the books in my library, I could zip down to the bookstore and find a book that had the answer.
The stroke has wiped out my technical library and I have become dependent on websites for learning about things I don’t know yet. The problem is that websites generally focus on sharing what someone knows, rather than fully covering a topic. As a result, the coverage of topics on websites is much more uneven and spotty than in books.
So how does someone create their own “secret advantage” ? It’s very simple actually – just invest in a library of books that cover the subjects you’re interested in. But the question is how to do it without breaking the bank. In building my technical library, I became skilled at finding books that covered the areas of topics that I was interested in. I paid attention to which publishers published useful books and which publishers didn’t. I learned how to identify how a book covers a topic – how much of the topic the book covers and how detailed. Also how advanced (or not) the discussion was which usually identified how much understanding of the topic the reader was expected to already have under their belt. While I am willing to invest in building a library, I don’t want to waste time and money (and space) on books that aren’t useful.
The idea is to find the best (most useful) book on a subject. Beyond knowing publishers and writers, you have to sit down and read the book to see how well it covers the subject. Since it’s impractical to sit in a bookstore and read a whole book, I’ve developed a method of evaluating a book based on seeing how well it answers a question that I already have. This is a good place to start because if a book answers one of my questions, it’s likely to also answer others. I can also evaluate how accurate their answer is and how well they write. Well, at least how well I understand what they write.
It would be really, really helpful if the on-line book retailers had a way to do this kind of evaluation over the net.
I need to explore the web for resources that would help me evaluate books. The book sample features on amazon and barnesandnoble.com didn’t include enough of the books I looked at to answer my questions, which was disappointing.
If you know of an on-line resource that could help find and/or evaluate technical books, please share it with all of us in a comment to this article.
Until there is a way to find and evaluate technical books on-line, I’ll keep going to local bookstores where I can get books in my hands to evaluate how well they match my needs so that once again my technical library is a (not so) secret advantage for me.