or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 7/17/11

   July 23rd, 2011

Speed Limit Infinity signThis questions wasn't at all difficult, but I thought it was interesting because it was something I thought I knew how to do, but it turns out I didn't.

A patron walks up to the desks and says,

I have some software at home I want to install on my computer. However, there are two install disks - one for computers with a 32 bit processor and one for computers with a 64 bit processor. How do I tell what processor my computer has?

The patron had an XP computer, which is also what I was on at the desk, so that made things easier.

My first instinct was to go to Device Manager, so we did, but no matter where we looked, nothing I could find gave the processor speed. I sure there are multiple ways to find this out, but in the interest of time I searched the internet for is my processor 64 bit or 32 bit xp. The first result was titled What operating system Do I have? A 32bit or a 64bit? | Computer Tips - perfect.

The site itself looked a little suspect, but as we read the page together, the information seemed okay. It gave instructions for both XP and Vista - and the XP instructions guided us to somewhere I never would have even thought of:
Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information

Menu path to System Information

When that window opens, look for the Processor line:

System Information dialog box

Here's how the site says to read it:

If it says x86 then you have a 32 bit operating system. If the processor area mentioned ia64 or AMD64 then this means you have a 64 bit processor. If it said Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition Version then this means it is a 64 bit operating system. However as you can see from above, it says Microsoft Windows XP Professional and the processor starts with X86 so therefore this is a 32 bit processor with a 32 bit operating system.

This answered the patron's question, and since we both learned something, it was a good exchange. The funny part (to me) is that the patron said he was right in the middle of installing the software, and came to the library because it was the only place he could think of that would give him free computer information. He was happy I found the answer so quickly and he apologized for rushing out.

Free is questionable, but quite timely on people thinking of the library as genius bar - all the more reason reference staff need to also provide some degree of technical support.

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4 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/17/11”

  1. sharon Says:

    The technology librarian at the NH state library gave a presentation about the “technical reference interview” that made me realize that these are just like any other reference question. They require some special knowledge, but so do reference questions about music or business or science & technology. We don’t have to know everything–we just need to know how to find the information that we need.

  2. Rosemary Says:

    In case you ever have to find this again (not very likely, I admit), a much easier way is to simply right click on My Computer, or Computer, or whatever it’s called on the particular operating system, and go to properties. It should list the system type there.

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Sharon: I agree – having a tech background helps, but it’s not necessary; I am not much of a cook, but I can help patrons with cooking-related reference questions. It seems with tech questions (which is also somewhat true of medical, govdocs, and questions), some library staff get tense and almost seem to convince themselves that they can’t find and answer.

    Also, funny, one of my favorite sayings is, “Reference librarians don’t need to know everything – we just need to know how to find it.”

    @Rosemary: System Properties was actually the first place I checked, because I expected it to be there (I blurred out my registration number. I also checked device manager, which is accessible through Properties, but the Processor information there didn’t indicate 32b or 64b. I’m sure different operating systems are different though, so that might be a shortcut that works for some people – thanks,

  4. Oh, dull person, must you annoy me? | The Bad Librarian Says:

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