Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Try Today's Hip Technology Portable Flash Drives: Wanna Work Smarter and Stay Hip, and Do Both without Taking Time to Master Yet Another New Technology? Now You Can Have All Three Wishes with 'Way Cool' Pocket-Sized Flash Drives!

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Try Today's Hip Technology Portable Flash Drives: Wanna Work Smarter and Stay Hip, and Do Both without Taking Time to Master Yet Another New Technology? Now You Can Have All Three Wishes with 'Way Cool' Pocket-Sized Flash Drives!

Article excerpt

I want to tell you about a new technology called a flash drive. Sometimes these are called USB hard drives or more specifically pen drives, key chain drives, key chain memory, pocket drives, thumb drives, USB mini-drives, USB Memory Keys, or simply removable flash disk drives. They are best described as portable hard drives that fit on a key chain or in your pocket, and you simply plug them into USB ports, where they're automatically recognized as another external drive and are ready to use in seconds. I'll explain how they call be quite handy in your libraries.

The Newfangled Flash

Today, these tiny (3-inch, 1-ounce) flash drives can hold from 8 megabytes (MB) to 2 gigabytes (GB) of data. The data is held in memory, so there are no moving mechanical parts to break, and they are faster than floppy diskettes or Zip drives. Flash drives are made from solid-state chips that are nonvolatile, which means the drive does not need electrical power to hold its content over time (no batteries). Students and patrons are already using these "way cool" devices, and once you discover them, you'll want them too.

How do they work? Flash drives use hot plug-and-play, so once plugged in to a port, you can use the new drive just as you would use any other disk: Create folders, copy, paste, and delete files just as you would on your hard drive. Plus, you can plug a flash drive in when your computer is already turned on, and once you are done simply remove the device from the USB port; there is no need to reboot. Flash drives work with Windows 98/2000/ME/XP, Mac (OS 9.x or greater), and Linux Kernel version 2.4. (It is better to use a flash drive for transferring files and backing up small files daily than to use it for backing up large sections of your hard drive; CD-R or DVD-R is better media for large backups.)

Testing Flash in Real Life

How did I get into using flash drives in the library at Central Michigan University? We have more than 300 patron computers in the university library with complete Internet access and a full suite of Microsoft Office applications, including MS Word for doing research papers. We have had students lose their assignments and exam papers because their floppies stopped working. (I can tell you, students are not happy when 10 hours of their hard work is on an 80-cent diskette that dies.) Also, as students create bigger projects and use more multimedia, their work will no longer fit on a single floppy. Our general solution had been to have students burn CD-Rs. Then library staff started looking for other solutions and found out how nifty flash drives were.

My systems department purchased four flash drives in November of 2002; each held between 16 and 64 megabytes of data. We started testing to see if they would work for us. We tested the drives to find out how they would react to the cold by leaving them in a car overnight in our Michigan winter. No problem with cold. (The official specifications say the actual operating temperature is 32 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which is better than a standard computer.) In our circulation department, I took a flash drive and passed it through the book demagnetizer and security gates and found that it still worked. And since these inexpensive devices are supposedly shock-resistant to 1000G (1,000 times Earth's gravity; equal to the impact of dropping the device onto concrete from about 1.5 meters) and vibration-resistant to 15G, I bounced one off the floor a couple of times, and nothing happened Most flash drives are also moisture proof, though only a few vendors claim that their drives are actually waterproof There is generally a 5-year warranty for flash drives, but this type of memory is normally rated for memory retention for 10-plus years. (Incidentally, flash drives are altitude-rated to 80,000 feet. Who go to do that test?)

Using Flash in a Library

After we finished testing, the next step was to train staff to use the drives. …

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