Skip all navigation and go to page content
NN/LM Home About SCR | Contact SCR | Feedback |Site Map | Help | Bookmark and Share

Fact Sheet
Basic Internet FAQ for the Medical Librarian,
Part II, Internet Information Access Resources

Greg Bodin
former Technology Coordinator, NN/LM South Central Region, Houston, TX
updated by Shikun ("KK") Jiang, Technology Coordinator, NN/LM SCR, 03/04/2009


This FAQ sheet (Frequently Asked Questions) continues with discussion of various resources available for sending and receiving data on the Internet, including email, telnet, ftp, and web resources.

1. What resources are available for accessing information on the Internet?

There are four main resources for accessing information on the Internet: electronic mail, telnet, ftp, and the World Wide Web.

2. What is electronic mail?

Electronic mail, also known as email, allows information to be sent between computers (and people) on the Internet. The most commonly used Internet resource, email works like a written letter. A person at one computer can send a letter via email to a person at another computer through the Internet. In addition, a person at one computer can send a letter via email to multiple recipients at the same time. All email letters require an email address.

3. What is an email address?

An email address is a type of Internet address. Email addresses read from left to right. For example: jsmith@medicallibrary.org "jsmith" is the name of the person sending or receiving the message; this is referred to as the user name. "medicallibrary" is part of the domain name and indicates where the email is going to. "org" is also part of the domain name and indicates that medicallibrary is an organization. The "@" is always found in an email address. It separates the user name from the domain name.

4. How does email work?

To read and send mail, users need to access to the email server over the Internet from a computer. The email server is a powerful computer which stores, receives, and sends email messages over the Internet. Email application software (loaded on the user’s computer) is the interface which lets a user read, reply to, forward, compose and send new messages. If the user has a web-based email account, then any computer with Internet connection will enable the user to perform such actions without loading any software.

5. Can you send other types of data via email?

Yes. In addition to simple letters, memos, messages, etc., other types of files can be added to email messages as attachments. An Internet protocol called MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) allows non-text files to be sent along with text-based email messages. Attachments can be files such as a word processing document, a spreadsheet, or a graphic image. The person sending the message "attaches" the file and the recipient receives the email along with the attached file. That file can then be opened directly in the browser, or downloaded onto the recipient's computer.

6. How can you communicate with large groups of people?

There are two basic ways. First, an email message can be addressed to a group of people, such as the entire library staff, an entire department or division or an entire medical center. The email is then sent to all of the addresses listed. The second method is called an email discussion list.

7. What is an email discussion list?

An email discussion list is a type of electronic forum which allows users to discuss topics, gather information, etc. With an email discussion list, an individual can send an email message to a group of people, all of whom can read and respond to it. Users "subscribe" to email discussion lists. When a message is sent to a list, it is distributed to all of the "subscribers." Once subscribed, list users will regularly receive email from others on the list. Email discussion lists often serve as forums for specific groups such as medical librarians, interlibrary loan librarians, cataloging librarians, etc.

8. What is netiquette?

Netiquette is Internet etiquette—the set of rules of behavior for users of the Internet. Some guidelines:

  • Use normal upper and lower case letters. Using all capital letters in a message is known as SHOUTING and is considered rude.
  • Don't assume that your intentions will be understood. Subtleties of emotion and body language cannot easily be conveyed in an email message.
  • Avoid "flaming": sending insulting, abusive, or threatening remarks through email.
  • Remember that email is not necessarily private. Your messages may be forwarded to many people without your knowledge. In addition, many email software programs archive the messages they receive for weeks, months, or longer.
  • Always identify yourself and keep messages brief and to the point.

What is telnet and how does telnet work?

Telnet is an Internet resource for communication between computers. Telnet is a protocol, or set of rules, that enables one computer to connect to another computer. This process is also referred to as remote login. The computer which initiates the connection is called the local computer, and the machine which accepts the connection is referred to as the remote or host computer.

Once the local computer connects to the remote computer through the Internet, the local computer emulates the remote computer. This means that when the local user types in a command, the command is executed on the remote computer. The local user’s monitor then displays what is happening on the remote computer during the telnet session. Through telnet, the local user’s computer "piggybacks" on the remote computer and can perform functions and use applications located on the remote computer. Generally, when a connection is made between the local and remote computers, instructions or menus will appear on the local user’s computer. Some remote machines may require a username and password is order to allow access to the remote computer’s resources.

Telnet is used for a variety of communication and information functions. Information resources such as library catalogs, databases, and other Internet tools are available through telnet from computers around the world.

10. What is ftp and how does ftp work?

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It is a protocol, or set of rules, that allows files to be transferred between computers.

The user connects to an ftp server via the Internet. An ftp server is a computer which has files stored on it and which is connected to the Internet. Once connected, the user can navigate through the files and transfer desired files to his/her computer through the Internet.

There are many types of files available using ftp, such as various documents, free software, software upgrades and software repair kits.

11. What is anonymous ftp?

While some ftp servers require a username and password in order to access files, many servers contain a variety of public documents which may be accessed without a username or password. These are called anonymous ftp servers because typically the server will ask the user to put in the name "anonymous" as a username and their email address as a password.

12. What are zip files?

Files on ftp servers are generally compressed or "zipped." By compressing files to a smaller size, they take up less space on the ftp server and also transfer faster to the user’s computer. Once files have been transferred to the user’s computer, they must be decompressed or "unzipped" in order to be used. Special compression software is available for accomplishing this. Newer operation systems also provide such file compression features.

13. What is the World Wide Web?

The World Wide Web (WWW) makes information available on the Internet as a series of "documents." These documents are referred to as web pages and may contain text, images, videos, audios, or other multimedia. The web pages are prepared using special languages such as HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) or XHTML (Extensible Hypertext Markup Language).

14. How does markup language work?

Markup languages such as HTML or XHTML consist of special codes or "tags" that are used to format the structure of information on a web page such as bold, italics, header, body, paragraphs, images, and numbered list. They work in a similar manner to a word processing program. In addition, markup languages allow for the use of hypertext links.

15. What are hypertext links?

Hypertext links are specially coded sections of the web page document which point to other information resources. The user viewing the web page can select the hypertext link and connect to information resources that the link points to. For example: a web page article on medical libraries may have a link pointing to a list of medical libraries. By clicking on the link, the user leaves the article on medical libraries and goes to the document which lists medical libraries.

Using hypertext links, web pages can link to other web documents, images, databases, sounds, videos, email addresses, and many other information sources.

16. How is the World Wide Web organized?

Unlike a book, the World Wide Web is not linear. There is no top or bottom, there is no hierarchy of information. Using the World Wide Web, the user can start at the beginning of a document, or can jump to any point in the document, or move straight to another document without having to go through the entire document.

17. What is a URL?

URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. URLs are a type of standard Internet addressing that identifies a particular Internet resource such as a web page, a library catalog, an image or a text file. Every information resource available on the World Wide Web has a unique URL. Example: http://www.medicallibrary.edu/

HTTP stands for hypertext transfer protocol, this signifies that this is a web document.

18. What is a browser?

A browser is a type of software that acts as an interface between the user and the World Wide Web. The browser acts on behalf of the user, contacting the web server and sending requests for information. The browser then receives the information and displays it on the user’s computer. Popular browsers include Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, etc.

The browser allows the user to enter a URL (web address), select links to other information, print information from the web, save to disk, and navigate through the web.

19. What is an Internet search tool?

An Internet search tool is designed to help users locate information on the World Wide Web. The two main types are search engines and subject directories. Internet search tools collect and organize resources available on the World Wide Web. The method of organization varies from one tool to the next. Popular search tools include Google (http://www.google.com, a search engine), and Yahoo! Directory (http://dir.yahoo.com/, a web-based subject directory)

20. How do search tools find the resources?

There are two ways. Generally, search engines employ the use of special software which searches the web for information. When the user enters a keyword, the search engine attempts to match web documents which contain the same word.

Subject directories usually involve some type of human intervention. People actually search the web and identify sights that fit under various subjects. When the user enters a keyword, the index matches it with a subject heading and displays various websites which fit under the specified subject.