INDEX BY: Edition / Title
Access 97 Basic Skills
by S Coles and J Rowley
published in 1997 by Letts
168pp ISBN 1-85805-299-8 8.99

Access 97 Further Skills
by S Coles and J Rowley
published in 1998 by Letts
300pp ISBN 1-85805-300-5 8.99

Access 97 Basic Skills and Further Skills

Access 97 Further Skills provides an excellent introduction to the capabilities and uses of Access 97. By taking the reader through the development of a database, it manages to cover pretty much all you would want to do with a basic Access database. With sections covering the relational parts of Access and some of the more complicated features such as macros, and producing forms without using wizards, but the vast bulk of the book is concerned with the construction of forms and reports.

In common with most other introductions to databases it has its example database, which is developed throughout the book, allowing the reader to develop real applications of the ideas and functions presented, also in common with most other database courses it uses an almost completely useless database as an example. While the example database covers most of the functions admirably, it may have been better to use an example use of databases which most people can relate to, such as organising a music collection, or even an address book, rather then managing a leisure centre.

Coverage of topics such as macros, form design and reports is excellent. The descriptions and uses of control properties is extensive, allowing a new user to use some of the more obscure and useful tools that Access has hidden away in it.

The sections on importing and exporting data are about the best I have seen covering this important, but often neglected part of the functionality of Access. The ability to use transfer data between applications is one of the most important uses of an office suite, and moving data into Access can sometimes be a little tricky if you don't know what you are doing.

The quick reference pages in the back of the book are extremely useful for the new user, including things like the standard windows mouse pointers, maximise, minimise and restore buttons, which is something I wish I did not have to explain every five minutes. Also in this section are the different toolbars that Access uses to confuse new users. While the descriptions of the functions are concise and useful, not linking the name of the button to the icon is something of a disadvantage. This is an ongoing concern throughout the book, with sections of unlabelled and undescribed toolbar appearing throughout the text.

More detail on queries, and ways of using queries to generate useful information would have been better use of some of the space given to the presentation of forms and reports and the small index and glossary does reduce its usefulness as a reference book.

Throughout the book there is a lack of reasons why you may want to perform an operation, use a control or run a query. This could leave the reader unsure as to what they may need to do once away form the artificial world of the example database.

Starting with a (very brief) introduction to databases Access 97 Basic skills launches into using Access 97 to produce a simple flat file database. This book is a slimmed down version of the Further Skills book with all of its content present in the Further Skills book. Maybe because of this, the Basic Skills book is particularly good at introducing what are often considered to be overly complicated functions, such as Find and Replace, wildcards and some of the intricacies of field properties, such as formats, masks and validation.

The descriptions of basic activities such as resizing controls are extremely useful to the new user, and do not assume a level of competence in the use of such things as sizing handles which are often assumed in other courses. This approach can also be seen in the reference pages.

With about a third of the book taken up with forms, reports and formatting you can produce a well-presented database after having worked through all the chapters. The amount of space taken to go through creating forms and reports using wizards may be taking the basic approach a little far.

Again the glossary and index are rather brief, making it quite difficult to find out how to accomplish a task unless you now enough of the technical language to begin with, reducing its use as an introductory text. On top of this an alarming proportion of this quite slim book (5 pages out of 170) is given over to data for the example database.

Access's main function as a relational database management system is not mentioned until the last chapter. This may leave those who fly through the book a little lost as to what to do next, especially as it tries to cover relational theory in two pages.

Overall both books are well presented and will help a relatively inexperienced user to develop an effective database application, and to be able to use a lot of the functionality of Access in a very short time.

The Basic Skills book, aimed at new users is fine if you just want to make a simple flat file database, but if you are likely to want to use multiple tables at any time, it is probably worth launching straight into the Further Skills book. Either book would make a useful addition to the bookshelf of anybody who wants to learn to use that strange beast lurking in their MS Office package.

Paul Cummins
Student Teacher, Oxford Brookes University