I won't call you silly as I dabble in Linux from time to time myself. I'm certainly no expert here, but no one else is responding, so I'll give it a go.
One thing that strikes me from what you wrote is that the Knoppix disk works on an older desktop and not on newer laptop. Since the library book disk isn't the latest, it's possible that the laptop has hardware/features that are newer than, and unrecognized by the older Knoppix distro.
You could try searching for a newer release of Knoppix and see if that helps.
Personally, I've been playing with a different distribution called Puppy Linux and found it quite easy and fun to use. Try visiting here
for more information. It's quire small (one DVD) and fast, and designed to run entirely in RAM. You can save configuration files in your Vista 'C:' drive without having to partition and format, or you can exit without saving and there are no traces of Puppy left on your system.
Hope this helps,