Maintaining and Sustaining Technology

In this section, we address the day-to-day management of library technology. In other words, once you have it, what do you do with it all? How do you keep it running? How do you facilitate communication between frontline staff and IT personnel? How do you hire the best available techies? What do you do with old computers? How do you document your IT environment and keep track of your hardware and software? Should you plan in advance for upgrades and replacements?

If you’re new to managing public computers, you may want to start by looking at A Cookbook for Small and Rural Libraries, especially Chapter Two. You’ll find solid information there about maintenance checklists, hard drive lock-down tools and related topics. If you’re interested in PC reservation software and print management software, check out Chapters 5 and 6 of Recipes for a 5-Star Library. You can find them both on our Cookbook home page.

Introduction to Help-desk Management

There are many different ways in which you can manage and automate your help-desk…your approach has much to do with your current library environment and available resources. Do you have policies and procedures in place to help your staff handle tech support issues? Are you large enough that you could benefit from some help-desk management software? Do you have a regular maintenance routine for your computers? Are you making an effort to standardize your IT infrastructure? Our intent here is to give you the information and tools you need to evaluate your help-desk support needs and take appropriate action.

Why Should You Actively Manage Your Help-Desk?

  • Protect your IT investments. Computers that aren’t supported and maintained properly will break down more often and cease to function sooner.
  • Make IT staff more effective. Remote desktop tools cut down on travel, and help-desk management software helps your techies manage their time and their workflow.
  • Boost staff productivity. The longer your colleagues have to wait for tech support, the less work they can do.
  • Avoid “shadow” tech support. If staff has to wait too long, they’ll often try to fix problems on their own or find workarounds. This usually winds up costing you more lost time and productivity. Also, staff can sometimes make a problem worse with their fixes, and their workarounds may pose a security problem.

Key Actions


To help you better understand your tech support situation, we have included a Library Tech Support Evaluation Sheet.

Stories from the Field

We just have to figure it out. We are a very small library, and we don’t have some of the services that bigger towns have. Last resort, there is one place in town we could hire a technician from, but the library’s budget doesn’t have a lot of money for things like that. So usually what I’ve done in the past, if there’s just something that I can’t figure out, I call other librarians from surrounding areas and ask them if something like that has happened to them and what they’ve done. For instance, we actually got a grant from Gates, and one of the librarians from Miles City came and helped me set up the computers because I was new. Well, I wasn’t new, but my job had changed, and I went from cataloging to more of the technology part of what our library does. And she came down. She helped us. It was phenomenal and amazing. It was Hannah Nash from Miles City. We have such great contact and support from other libraries that if I can’t figure it out myself, that’s how we usually get things done.

Dawn Kingstad
Glendive Public Library, MT

It can be very frustrating thinking, “All I want is this one little thing fixed.” But he knows that we’re functioning okay without it. It’s not going to cause the system to shut down. And he may have another client whose system is shutting down. So we keep saying, 'Would you please hire more people? Hire some more people, we need more time.' And I think the distance is also a problem. If he were just down the road or 20 minutes away, that would be really helpful. But it’s an hour and a half to two hours for him to get here from his office. So it isn’t just an hour quick fix. It’s an hour quick fix plus three-hour round trip drive.

Drusilla Carter
Carter Chesterfield County Library, SC

I do most of the tech support because we have an extremely small budget for technology. My IT guy also works for some of the rural schools in our area, and he lives 20 miles away from here as well, so he’s not readily available. And so I do a good majority of the IT work and then when I run into things that I just can’t deal with, or don’t have the time to deal with we call him in and usually he’ll take the computer off premises and take a look at it. I try not to call him very often because we have $1,500 a year for tech maintenance. And then through another grant from the state I have $1,200, so altogether I have $2,700 for technology for the entire year.

Michelle Fenger
Ronan City Library, MT

In other consortiums where I've worked at it seems to me that it's a pretty typical model that the central office or the consortium wants to have a single point of contact for technical concerns at each branch library so that there's coordination and communication. It's also, I think, more of a 'train the trainer' kind of model. The local tech person takes on some responsibility and feels empowered to train staff at their local branch. They're all regular library staff. Here, our tech person, she has many, many responsibilities but I believe that she just kind of bubbled up to the top of the heap as the person that's most interested and most adept at technology.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Further Resources

To find out more, see the Further Resources section.

Remote Desktop Software

Anyone who’s tried to support the computers in a multibranch library system will sing the praises of remote desktop software (aka remote control software). Ten years ago, librarians often had to drive 60 miles or more to reset a password or download a software patch at a branch library. Remote control applications allow you to establish a connection with a computer anywhere in your library system, see what’s happening on that computer and control it using your own mouse and keyboard. Of course, the user of that computer has to give you permission to do this, or you need to have the administrative password. Also, there usually needs to be some client software installed on that remotely controlled PC. Finally, you may need to open some ports in the firewall at your central location and at the branch libraries.

You can buy standalone remote desktop software, but it often comes bundled with operating systems and software suites. The following are some commonly used tools:

  • Also, Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop Connection are two utilities built into recent Windows operating systems. Remote Desktop is the more fully featured of the two, but it only comes with professional and business versions of Windows.
  • Finally, remote control software often comes bundled in help-desk management or systems management suites.

Why Use Remote Control Software?

  • It allows you to reduce your travel time between library branches.
  • You can see exactly what your branch librarians are seeing. You don’t have to rely on their description of a problem.
  • You can sometimes use remote control software to install software or download software updates and patches. However, there are more efficient ways to do this.

Key Actions

  • As a first step, see if you can use the Remote Desktop feature in Windows XP or Windows Vista between two computers in your main branch. Remote Desktop is free and already installed on most Windows machines. By playing with it this way, you can see what this software looks like from both sides (the controlling computer and the controlled computer) before asking branch librarians to use it with you. Once you understand the basic functionality, try using it to connect two computers over the Internet or over your wide area network (WAN). Again, depending on the software you’re using, you may have to open some ports in the firewall at each location.
  • Be sure you secure your remote control application. If you don’t take the right precautions, you could accidentally give a hacker full control of your machine. For example, if you’re using one of the built-in Microsoft solutions, Securing Your Remote Desktop for Windows XP and Using Remote Assistance can help.

Stories from the Field

For us, the cost really is not in the staff time of being there and doing the task. For us, being over 5,000 square miles, the cost is the travel. So we’ve implemented Remote Assistant and Remote Desktop for our staff so we can actually go in and do things on the staff computers that we need to do. I figured that it takes at least $1,000 just to drive to and from every one of our branches one time. Remote Assistant is used for troubleshooting, because we like to be able to see what the user sees. We try not to do things for them. We try to say, ‘Move your mouse up to the left and click on that.’ That’s how you need to do it, because hopefully, they’ll remember next time, and then they won’t need to call us. It’ll be faster for them if they can remember and are able to do it on their own.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, MN

But we can remote into any of the machines. We have that set up. We’re all domain admins here in our shop. We set it up so that we’ll have access to anywhere on the domain. And we can essentially either use something like VNC access or we can actually remote into the machine, since everything has Windows XP right now. We use the Remote Assistant if it’s a staff person [who is] having a problem or a patron [who is] on one of the clients and staff has tried to assist but couldn’t finish it up. They couldn’t figure out the problem. We have them do a Remote Assistant request to us, and we always have someone here all the hours we’re open.

Michael Fettes
Alachua County Library, FL

In fact, we have started paying for a new service for us to utilize with those libraries, but, again, they need to have a usable, workable Internet and a usable, workable browser. It’s called LogMeIn. We set up a session on our end, like here at the office, online, and then give them the key over the phone. And they’ll take their browser with the machine that they’re having trouble with and connect to the site LogMeIn and use that key, and that’ll establish a remote access session between us and them. I can take control of their machine. It’s kind of like pcAnywhere.

And we do use the remote access for administrative login to their server and do maintenance from there. But I have to actually be out there to do some of the work ‘cause a lot of it’s been upgrades or physical repair, and the machine doesn’t work.

Adam Beatty
North Texas Regional Library System, TX

Further Resources

If you are looking for a few more resources on this topic, check out the Further Resources section.

Help-Desk Management Software

Communication between IT technicians and frontline staff breaks down occasionally, especially in mid-sized and large libraries. Frontline staff submit incomplete information about the problems they’re experiencing, and IT staff sometimes lose track of help requests. Help-desk management software offers several features to help improve communication. Most use a form of some kind to elicit detailed information from staff about where and when and how a problem started occurring. When someone submits a request, it goes into a queue so that no one gets preferential treatment. IT managers can distribute the incidents to different technicians, or the software can handle that automatically. As the problem approaches resolution, the techie can update the status and send messages to the person who submitted the request. If IT staff document their fixes, the help-desk software becomes a knowledge repository.

Help-desk software almost always has some form of asset tracking tool as well so you can tie each request to a particular machine. We discuss IT asset management software separately, but the two are often sold together. Also, you might find help-desk software in suite of systems management software. Whether you’re investigating an application suite or individual pieces of software, make sure that the components work well with one another.

Why Should You Consider Help-Desk Software?

  • Improve IT workflow. Help-desk programs give IT departments the tools they need to track their activities and better manage their workflow.
  • Facilitate communication. Help-desk applications create formal, regular channels for communication between IT personnel and the end user.
  • Uncover recurring problems. Tracking support problems can help you discover recurring issues. Are a few computers taking up hours and days of staff time? It might be worth it to replace those machines. Are staff members taking up hours of your IT department’s time with routine questions about core software (e.g., Microsoft Word, Microsoft Outlook)? This could point to a need for more training.
  • Better reporting, evaluation and planning. Good help-desk management software will produce regular reports that you can use for planning and evaluation. For example, if it takes your technicians three weeks on average to resolve a routine software problem, they may be understaffed or they might be managing their time poorly.
  • Avoid duplicated work. If your technicians record their solutions, discoveries and methods in a help-desk application, they’ll have a much easier time solving similar problems in the future.

Key Actions

  • As with all software purchases, the process begins by talking to colleagues and gathering a set of requirements. Does your library need this particular application? What do they want it to do, and how much can you spend?
  • Try out some free help-desk management tools such as TechAtlas, OneOrZero and SysAid.

Help-Desk Software Options

For a clearer picture of the types of help-desk software available to you, download and review our Help-Desk Software Options tool.

Stories from the Field

There’s another open-source product I’m using called OneOrZero, which is a help-desk or a task management system. It’s an open-source application, and you can download it for free, but they have a unique model where the most recent version is for subscribers only, and the previous version is always free. And I did subscribe to that, so we pay, say, $35 a year. So we're a subscriber. Since I pay them, I get support directly from them. I can contact them, their support team, and get support.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

The SYS-Aid Help Desk…I’m going to start that here as well so we can keep better track of problems, because right now people are just emailing me, and I’m getting all these emails about a problem, and it’s hard to keep up with it. So I’ve already downloaded the help-desk, and it’s just a matter of me setting it up and getting all the branch managers the accounts so that they can keep up with what’s going on. It’s full-blown help-desk software, and I’m using [the version] where you have to actually have an account. So the branch manager will be given an account to access this help-desk and [can] submit problems under certain designated categories. They will be issued a help-desk ticket, and that way, we can keep up with what’s going on.

Jaketha Farmer
Bossier Parish Libraries, LA

Further Resources

If you are looking for more information on this topic, check out the Further Resources section.

Help-Desk Policies and Procedures

As with any other department, your IT department becomes more difficult to manage the more it grows. If you’re the only employee at your library, you probably don’t need formal help-desk policies. However, if there are 500 employees in your system, it’s more important to have some written procedures.

Why Formalize Your Support Policies and Procedures?

  • Policies and procedures ensure fairness. Without some forethought and a written policy, you’ll open yourself to charges of favoritism. Why was Barbara’s PC fixed before Cindy’s even though Cindy submitted her request first?
  • Priorities and standards give your employees some idea of what to expect. They know roughly how long it takes to fix or replace a hard drive, how long it takes to order a new monitor, make a change to the web site, etc.
  • Service standards give managers a benchmark they can use to measure performance.

What’s the Library’s Procedure for Handling Help Requests?

  • Do you have a central point of contact for librarians with a tech support problem? If some librarians email Marty, others email Jane, others use the phone, and others just drop by, support issues are more likely to get lost or delayed. Consider designating a single digital point of contact (e.g., an email address or a Web form) and a single analog point of contact (e.g., a phone number).
  • How does IT communicate back to the end user? Do they send a reply to each support request indicating that the message was received? Do they periodically send updates if the problem can’t be resolved in the first attempt? Do they check up afterwards to make sure the problem was resolved to the end user’s satisfaction?
  • Do first-level IT staff know how to escalate a problem? In other words, if a technician can’t solve a problem, who do they turn to? It may vary, depending on the type of problem. Sometimes, they’ll escalate to another tech; other times, they might escalate to a vendor or a consultant.
  • Can anyone in the library call the help-desk, or do support requests go through a designated person at each branch? See the following stories from Jaketha Farmer and Paul Ericsson.

What Are Your Help-Desk Priorities?

A simple first-come, first-serve queue makes sense for some problems. But if your web-site is offline and one of your catalogers is having trouble changing his desktop background image, which problem should you address first? OK, that’s easy, but other questions are more difficult to answer. For example, is a manager’s request automatically given a higher priority? If your Web server and your mail server are both giving you trouble, which one should you fix first?

Help-desk policies often define different “impact levels.” For instance, a problem that affects multiple users or the entire library has a higher impact than something affecting one or two librarians. A problem with no workaround has a higher impact than one with a workaround.

Furthermore, help-desks frequently distinguish between problem tickets, which render a critical component inoperable, and project tickets, such as the installation of new software or the creation of a new user account. Problem tickets usually receive a higher priority.

Should You Have a Service Level Agreement?

A Service Level Agreement, or SLA, goes beyond a simple statement of priorities. An SLA includes formal goals for your IT department to shoot for in terms of reliability and response times. For instance, an SLA might specify that the library’s web site will be available 99 percent of the time.

Even if you don’t institute service-level standards for every aspect of your tech support, you can establish standards for some of the more important elements. For example, you might associate a standard response time with each of the impact levels mentioned previously. Impact level I (i.e., top-priority incidents) will be resolved within a day.

Of course, you have to talk to your IT department to find out which goals are reasonable and which ones aren’t. Also, you should only set goals for the outcomes you know how to measure. Don’t promise a one-day turnaround on an issue if there isn’t a system in place to track turnaround times and report on them.

Stories from the Field

The technology plan also included a Service Level Agreement with city IT, essentially saying, ‘This is the level of service that we’d expect from IT, and this is what the library staff can do, what our responsibilities are in relation to library technology equipment and how far we’d go for the public.’ And there’s a point where we have to say, ‘Okay, we need to call in IT to take care of this.’ And the Service Level Agreement guarantees a response time and availability of library computers. If something breaks, you need to be here within so many hours, so many days, depending on the emergency, and that helped us have a better relationship with the city IT because it sort of said, ‘Here’s really our need,’ and it kind of woke them up as far as understanding what our needs are, and they’ve been more responsive in doing that, and with the agreement, it’s just been a lot better.

Jeff Scott
Casa Grande Public Library, AZ

We don’t necessarily have anybody [who] has been having special training at each branch, but as of last week, I required all branches to submit what I called an IT chain of command instead of everybody coming to me about problems, support staff, or managers and different people. It got to the point where if I repaired a problem and told anybody who was working at the desk at that particular time, ‘Hey, this problem is fixed,’ I still had people coming to me constantly, constantly, constantly. So I told them to put together an IT chain of command. The number one person on the list must be the branch manager.That is the person who is responsible for the technology at their branch. They have to know what’s going on, when is it going on, how is it going on, has it been fixed, has it not been fixed. Basically, they are responsible for keeping up with IT in their branch. They also have the opportunity to put on a second and a third person. The second person would just take the place of the branch manager when they’re not there. If that second person is not there, the third person I encouraged them to put [is] someone who works over the weekend. All three of them are supposed to work together, and they are supposed to know what’s going on. And those are the only people [who] I talk to at that branch as far as technology is concerned. Nobody else can come to me and ask me about what’s going on. The branch manager is also the person who is going to have access to the help-desk.

Jaketha Farmer
Bossier Parish Libraries, LA

In other consortiums where I’ve worked, it seems to me that it’s a pretty typical model that central office or the consortium or regional headquarters or whatever wants to have a single point of contact at the branch library so that there’s coordination and communication. [Also,] [I think] it’s more of a ‘train the trainer’ kind of model so that the branch person then takes on some responsibility and feels empowered to train staff at their local branch. They’re regular library staff. Here, our tech person, she has many, many responsibilities, but I believe that she just kind of bubbled up to the top of the heap as a person [who is] most interested and most adept at technology.

Paul Ericsson
Bemidji Public Library, MN

Further Resources

For more information about help-desk policies and procedures, check out the Further Resources section.

Hiring the Right Techs

Hiring, at its worst, inspires both boredom and anxiety. Wading through resumes bores us, and the thought of hiring the wrong person scares us. And the fear factor is worse when you’re a non-techie who’s been tasked with hiring IT staff. As with any complicated, difficult decision, success starts with good planning.

Consider the following when considering hiring staff:

  • Do you really know what you’re looking for in this new employee?
  • Does the job description reflect your needs?
  • Should this be a permanent, full-time position or should you hire a contractor?
  • Do you have the right people on your interview team?
  • Have you thought carefully about the questions you’ll ask the candidates?

The last ten years have witnessed a change in perspective with regards to IT staffing. At one point, most managers viewed technology as an obscure, mystical specialty similar to medicine or law. In-depth knowledge mattered more than personality in hiring decisions. Lately, after years of frustration and miscommunication, some business writers have started to preach a doctrine of “hire for attitude, train for skill.” The right balance depends in large part on who you already have on your team.

Why Is IT Hiring Important?

The consequences of a bad tech hire can haunt you for years, long after the person in question has left your organization. For example, consider the following:

  • Techies with a lot of in-depth product knowledge sometimes lack the critical thinking/research skills necessary to make good choices and investments. As we all know, investing in the wrong technology or buying from the wrong vendor can cause significant losses in terms of money and opportunity.
  • Some tech geniuses out there don’t understand that the rest of us have limitations. These folks sometimes want to invest in complicated, powerful technology that their colleagues won’t understand. Or they’ll customize a piece of software to the point that no one else in the organization can use it or maintain it.
  • IT people without soft skills can alienate other librarians, souring them on everything to do with technology. Or they may get along with colleagues on a day-to-day basis, but lack the ability to communicate new ideas and build consensus around them.

Key Actions

  • Get some techies to help with hiring. Find one or two trusted techies who can participate in the hiring process, from the writing of the job description all the way through to the final interviews and selection.
  • Get some non-techies to help out, too. Find one or two non-techies and ask them to be part of the hiring process, from start to finish. Ideally, these non-techies will work at your circulation or reference desk. If the candidate can’t communicate with them, they’re probably not right for your library.

Alternate IT Staffing Scenarios

With shrinking budgets, libraries can’t hire a full-time employee to address every one of their needs. So they get creative. One of the following ideas below might meet your needs while costing you a lot less than a permanent, 40-hour-a-week employee.

  • Share a tech person. Mid-sized independent libraries will occasionally hire a full-time tech support employee who divides his or her time between the two systems. Of course, to make this work, you and your partner library need to be close to each other and you have to have a strong relationship. Other libraries rely on shared tech support from the state library or from a regional cooperative. However, if this option isn’t available to you already, it could take you years and a lot of hard work to put it in place.
  • Outsource to local contractors. If your IT tasks require fewer than 40 hours of work per week, consider a local freelancer or IT shop. They may not have a strong understanding of libraries, and they may not always be available when you need them, but this can be a reasonable compromise if you’re short-staffed and don’t have enough money to hire a full-time techie. A lot of libraries have built a strong relationship with a local contractor.
  • Work with your vendors. Depending on the warranty and the service plan you’ve negotiated, you might be able to outsource certain IT tasks to your vendor. However, there are a lot of dangers to this approach. Troubleshooting over the phone and mailing broken parts back and forth often takes much longer than working with someone local. You might have little influence with a larger company, while a small, local IT shop can offer more responsive service. However, if you can’t find a reliable contractor in your area, large manufacturers often provide a reasonable alternative. Ask if they offer on-site support and under what circumstances. Also, inquire about RMA’ing of parts. RMA stands for Return Merchandise Authorization, and it generally means that you’ll receive a replacement part first, before you have to mail in the broken part. This effectively cuts the turnaround time in half.

Stories from the Field

Some of our hardware and printer repairs and that kind of stuff, it’s way cheaper for me to send them out and have them repaired, than for me to pay someone here to do it. It’s by the hour. Sometimes we outsource hardware repairs, of course. Some of our network maintenance we outsource. It’s part of a contract we have with our local ISP at Cincinnati Bell, and they take care of our internet. They do our router maintenance for us. That I consider outsourcing but I kind of talked them into that as part of the contract so we get that for free basically; not free, but it’s kind of a bonus. The stuff that we don’t outsource would be more related to like our database and our servers because those are, to me, so security-sensitive. But yeah, the stuff that we have outsourced, I’m happy, honestly. It saves us money. Let’s say I have a tech that makes $18 an hour and I can get all my junk together and send it out, and some guy repairs it for a flat fee, for example, or that kind of thing. That saves us money.

Michelle Foster
Boone County Library, KY

In a smaller environment, they may just want to see if there’s a cooperating organization that has somebody who could come to the interview process with them. If they’re a library, see if a school district has somebody they could borrow for the interview time, or a local university or tech school, so that they can evaluate the technical part of the interview, and then the person who’s not technical can make the decisions about the person’s character and the ability to communicate and such.

Jay Roos
Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

Yes, one of our libraries has their own tech person, and I’ve helped them go through their interview process and come up with a job description. And one of the things in the interview process that I found helpful is having them explain how they’ll fix something, even if you don’t know, just if they can describe it to you, and you catch a few things, it helps. Or have an example, like the monitor wouldn’t come on, what would you do? Or one of our staff says they can’t get their email, what would you suggest to them to do? Or a patron is complaining because a Web page won’t come up, what would you tell them to do? One job interview that I went on awhile back was at a college, and they asked, “What would you do if somebody was complaining about another person looking at pornography?” And I thought that was a clever question to ask because it kind of depends on what the policy is. So, I guess coming up with real-life situations to ask that tech person on how they would handle certain situations is a good way to find out if they really do know what they are doing because some people can talk the talk but not necessarily walk the walk. You can read a book and get the terms, but do you really know how to do it?

Jean Montgomery
Upper Peninsula Region of Library Cooperation

Further Resources

For more suggestions on hiring technology support, check out our Further Resources section.

IT Asset Management

IT asset management refers to any set of processes and procedures that helps an organization keep track of its technology resources. At the simplest level, asset management is really just inventory control. What hardware and software do you own, and where is it located? In its more advanced forms, asset management can help you better understand how your staff uses technology, with the goal of becoming more efficient and standardized in your purchasing and decision making.

Most organizations use software to help track their assets. An Microsoft Excel spreadsheet will do in a pinch, especially for smaller libraries. However, there are also lots of programs designed specifically for asset control. A few of these programs are discussed in more detail in our Further Resources section that follows. Among other things, an asset management system should be able to record serial numbers, vendor contact information, warranty information, software license numbers, activation keys, hardware configuration and networking data (e.g., IP address, subnet mask).

Keep in mind that asset management is a continuous process rather than a one-time event to help your library comply with regulations and license agreements. Any time you acquire new software or hardware, it has to be entered into the asset management system. Any time you move a computer or dispose of it, those changes have to be recorded.

IT managers and software vendors sometimes distinguish between hardware asset management and software asset management (aka SAM or software license management). The term IT asset management encompasses both hardware and software. As you’re doing research, you’ll also see reference to asset management as it relates to finance and investment, which is completely unrelated to the topic of this article.

Why Use an Asset Management System?

  • Avoiding duplicate purchases. When you’re managing 20 or 50 or 200 computers, how often do you lose track of what you own? If a colleague needs a new computer, do you have an unused PC in the building? Does it have enough power and memory? Do you have the right software licenses? It’s easy to lose track of computers, printers, routers, cell phones and PDAs, and it’s even easier to lose track of software CDs and software licenses. Asset management can stop you from buying more than you need.
  • Automating reports and inventories. How many PCs in your library are more than four years old? Which computers need an update because they have an old version of Adobe Reader or Flash? Which machines don’t have enough RAM to run Microsoft Office 2007? You can answer all of these questions with good asset management software.
  • Renegotiating software license agreements to lower costs. With asset management, you’ll know which machines have an installed copy of a particular program. You might find that you have 40 licenses for Microsoft Office, but you only have 35 copies installed in your library. Or a piece of software could be installed on a machine where it never gets used. Some asset management software will actually keep track of how often your end users are running different applications (this function is sometimes known as software metering). In other words, you may be able to remove unused and under-used copies of a program and then renegotiate that licensing agreement. Even if you can’t renegotiate your licensing agreement, you’ll have a better sense of usage patterns so that you don’t over-purchase in the future.
  • Complying with software license agreements. Once you buy a copy of Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Office, it’s easy to start installing the software everywhere, regardless of how many licenses you actually own. There might be three or four people in the organization who think they’ve been empowered to install software and manage licenses. In other words, lack of centralized asset management often leads to violations of software licensing agreements. If the Business Software Association (BSA) ever audits your library, you could be faced with significant fines.
  • Saving time. Having all of your IT information in a single, centralized location will save you countless hours of frustrated searching. How many times in the average month do you need to track down a software license number, an activation key, the phone number of a sales representative or a tech support department?
  • Standardizing your IT environment. After you have an up-to-date inventory of your hardware and software, you may notice that you own three different graphics-editing programs and four different word-processing programs. And you have 12 different hardware configurations. If you’re trying to simplify maintenance and troubleshooting by standardizing your IT environment, an asset management system will help you establish a baseline. It also helps you ensure that new technology acquisitions meet the standards that you’ve established.
  • Obeying local laws and regulations. Most libraries are departments of city or county government, and these governments have rules to prevent waste and fraud. If you purchased a new computer within the past few years, the auditors may want to know exactly where that PC is located.
  • Complying with e-rate rules. If you’ve ever purchased networking equipment with e-rate funds, that equipment has to be tracked carefully. According to the SLD (Schools and Libraries Division) Web site, “the applicant must maintain asset and inventory records for five years from the date of purchase that clearly show the actual location of the equipment.” For more information, see Demonstrating Compliance and Transfers of Equipment. Also, other grant-making organizations have similar tracking and record-keeping requirements.
  • Planning and budgeting. If you always have an up-to-date inventory of your current hardware and software, it’s much easier to predict your future requirements.

Key Actions

  • Decide what you’ll track. Make a list of the information you’re tracking now and discuss with your colleagues whether you should be tracking anything else. This can help you decide on an asset management tool.
  • Pick the right tool. An IT notebook works fine in a lot of small libraries, and it costs about $4. If you’re ready to go digital, a spreadsheet may be all you need if you only manage a handful of computers. However, even for small libraries there are advantages in using specialized asset management software such as TechAtlas or Spiceworks.
  • Evaluate free software (e.g., TechAtlas). TechAtlas was designed specifically for libraries, and it combines asset management, technology planning and help-desk management functionality. You can use it to document the configuration of desktop PCs, servers, printers, local networks, wide area networks, Internet connections and more. It’s easy to use, and WebJunction provides documentation, training and support. Spiceworks is another free program with good asset management functionality.
  • Create a baseline inventory. Once you’ve picked a tool, do a complete inventory of the hardware and software in your library.
  • Assess your licensing compliance. Once you have a complete list of all your software, compare it to your current software-licensing agreements and ask yourself if you are under-licensed in any key areas.
  • Look for savings. Do you have more copies of a program and more software licenses than you really need? You might be able to renegotiate with the software vendor, sell some of your unused copies or plan better so you don’t over-purchase again next time.
  • Look for inefficiencies. After you’ve completed your inventory, ask yourself and your staff, “Are there any ways we can simplify and standardize our hardware and software so that we’re supporting fewer configurations?”

Stories from the Field

They had a lot of software that they were paying for and either didn't need or weren't using, or weren't even aware of. They were spending a lot of money on stuff that they didn't even know they had and they didn't know what it did. When I walked in the door I didn't have a list of anything as far as who are our vendors, who's the contact person, what is our customer number, what is our license number. How many licenses of this software do we have? I didn't have any of that, but they had all this software running. So, the antivirus for example. It may be on 150 computers and we only have 100 licenses. That's a problem. Or some of the computers didn’t even have antivirus software and those are the ones that had the most viruses.

Jaketha Farmer
Bossier Parish Libraries, LA

I have software inventory, I have hardware inventory. I try to keep track of all the IP addresses that we have going out. So spreadsheets have absolutely been my best friend. I probably have 30 of them on my computer for different things I’m trying to keep track of. Subscriptions, like our antivirus subscription, replacement computers, what computers need to be recycled and what computers need to be repurchased. Peripherals, where are all my printers, what are all my printers doing, what are the IPs on them. Ink cartridges, because we have so many different printers, we have to have specific numbers for each cartridge, and so when I need to reorder one, I can just look it up in my spreadsheet. We have a lot of cost analysis that we are trying to keep track of, printer cost, paper cost. Let’s see what I have here. Jack numbers, where everything’s plugged in. So, yeah, the list could go on and on.

Sarah McElfresh
North Madison County Public Library, IN

Yeah, we use Spiceworks, which is a free product. I'm not really sure who it's from. But it's asset management and it does network protection, looks through the entire network, picks out everything that's connected to the network, which for us is almost everything. All our printers are networked and half of our phones are. We use Voice over IP for about half the phones in the building, so it pulls all that information off the network and puts it in a nice little graph for me.

Robin Hastings
Missouri River Regional Library, MO

This was years and years ago, we needed some kind of a database, just to keep track of things. And I took one of those Microsoft Access templates, those pre-canned asset management databases, and tweaked it and added some fields. And then my brother, who's a database programmer, he came over and helped me make a bunch of changes to it. We added a purchase order portion to it too. So I have a separate database that handles all of our purchase orders, tracking and history. And it works well, but it's a really awkward system to work in, so it's not perfect. And so just actually yesterday I was talking to one of our administrative assistants. She has a separate canne- purchase software that does asset and inventory tracking that she uses for everything else but technology, because I've always had this other one for technology. And we're going to migrate all that data over to her system. And then I've got all these new computers I just got in from Dell that I'm going to have her put directly into the new system. And it makes more sense because she pays the bills. So that way when the invoices come in, she can immediately go ahead and put the serial numbers and stuff into the asset system there and then we just put the tags on them -- we have little property tags that go on the computers themselves. It's a good system and it works well, especially at the end of the year when it comes to auditing. The auditors come in and they start wanting to know, what did you buy and what did you get rid of and what's the depreciated value of this? You need to be able to pull those kind of reports.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

Further Resources

We’ve included a few additional resources on the topic of IT asset management.

Five Ways to Treat Your Old Computer with Respect

In the life of every computer, there comes a day when you have to pat it on the monitor and say goodbye. It has served you faithfully (mostly), but it doesn’t fetch URLs as fast as it used to and it chews up your Microsoft Word documents.

So how do you treat an old computer with the dignity and respect it deserves?

You have several options. You can:

  • Rejuvenate it. Would more RAM or a faster operating system make the computer usable again? To learn more, check out Extending the Life of Your Computer.
  • Reuse it. Can you find a new, less stressful role for the computer within your organization? For more information, check out Extending the Life of Your Computer.
  • Refurbish it. Locate a new home for the computer at another organization. Getting Rid of Old Computers Responsibly discusses computer refurbishers who can spruce up your old computer and then donate it or sell it.
  • Recycle it. If the machine is so old that no one wants it anymore, send it to a responsible recycler. Getting Rid of Old Computers Responsibly has information on finding an electronics recycler who will dispose carefully of the parts and materials in your old PC.
  • Replace it. You can anticipate that most computers will die or reach obsolescence in three, four or five years. Plan carefully so you have money and staff time available when you need them. Replacing and Upgrading Technology can help you decide when and how to replace your hardware and software.

Extending the Life of Your Computer

Sometimes you’d really like to replace those wheezing, five-year-old computers, but you’re a bit short on funds, so you have to make the TRS-80s last a while longer. To help you make the best use of technology that you currently have, we suggest you download our Prolonging Computer Use — Tips and Tools. It outlines some of the different ways to prolong the usable life of your equipment.

Stories from the Field

If we do have the money to replace a computer, we still keep [the old one] for as long as possible. We use it as a junkyard or a parts computer. If the power supply goes bad on this computer, I can take one out of the junk computer.

Sarah McElfresh
North Madison County Public Library System, IN

Usually, when a machine goes out of service, it gets repurposed. I’ll use it as a backup machine over here; or we’ve got a temporary worker who needs a machine to sit at for a few days. And then, after that, I’ll usually store them just in case I have to send a machine back or one’s out of service for a while. And even then I’ll keep a couple just in case we decide to add another public computer here or something over there. The keyboards and the mice I’ll always keep, because we go through those, like a million a year, it seems like — they’re always getting broken or busted; the mice take a lot of abuse. And then when it’s actually time to get rid of the machine or it’s getting close to it, I’ll start taking things like the CD-ROM out, the floppy drive, and repurpose those, because the CD-ROMs and floppy drives take a lot of abuse; again, I always need them. I’ll strip the memory out, the hard drive out, because I can use those in other machines. Very rarely do I ever sell an old machine. But I can, and I’ve done it before, through the county. They have a garage sale twice a year, and I usually format the hard drive, and then our board has to declare them surplus. I have to explain how old they were, what they were used for, how much we spent for them, how much the depreciated cost is now, that kind of stuff. Then they will declare them surplus and I can take them down to the county office and they sell them, and I think they give us a percentage of the amount of money they make off of them.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library System, MT

Getting Rid of Old Computers Responsibly

When a computer is beyond repair, or if you’ve decided that you really have no use for it, you have a few options, depending on your situation. To help you sort through these options, we’ve provided a Computer Disposal The Safe and Easy Way — Quick Reference. It outlines different situations along with a list of solutions.

Why Should You Refurbish or Recycle Old Computers?

  • The environment. The more you reuse and recycle, the less you contribute to the world’s overflowing landfills. Moreover, computers contain several toxic substances, which can leak into water supplies if they’re not disposed of properly.
  • The digital divide. By donating to a refurbisher, you’re providing free or low-cost computers to individuals and organizations that can’t afford new, retail PCs.

Key Actions

  • Always consult your local state and federal regulations. Many local governments have strict rules about getting rid of equipment. If you ignore these rules, you could find yourself out of a job or worse. Furthermore, if you received state or federal funding to purchase your equipment, you have to abide by the rules outlined by the granting agency. For example, e-rate funding has a lot of strings attached. If you bought any hardware with e-rate funds, take a look at the official requirements for Transfers of Equipment.
  • Create a disposal policy. After you’ve reviewed the relevant regulations (see the previous bullet), create a policy so that everyone on your staff knows the score.
  • Act quickly. Whether you plan to donate your used computers or sell them, move them along as quickly as possible. They’re not gettin’ any younger.
  • Reclaim software licenses. For major, valuable pieces of software, be sure you record the license number, registration number and/or activation key before you erase the hard drive. Also, make note of this information in your asset management system so that you and your colleagues know which copies are available for future installs.
  • Include the operating system CDs or DVDs. Frequently, the operating system that came with your computer is tied to that machine, so you can’t reclaim the license. If that’s the case, you might as well pass it along to the next owner. Include the CD or DVD that you got from the manufacturer, along with the product activation key. With Windows operating systems, the activation key is usually printed on the Certificate of Authenticity that came with the computer.
  • Erase your hard drives. Make sure you don’t leave sensitive or private information on the hard drive of a machine that you’re donating or recycling. After you’ve migrated your data to another machine or a storage medium, you want to overwrite that drive several times with random ones and zeros. Check out Further Resources for articles on how to do this.

Stories from the Field

At any rate, when a computer has reached its end of life —- it’s either four years old or it’s just so broken we can’t fix it anymore — when that happens, we have a local place here that takes our computers for free for recycling, so we take them there. The other thing we have to do that I don’t know if everybody has to do or not, our library has to make a list of all the stuff we’re going to get rid of and it has to go before the board for approval.

Michelle Foster
Boone County Public Library, KY

For the last couple of years we’ve had a public sale for our used computers. I think actually last year, it didn't make it to the public because we let the staff have first pick and the staff bought all of them. But the year before that we did actually have a public sale. We set up in our staff driveway, and it was the first time we’d ever done it, so we had a bunch of stuff that we had stuck away in closets — a lot of old switches as well as older computers that were no longer under warranty that we really couldn’t use. We generally transfer the license from one computer to another for XP and all the other software. So we’ll wipe the hard drives clean and maybe provide a compact disc of Linux to go with it. If they want to buy their own copy of XP or whatever, they can. But it’s really easy to make those installation disks for Ubuntu. I think last year we charged 50 dollars for a computer.

Robin Hastings
Missouri River Regional Library, MO

When they’re completely unusable, we do recycle. We have a recycling project going on now in our community, which we haven’t had in the past, and they do recycle that kind of equipment. Of course, the person in the community that we go to for our computer questions, I always let him look at [the computers] and see if there are any parts he can use before we actually take them to the recycling center. We’ve even refurbished a couple of them for some of the kids in the school system just so that they would have a word processor to do their homework and that kind of thing on. And actually, our Friends of the Library has started a project where they’re going to try to refurbish some for that purpose. They’re not Internet-capable, but at least they can run some software applications on them.

LeeAnn Jessee
Adair County Public Library, KY

If they’re still workable, our chamber here has a “Computers for Kids” program [in which] different computer companies volunteer their time and refurbish computers for kids who don’t have access [to one] but would need one for classes. The school recommends who to give the computers to. But we still had a couple NT machines, and they didn’t take those because they just couldn’t do much with them. Yeah, so then we destroy the hard drives and throw them out, but usually they’re donated to Computers for Kids.

Greta Lehnerz
Natrona County Public Library, WV

Further Resources

To learn more about refurbishing and recycling of old computers, check out our Further Resources section.

Replacing and Upgrading Technology

When you’re lacking time and money, it’s tempting to wait until a computer breaks or a piece of software becomes obsolete and then think about how you’ll replace it. Even in smaller libraries, this approach leads to unscheduled downtime, inconsistent service and funding problems. In large libraries, it’s completely impractical. When you replace a batch of computers or upgrade a major piece of software, your budget takes a hit, you may want to do testing, your staff may need training and you’ll spend a significant amount of time installing and deploying. Some of the questions you should be asking yourself at this stage include:

  • What factors should you take into consideration when you’re contemplating a technology refresh?
  • How often should you replace your desktop computers?
  • How often should you replace laptops and mobile devices? Servers? Mission-critical software?

Key Actions

  • Make refreshes a part of your technology plan. If possible, make the technology refresh a part of your strategic planning and technology planning conversations. It can have a major impact on your budget and your services, so you want feedback from frontline staff, managers, trustees and patrons, if possible.

  • Use Spiceworks to plan a hardware refresh. Use Spiceworks or another asset management tool to help you determine which computers need to be replaced. If you’ve completed an inventory of your technology with Spiceworks, you can run a report that lists all the PCs you own with less than 1 GB of RAM. Or you can run a report on the PCs that are more than four years old. Or the ones that haven’t been upgraded from Windows XP. Whatever your criteria, that list is the starting point for your technology refresh project. It also helps you to make your budget requests. If you can see that 15 computers will enter their fifth year of service during 2013, you should budget for at least 15 replacement machines.
  • Use Spiceworks to plan a software refresh. You can also use Spiceworks when you’re considering a software refresh. For example, if you want to upgrade your computers to Microsoft Office 2013 Professional Plus, your PCs need at least 1 GB of RAM, 3 GB of free hard drive space and a 1 GHz processor. With Spiceworks or another asset management tool, you can easily whip up a list of computers that don't meet the requirements for the new software. These PCs will need upgrading or replacement, or you may have to delay your rollout of the new software until you have faster machines.
  • Communicate with staff. Let them know well in advance if you’ll be replacing their computers or installing new software. If your planned changes will have a major impact, invite them to give feedback or ask them if the upgrade will have any unforeseen consequences on the way they do their work.
  • Train your staff. Rollouts of new software and upgrades of existing software usually require some staff training.

Deciding When to Refresh

There are no hard and fast rules about when a refresh should occur. In general, desktop systems and servers are replaced every three to four years, while laptops, phones and other mobile devices are swapped every two to three years. Printers and networking equipment may last five years or more. Software and operating systems vary widely, depending on your organization’s needs and vendor support. However, these are all just guidelines, and factors unique to your organization will drive the final decision about when to refresh.

  • What’s in your budget? Can you afford to buy new computers or new software?
  • How much are your old computers really costing you? “Hang onto those PCs as long as possible! Squeeze every last dime out of those computers!” That sounds reasonable enough to a cost-conscious library director. However, old computers often have significant hidden costs. Your IT staff will spend much more time supporting a five-year-old computer. Frontline staff will answer more questions from frustrated patrons. Everyone will waste time waiting for software to load.
  • How long are the computers under warranty? Some libraries purchase a three- or four-year warranty for their computers and start to look into replacement machines once the warranty runs out.
  • Does the vendor still support the technology? Often, a vendor will no longer support a particular operating system or software. From that point on, it gets harder to keep the software secure and operational.
  • Are your old computers delaying other upgrades? For example, are you waiting to upgrade your ILS because your servers can’t handle the latest version?
  • Are old, slow computers driving away your patrons? Obviously, this is a major consideration. If your machines struggle to play YouTube videos or your patrons have to wait a long time for basic tasks such as checking email, you should consider upgrading or replacing your computers.

Selecting a Computer Refresh Strategy

    Big bang: In this approach, you switch out all of the computers in your library at the same time every third, fourth or fifth year. This is a risky strategy, since your funding sources could dry up just as you’re about to replace everything. Furthermore, this “all at once” approach puts a big strain on your IT department, who needs to deal with a sudden influx of new equipment. On the other hand, your IT department will always have a standard hardware configuration because all the PCs were purchased at the same time. Also, you might save some money by buying in bulk.
     

    Phased refresh: A lot of libraries swap out a fraction of their computers each year. For example, if they’re on a four-year replacement cycle, they’ll replace 25 percent of their PCs each year. This makes their budget requests more uniform and spreads out the impact of hardware rollouts.
     

    Modified big bang: If your funding agency allows it, you can set aside a chunk of money each year for new computers. However, rather than spending it as it’s allocated, you can wait and make one big purchase every third or fourth year.

    Developing a Training Plan

    Software upgrades and rollouts can cause a lot of frustration and lost productivity if staff haven’t been trained properly beforehand.

    • How much money and effort will you invest in your training program? “Training” might consist of a few handouts if your new software only implements minor changes. It could consist of a month-long class with multiple sessions if you’re upgrading mission-critical software, such as your ILS.
    • Who conducts the training? You can assign the training to internal staff or outside contractors. Developing an effective curriculum takes a big chunk of time, so libraries often bring someone in from the outside or send their employees to classes held at other locations.
    • When do you schedule it? If you train your staff too far in advance of the software installation, they’ll forget everything they’ve learned by the time they actually need it. If you wait until after the installation, staff will have to support software that they don’t understand.

    Stories from the Field

    What we do is we maintain a database of all our computers, and we also look at the warranty. Typically, we purchase our computers with a three-year warranty. And from that database, I extract a report every fiscal year that shows which computers are either already out of warranty or will become out of warranty by the end of the fiscal year. From there, we analyze which computers need to be replaced. And some of the computers that are giving us more problems, even though they’re not on the top of the list, we escalate them because we know that we’ve been fixing [them] X amount of times.

    Silvia Urena
    San Mateo County Library, CA

    We’re hoping to keep the Discover stations changed out. I am planning to put new computers in those stations every three years. I never want those to give us any trouble. I want to change out every three, no more than five years, the whole library network, which is all of our staff computers and our whole circulation system and our public access catalog. I don’t want equipment to stand in our way if there’s any way that I can find the money to do that. I have pretty well communicated that with all the powers that be as far as the budgeting goes.

    Phyllis Reed
    Ruidoso Public Library, NM

    We try to stick to at least a three-year schedule. We try, we do our very best. Because I would say the general rule of thumb is if it’s three years old, you need to throw it in the trash. You can throw it in the trash or revamp it, reimage it, do whatever you need to do, but after three years, don’t look for it to work pristinely. So we try to replace everything if it’s been here for three years. But, of course, we have the money, so we can do that. I know a lot of people don’t. So in that situation, my best advice is to upgrade those computers as far as you can, upgrade the RAM as much as you possibly can, and just put a fresh image on it. If you have major problems, just run a new operating system on it and start from scratch, because that’ll take care of anything that’s wrong with it, for the most part.

    Jarvis Sims
    Hall County Library System, GA

    We try to stick to about a four-year computer replacement cycle, depending on the uses of the computers. A standard staff machine or a public workstation, I try to replace them every four years. Catalog machines, machines that are just used for browsing the OPAC, single-purpose machines that don’t take a lot of abuse and they’re not very complicated machines to begin with, I can usually push them out to five years, if needed. I do purchase almost all of my PCs brand new. I’ve had people who insist on donating computers to us, and I’d rather they give them to a school or a nonprofit or some other kind of organization. But I’ve used those before.

    Matt Beckstrom
    Lewis & Clark Public Library, MT

    It’s absolutely difficult to get people to go along with change, even when it’s minor, or where we think that we’ve discussed it and we’ve said, ‘Well, they won’t need training on that, so let’s just go ahead.’ We found that they absolutely thought they needed training on it. And that was the case when we switched from our old email software to Zimbra. We thought, ’You know, it’s email. It’s not that different from Hotmail; it’s not that different from Yahoo! It’s just the buttons are in different places.’ But staff absolutely expected that it was a big enough change that they ought to have received training. So one of the things we try to do to mitigate that is to tell people as early and as often that something is changing, something is coming, and get whatever details out that we can. And as far as what we can actually do for training, we’re very limited, because we don’t have a very large training budget. So we try to just put out pieces that they can read, and we just try to do it through communicating.

    Jay Roos
    Great River Regional Library, St. Cloud, MN

    And in fact, we talked to the city manager, and he suggested we only change [the computers] out every four years, [since they are ] not changing that much and it’s taking too long to install. So our goal will be by four years, we’ll be totally changed out.

    K.G. Ouye
    San Mateo Public Library, CA

    Essentially, the two of us get together and decide what machines need to be replaced. And typically, staff machines get replaced first because they’re being used to make the library go. Although this last time around, we did replace public machines first because those were getting very old. And typically, it’s probably between three and five years when they’re replaced.

    Brian Heils
    Dubuque County Library, IA

    Most of the stuff is replaced on a regular cycle, and for us, it’s four years. We used to do five years, but then you run into issues where you have different operating systems because usually, in five years, you’ve got new operating systems to deal with. At any rate, when a computer has reached its end of life, it’s either four years old or it’s just so broken we can’t fix it anymore.

    Michelle Foster
    Boone County Library, KY

    We try to replace 10 to 12 computers a year, and that’s throughout the library. We keep an inventory of the oldest, or we had a PAC [public access computer] stolen out of the teen zone and that one had to be replaced. But we try to do 10 to 12 a year; we budget for that so that in a three-year period almost everything has been replaced.”

    Greta Lehnerz
    Natrona County Public Library, WV

    We like to keep all of our computers in warranty for four years if it’s at all possible. And we generally run one year past warranty. We figure at that point we can start cannibalizing and using the parts out of our older machines to replace things that are required and keep enough of them going to keep them available for the extra year. And we basically buy in the vicinity of 60 to 70 desktops every year. With the 400-plus we have out there, that puts us at a four-and-a-half to five-year schedule. And sometimes we get a few more; like this year we got lucky. Dell had great buys at the end of a quarter and we were able to get 80 with our budgeted amount instead of 60. So we basically replace everything within five years.

    Michael Fettes
    Alachua County Library District, FL

    We have a four-year replacement schedule. We are funding that partly through the Gates hardware upgrade. We were the beneficiaries of one of the original Gates computers and libraries grants — two of them, in fact; two of the different cycles. And, therefore, we’re eligible for the latest round of grants to replace computers in libraries. So that’s certainly helping us replace those PCs. We also are the huge beneficiaries of a sales tax measure in the county of Fresno that is specific to supporting libraries. So we have the money in our budget [to keep] the PCs operational and [to get] that level of staffing that allows us to have all those techs and the money for a four-year replacement plan for all of our computers.

    Deborah Janzen
    Fresno County Public Library, CA

    Further Resources

    Introduction to Managing a Library Help-Desk

    Remote Desktop Software

    Help-Desk Management Software

    • OneOrZero and osTicket are two popular open-source programs. For a complete list of open-source tools, see the Open-Source Help-Desk List. SysAid is a proprietary tool, but they offer a free version of their software. HelpSpot and Kayako are two well-known commercial programs.
    • TechAtlas also includes a basic, easy-to-use help-desk form that you can make available to your staff once you’ve set up a account. After you’ve registered and logged on, click Tools and Reports tab, and then click Event Tracker sub-tab. If you’re looking for more information, the Using Event Tracker presentation might help. If you’re new to TechAtlas, you can find more information at WebJunction.
    • Helpdesk.com has a directory of help-desk software, broken into six categories. Helpdesk2000.org also has links to vendors and applications. Slashdot has a long, useful forum discussion, where managers and techies describe their experiences with different help-desk programs.

    Hiring the Right Techs

    IT Assets

    • The Wikipedia articles on asset management in general and software asset management in particular have useful information.
    • Systems management software suites often include tools for managing hardware and software assets. Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager 2007 is one such package and it’s available to public libraries through TechSoup. In addition, help-desk management applications, network monitoring programs and other IT management tools often contain asset management functionality. So look around your library. You might already own an asset management tool.
    • TechAtlas and Spiceworks are two free products with robust asset management features. TechAtlas was actually developed for use in libraries, and you can find articles on how to use it at WebJunction.
    • If you’re looking for a standalone, proprietary asset management program, there are several to choose from, including systemhound and Computer Admin.

    Software Assets (aka Software License Management)

    • Microsoft has developed lots of material on software asset management. You might begin with SAM Step by Step. They also created a free tool called the Software Inventory Analyzer that crawls your network and collects information about the installed Microsoft programs.
    • Keyfiler and LicenseKeeper (Mac only) focus solely on software asset management. They appear to be fairly simple tools and might not work well in a larger library. For a discussion of other low- cost techniques for managing software licenses, check out this review at Lifehacker, especially the comments thread.

    Getting Rid of Old Computers Responsibly

    Tools

    The success of your library’s technological structure depends on how well it is maintained. This, in turn, has a lot to do with if and how you are using diagnostic measures and preventative procedures to help extend the life of your computer. Your IT asset management system also plays a big part in keeping your hardware and software up-to-date and in good shape. To assist you in this area, we’ve assembled a variety of tools.

    Library Tech Support Evaluation Sheet

    ACTIONRESOURCES

    1. Do you have a regular maintenance checklist for your computers?

    A Cookbook for Small and Rural Libraries contains routine maintenance checklists.

    2. Have you considered your IT staffing requirements and alternate staffing solutions (e.g., consultants, shared IT staff)?

    See IT Hiring for further details.

    3. What should you look for when you’re hiring a new techie? How do you write the job description, what questions do you ask at the interview and how do you evaluate the candidates?

    Check out IT Hiring for more information about screening and interviewing potential IT staff.

    4. Do you need policies regarding:

    • Help request workflows?
    • Help-desk priorities?
    • Guaranteed service levels?

    See our Help-Desk Policies and Procedures page.

    5. Would help-desk management software improve communication and efficiency in your library?

    See our Help-Desk Software page.

    6. Do you need remote desktop software? If you have many branches and few IT staff, the answer is probably yes.

    See our Remote Desktop Software page.

    7. What are the pros and cons of letting staff perform their own routine maintenance and troubleshooting? Is there a compromise between overcentralized IT and chaotic, decentralized IT?

    See our IT Standardization page and the Help-Desk Policies and Procedures section.

    8. Should you make more of an effort to standardize your IT infrastructure? Consistent, standard hardware and software are much easier to maintain.

    See our IT Standardization page.

    Help-Desk Software Options

    TYPE OF SOFTWARE TO LEARN MORE
    Issue-tracking software (aka trouble ticket software) offers libraries a way to manage support requests and minor IT projects. When someone calls your help-desk, the technician creates a trouble ticket with an incident number and uses the software to record his or her efforts to fix the problem. Also, with each update to the status of the problem, the software can send out automatic messages (usually by email) to the end user. Issue-tracking software can report on certain key metrics, such as the average time it takes your technicians to respond to a request and the average time it takes them to solve a problem. Finally, the details of each incident can form the basis of a knowledge management system. Therefore, issue-tracking software and knowledge management software are usually integrated or sold as a package (see the following item).
    Wikipedia has a good overview article on this topic, as well as a comparison of different issue-tracking programs. Slashdot has a long, useful forum discussion where managers and techies describe their experience with different programs.
    A knowledge management system (aka knowledge base) keeps individuals and organizations from solving the same problem more than once. Ideally, once a solution has been found, no one in the organization should have to repeat the process of research and discovery. Often, a knowledge management system is simply a different interface to your issue-tracking software (see previous). As technicians record the details of each incident, they’re actually creating the knowledge base. It’s important that technicians have an intuitive, well-designed set of categories and keywords to choose from when classifying support incidents. Without that, retrieval becomes difficult. Also, you may want to give non-technical librarians access to the knowledge base so they can solve their own problems. If so, ask about what types of customer and end-user interfaces are available.
    Should You Ditch Your Knowledge Base and Use a Wiki Instead? describes a low-cost, informal approach to knowledge management.
    Remote desktop applications allow you to establish a connection with a computer anywhere in the world, see what’s happening on that computer and control it using your own mouse and keyboard. For more information, see our Remote Desktop Software page.
    Systems management software actually refers to a suite of IT management tools that have been integrated into a single package. The specific tools and utilities included in a systems management software suite vary from vendor to vendor, but you’ll often find a single package that includes all the other utilities in this list (e.g., asset management, disk imaging, software deployment, etc.).
    For more information, see our Installing and Patching Software page.
    Disk-imaging software can be used to reinstall the operating system and core software after a hard drive crash or a major software problem.
    For more information, see our Disk-Cloning in Libraries page.
    Rather than walking from machine to machine or driving from branch to branch with an installation CD every time you purchase new software, consider acquiring a software deployment tool. A software deployment tool automates the installation of other software. More often than not, these tools are part of the systems management software suite mentioned previously.
    For more information, see our Installing and Patching Software page.
    Patch management software is similar to a software deployment tool. Rather than automating the installation of an entire application, patch management programs download and install security patches and other updates.
    For more information, see our Installing and Patching Software page.
    Asset-tracking tools let you know the exact location of each piece of hardware and software, as long as you’re using it regularly and keeping it up-to-date. It can also record information about the configuration of each computer, who supports it, service agreements and other metadata. Ready access to this can save your IT department time, but it’s also useful for managers and accountants.
    For more information, see our Asset Management page.

    Prolonging Computer Use — Tips and Tools

    WHAT HOW
    Install an open-source operating system Many open-source, Linux-based operating systems are designed to use a minimum of system resources. In other words, they’ll run just fine with an older processor and 128 MB of RAM. For example, Xubuntu is an officially supported variant of Ubuntu that needs less speed and less memory than the main distribution. Fluxbuntu is even less resource-intensive, but it’s not officially supported by Canonical (the folks who develop and maintain Ubuntu). Bear in mind that making the switch to Linux often requires retraining for your systems librarians, your regular staff and your patrons. On the other hand, Linux distributions, such as the ones mentioned here, are becoming increasingly user-friendly, so the transition from Windows isn’t as hard as it used to be. For more information, see our article on Open-Source Software in Libraries.
    Add some memory The cheapest way to make an old machine run faster is to add some RAM. It is generally cheap these days, but you need to be careful and buy RAM that’s compatible with your motherboard. How to Upgrade Your PC’s RAM has some good advice on buying and installing RAM.
    Clean out the junk Computers slow down after a while due to spyware, disk fragmentation, temp files and so forth. Read Preventing Trouble on Windows Through Regular Maintenance for tips on how to keep your computers clean.
    Use it for spare parts Old computers can be a source of replacement parts — expansion cards, memory modules, hard drives, etc.
    Keep it as a temporary or swap computer When a computer crashes, it’s nice to have spare machines on hand. You can roll out one of your older PCs while you’re repairing the newer one. Also, if you have guests or new employees, you can set them up on one of the older machines until you’ve prepared their permanent computer.
    Use it as an OPAC station If you dedicate a few computers to searching your online catalog, you might as well use older machines. Searching the OPAC usually doesn’t require a lot of power.
    Use it as a test machine Experimenting is a great way to learn about technology, so your staff might appreciate the opportunity to play on some of your older machines.

    Computer Disposal The Safe and Easy Way — Quick Reference

    THE SITUATION THE SOLUTION SOME SOURCES
    Your computer is less than five years old and it’s in working condition Donate or sell the computer to a qualified refurbisher. There are hundreds of nonprofit computer refurbishers in the U.S. If you have a computer that’s less than five years old and still in working condition, they’ll wipe the hard drive, install an operating system, upgrade some of the components if need be and then give the computer to a school, nonprofit or low-income family. If you’re considering a donation to a school or nonprofit, it’s often easier for everyone if you give to a nonprofit refurbisher instead. Otherwise, the school or nonprofit will waste a lot of time upgrading components and installing software. Furthermore, they’ll eventually have a patchwork of mismatched hardware that they can’t support. To find a refurbisher near you, look at the Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher (MAR) database. MAR refurbishers donate some or all of their refurbished equipment to schools and nonprofits. If you can’t find a MAR refurbisher in your area, try TechSoup’s directory of refurbishers and recyclers or search My Green Electronics.
    Your computer is more than five years old or it’s damaged beyond repair Find a commercial recycler. If your computers are more than five years old, or if they’re no longer in working condition, you should find a qualified recycler who can dismantle the machine and dispose of the parts in an environmentally friendly fashion. You’ll usually have to pay a small fee to the recycler (anywhere from $5 to $30). Again, TechSoup has a searchable directory of recyclers as does My Green Electronics. The Basel Action Network maintains a list of electronics recyclers, who have agreed to abide by a strict set of criteria regarding how they dispose of e-waste and who does the work.
    You could really use some extra cash. Sell the computer at a yard sale or auction. If your old computers are in working condition, you may be able to sell them, as long as you’ve reviewed the relevant regulations. Don’t expect a huge windfall of cash, but you might recoup somewhere between $25 and $100 per machine. Your local government may sell the computers for you at an auction, or you might get some money from a refurbisher, or you might sell them at your annual book sale. Again, be careful to obey the relevant regulations.

    Hardware and Software Inventory Worksheets

    In this section, you’ll find several tools and worksheets for keeping track of hardware, software and software licenses.

    Keep in mind that you have a few options when it comes to IT documentation. You can use worksheets like the ones provided here, or you can use asset management programs (aka asset tracking programs). Basically, the worksheets below and asset management programs are designed with the same purpose in mind -- tracking the location and configuration of your hardware, software and networking infrastructure. Which one you use depends on your personal style and the size and complexity of your IT environment. If you opt to use these worksheets you don’t have to install anything or learn a new interface (assuming you know how to use Word or Excel), but worksheets don’t scale well in large, complex environments, and they don’t have any reporting features. With asset management programs, you may need to test a few to find the one you like, and with some you’ll have to install the software locally, but they have the tracking and reporting features that administrators need in mid-sized and large organizations.

    Desktop Hardware Inventory

    COMPUTER NAME
    MAIN USER LOCATION

    SERIAL #

    ASSET TAG #

    HARD DRIVE

    TOTAL/FREE

    HARDWARE CONFIGURATION / ADDITIONAL HARDWARE

    SOFTWARE CONFIGRATION / ADDITIONAL PROGRAMS
    NOTES
    PATRON06 Public PC
    ReferenceRoom (2nd floor)

    35TG90E

    1459T

    400GB/18.4 GB
    2004 Gateways
    Standard poublic computer configuration
     
    STAFF15 Barbara Chase
    Barbara's Office
      160GB/50GB

    2006 Dells/Canon

    Pixma 4500 Printer

    Standard Staff configuration

    Adobe Photohop

    Sirsi Cataloging modules

     
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   
                   

    Notes: A serial number is usually assigned by the manufacturer and can be found on the back or side of the computer. An asset tag number is usually assigned by your organization or parent organization. Rather than record redundant information about the hardware configuration of each machine, use the Standard Hardware Configurations worksheet. A software configuration (aka a disk image) is a standard collection of software used on more than one computer in your library. To save space and avoid repetition, document your software images on CB Worksheet 3: Standard Software Configurations.

    Standard Hardware Configurations

    NAME
    NUMBER AND DESCRIPTION
    MAKE AND MODEL
    PURCHASE DATE
    PURCHASE ORDER #
    WARRANTY EXPIRES
    2006Dells 18 desktop computers for the patron lab at the Waushega branch library
    Dell Optiplex 745
    November 19, 2006
    5422
    November 30, 2009
    Tech Support #
    OS
    RAM
    CPU Type & Speed
    Video Card
    Hard Drive
      Win XP Home
    1 GB
    Core 2 Duo2 / 2.4 GHz    
    Monitor Other Components
    Notes
         
    NAME
    NUMBER AND DESCRIPTION
    MAKE AND MODEL
    PURCHASE DATE
    PURCHASE ORDER #
    WARRANTY EXPIRES
               
    Tech Support #
    OS
    RAM
    CPU Type & Speed
    Video Card
    Hard Drive
               
    Monitor Other Components
    Notes
         

    Standard Desktop Software Configurations

    CONFIGURATION NAME EXAMPLE CONFIGURATION
    PUBLIC PCs CHILDREN'S PCs
    STAFF PCs
    Description Basic software image for all patron computers
         
    Server (optional)
    GHLSERVER01
         
    File Path (optional)
    D:\Images\Pac001.ghc
         
    Antivirus Software
    Symantec Antivirus 10.1
         
    Operating System
    Windows XP, SP3
         
    Productivity

    Microsoft Office 2003
    Open Office

         
    Reference
    Encarta Premium 2007
    Google Earth
         
    Web Browsers
    Internet Explorer 7
    Firefox 3
         
    Browser plugins
    Flash 9
    Shockwave 9
    Adobe Reader 8
         
    Multimedia
    Windows Media Player 10
    Quicktime
    Real Player
         
    Utilities
    Windows Firewall
    AdAware
    CCleaner
         
    Games
           
    Other Programs
           

    Notes: In small libraries, this worksheet can serve as a checklist of the software that you install on each new computer. Mid-sized and large libraries often use disk-cloning software (aka disk imaging software) to install everything at once onto new computers (i.e. the operating system, the software, and all of the configuration settings). If you use this approach, you can record the contents of your standard disk images on this worksheet. If you use disk-cloning software, use these two fields to record the location of your disk image file.

    Software License Inventory

    CATEGORY
    SOFTWARE
    NUMBER OF LICENSES
    NUMBER OF INSTALLED COPIES
    LICENSE TYPE
    PRODUCT KEYS
    WHERE IS INSTALLATION CD
    Office Productivity MS Office 2003
    33
    31
    Volume license
    XXX-12345-678910-XXX
    Locked file cabinet in Barbara’s office
               
               
               
               
               
    Antivirus            
                 
    Other
               
                 
                 
                 
                 
                 

    Notes: Every vendor has different license types and license categories, so the information you enter here will vary. For example, you might note here that the license and the software came with the computer and can’t be transferred to another machine. This is known as an OEM license. Also, most large vendors sell volume licenses if you need more than a certain number of copies. For more information, see your documentation or contact your vendor. The product key (aka activation key or license key) is a number that you use to prove that you have a legal, authorized copy of the software. If you enter your product keys in this worksheet, be sure to encrypt the file and keep hard copies of it in a safe location. Anyone who knows your product key can install the software themselves, which might deactivate your copy or cause problems for you with your vendor. Instead of entering the product keys here, you might use this field to point to another, more secure location.

    Server Inventory

    ITEM ASSESSMENT
    Server Name
     
    Location
     
    Server Role(s)
     
    Make / Model
     
    Serial Number
     
    Asset Tag Number
     
    Date Purchased
     
    Purchase Order #
     
    Tech Support #
     
    Warranty Expiration Date
     
    CPU Type and Speed
     
    RAM
     
    Hard Disk(s)
     
    RAID Configuration
     
    Network Card
     
    UPS / Battery Backup
     
    Other Hardware Components
     
    Operating System
     
    # of OS Client Access Licenses
     
    Antivirus Software
     
    Procedure for virus and security updates
     
    Other software and licensing information
     
    Other notes
     

    Technology Policies, Plans and Procedures

    POLICY AREA
    DESCRIPTION
    DATE CREATED
    LAST UPDATED LOCATION
    INTENDED AUDIENCE
    HOW IS IT DISTRIBUTED
    WHO KEEPS IT UP TO DATE AND AUTHORIZES CHANGES
    Technology plan
    Acceptable use policy for patrons and guests using our computer
    Acceptable use policy for patrons and guests using their own computers on our network
    Acceptable use policy for staff
    Data privacy policy
    Security policy
    Password security policy
    Licensing and copying software
    Backup procedure
    Disaster recovery plan
    Document retention
    Computer disposal policy
    Policy regarding computer donations
    Other

    Tech Support Contact Information

    NAME ORGANIZATION
    PHONE NUMBER
    AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY AND/OR EXPERTISE
    AVAILABILITY
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             
             

    Troubleshooting Notes

    Problem

    Staff name                                   Date
    Computer name
    Problem category
    Problem description
    What was the user trying to do (i.e., what was the desired outcome)?
    Error messages
    Attempted solutions
    Suggestions for next step
    More information
    Computer name

    Solution

    Person who fixed it                       Date                                               
    Solution description
    More information

    Troubleshooting Bootup Problems

    Scenario 1: You don’t see anything on the screen at all

    #
    DESCRIPTION
    NOTES
    1 Check that both ends of the monitor’s power cord are plugged in tightly.
     
    2
    Check that both ends of the power cord are plugged in tightly.
     
    3
    Is the surge protector plugged into the wall? Are there lights on the surge protector?
     
    4
    Press the power button on the CPU. Which lights, if any, are lit up on the front of the tower? What color are they?
     
    5
    Press the power button on the monitor. Does the monitor’s power button light up? What color is it?
     
    6
    If you see power lights on the monitor and the tower but nothing on the screen, make sure the brightness and contrast on the monitor aren’t set to zero. Usually they should both be set between 70 and 90. The monitor controls are different for each model, but they’re usually found near the bottom of the monitor. Consult the monitor’s manual for more information.
     
    7
    If you still don’t see anything on the screen, contact tech support.
     

    Scenario 2: You see some bootup messages, but the computer doesn’t make it to the logon screen.

    #
    DESCRIPTION
    NOTES
    1
    Turn the computer off, let it sit for 30 seconds and turn it
    back on.
     
    2
    If you still can’t log on, make sure you’ve removed all CDs, DVDs, floppy disks or USB drives. Reboot.
     
    3
    If you’re comfortable accessing the BIOS, get into the BIOS and make sure that the hard drive is set as the first boot device. Exit, saving your changes.
     
    4
    If your machine runs Windows and you’re familiar with last known good configuration or restore points, press F8 to access the menu. Reboot.
     
    5
    What was the end user doing before the computer began malfunctioning?
     
    6
    Has anyone added new hardware or software to this machine recently?
     
    7
    Where does the machine stop? Does it freeze, turn off or reboot? Does it show any error messages? Write all of this information down.
     
    8 Contact tech support.
     

    Software Troubleshooting Steps

    #
    DESCRIPTION
    NOTES
    1
    Close all open programs and dialog windows.
     
    2
    Restart the program and try to re-create the problem.
     
    3 If the problem recurs, turn off the computer, let it rest for ten seconds and turn it on again.
     
    4
    Log on and try to re-create the problem.
     
    5
    If the problem recurs, did you change any configuration settings recently? If so, reverse the changes.
     
    6
    Did you install new hardware or software recently? Uninstall and try to re-create the problem.
     
    7
    If the problem recurs, record the exact sequence of actions and clicks that generated the unexpected results. Also describe in detail how the program reacted and why that reaction was abnormal or undesirable.
     
    8
    Finally, write down word for word the text of any error messages that you see.
     
    9
    Also write down the name of the computer that’s experiencing the problem. On most Windows machines, go to Start -> Run, and type in sysdm.cpl. Click on the Computer Name tab. Write down the full name of the computer.
     
    10 Contact tech support.
     

    Internet Connectivity Troubleshooting Steps

    #
    DESCRIPTION
    NOTES
    1
    If you feel it’s appropriate, ask the end user what Web site they’re having trouble getting to and write it down.
     
    2
    Click the refresh button on the Web browser toolbar.
     
    3
    Try to visit at least two other Web sites. For example, if you can’t reach the library catalog, go to http://www.cnn.com and http://www.abcnews.com. Can you reach any of these sites?
     
    4
    Are the computers nearby reaching the Internet? If not, you can skip steps 5 through 9.
     
    5
    Close all the open Web browser windows and relaunch the Web browser. Try to reach one or two different Web sites.
     
    6
    Reboot the computer. Log on and try to reach one or two different Web sites.
     
    7
    Check the network cable (aka Ethernet cable) on the back of the computer. Make sure it’s plugged securely into the back of the computer and the network jack on the floor or the wall. Try reaching the Internet again.
     
    8
    If you’re still having trouble, use a different network cable, preferably one from a computer with a working Internet connection. If your Internet connection works again, you should replace the defective network cable.
     
    9
    If you’re still having trouble, check to see if there’s a green light on the back of the computer where the network cable plugs in.
     
    10
    If you know how to use the ping utility, open a command prompt and see if you can ping the loopback address (127.0.0.1), the default gateway and an address outside your local network (e.g., 4.2.2.2).
     
    11
    Write down the name of the computer that’s having trouble. If you know how to find the computer’s IP address, write that down as well.
     
    12
    Call tech support.
     

    Troubleshooting Problems with a Network Printer

    #
    DESCRIPTION
    NOTES
    1
    Reboot the computer. If there’s a print job stuck in the local print queue, this usually clears the problem. Log on again and try to print a test page from Microsoft Word.
     
    2
    If you’re still having a problem printing, open a Web browser and try to access one or two different Web pages. If you can’t access them, you probably have an Internet connection problem rather than a printer problem.
     
    3 Try printing to the same networked printer from another computer. If you succeed in printing from another PC, the problem is local to the first machine and you should skip to step 10.
     
    4
    Make sure the printer is plugged in and check that the lights are on.
     
    5
    Check the paper trays and make sure there’s paper.
     
    6
    Check for paper jams. If you find one, turn off the printer and slowly, carefully pull out the paper.
     
    7
    Many printers have any online/offline button. Make sure the display indicates that the printer is online.
     
    8
    Many printers have a resume button that you have to press after a problem or interruption.
     
    9
    If you’re still having trouble, turn the printer off and on again.
     
    10
    If the problem is only happening on one computer, try printing from another program.
     
    11
    If you have authorization, go to Start -> Settings -> Printers. Make sure that the network printer you’re trying to print to is listed and set as the default. If you don’t know the name of the network printer, you can often find a label on the printer itself. If you’re still not sure, write down the name of the default printer so you can tell tech support.
     
    12
    Double-click on the icon corresponding to the printer you’re trying to print to. Delete any stalled print jobs. Also, make sure the printer itself isn’t paused.
     
    13
    If you’re still experiencing a problem, call tech support.