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.