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.