of Public Access Computer Software Management Tools for
by Richard Wayne
Most libraries now recognize that public access computers
are essential to providing excellent service to patrons.
Managing these computers has become a major responsibility
for library staffs. Patrons expect to find secure and
well-maintained computers that have simple, stable,
and predictable interfaces.
In my capacity as assistant director for Information
Systems at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical
Center at Dallas (UT Southwestern) Library, I have
grappled with public access computer issues for years.
Ten years ago there were few software tools available;
however, today there are many easy-to-use and cost-effective
alternatives to help manage public access computers.
Tools to Help Manage PACs
I'm about to describe a representative sample of
software tools in several important categories. This
article does not attempt to address all programs in
all software management categories because there are
too many products to do that. I'll discuss specific
products from specific vendors, but won't recommend
any. You should do further research and make a purchase
decision appropriate to your environment. Most of the
software discussed in this article is available for
testing prior to purchase. Some of the programs are
The categories of management software that I will
address are setup software, security programs, integrity
maintenance software, browser control tools, antivirus
software, anti-spyware software, patch management tools,
session managers, print management systems, system
utilities, and some Microsoft software options. However,
I won't address filtering software, anti-spam software,
privacy tools, network troubleshooting tools, firewall
software, and some other categories of management tools
in this article.
I prefer an iterative method of developing a new
computer configuration. Richard Wayne's Iterative Development
Methodology goes something like this:
Start with the best available hardware.
The new hardware ideally consists of identical
models to minimize deployment issues.
Talk to library and information technology
staff and patrons, and then create your first hardware
and software configuration for testing.
Place the configuration someplace where
you can gather further staff feedback.
Develop a second computer configuration
based upon staff feedback.
Place the configuration in a location
to gather further staff and patron feedback.
Develop a third configuration based
upon staff and patron feedback.
Place the configuration in a limited
number of locations for further staff and patron
feedback. Further revise the configuration
if necessary after usage.
Replicate the revised configuration
by replacing the old configuration with the revision.
Once you have developed your final configuration,
preserve it. Make a copy of the configuration and place
it on a server, another computer, an external hard
drive, or a DVD. Then you can replicate your configuration
using software tools like these:
Symantec Ghost can back up, store, and replicate
configuration images. PowerQuest's DeployCenter has
superseded PowerQuest's Drive Image Pro and can also
help deploy software configurations. In December 2003,
Symantec acquired PowerQuest.
Develop a test environment if possible. Then you
can try various software packages without impacting
your production systems. Your test environment should
mimic your production environment as closely as possible.
Microsoft's Virtual PC 2004 can help you to emulate
several operating system environments on a single test
I will discuss security programs in two sections.
Those that prevent patrons from intentional or unintentional
mischief and access are presented in this section.
The programs that clean up the potential clutter after
patron sessions are listed in the next section ("integrity
"You need to have aggressive, real-time virus scanning
enabled at all times."
CybraryN from Computers By Design prevents changes
to a PC's configuration. It can be configured to authenticate
to your integrated library system (ILS). For example,
CybraryN works with systems from Innovative, Dynix,
Sirsi, Gaylord, and other ILS vendors. If a patron
does not have a valid bar code, has excessive overdues,
or is not a valid patron type, then he or she will
not be able to use the public access computer if you
design it that way.
CybraryN provides a menu and other features to prevent
patrons from corrupting the computer's software. The
patron is locked into the CybraryN interface and cannot
execute programs or utilities that damage the configuration.
Fortres 101 from Fortres Grand does not provide a
menu, but it does lock down specific Windows settings.
By locking Windows settings, you can control what your
patrons can and can't do. FoolProof Security from Riverdeep
is another product that provides desktop security by
locking down Windows features.
Integrity Maintenance Software
Even with security software loaded, it is likely
that, over time, your public access computer software
will become corrupted and collect extraneous data.
The solution to the problem is integrity maintenance
Centurion Technologies provides two alternatives.
Centurion Guard uses both hardware and software. DriveShield
uses software only. Upon reboot, any changes patrons
have made are removed, and the system is restored to
its initial configuration.
Deep Freeze from Faronics Technologies and Clean
Slate from Fortres Grand are also software-only options
for integrity maintenance. All of the products in this
category allow you to protect only the drives that
you wish to protect. For example, if you have an antivirus
product on your D:\ drive, then you could configure
the software to protect your C:\ drive from changes,
but not your D:\ drive.
Browser Control Tools
Let's face it, the Web is tremendously popular with
our library patrons. As a result, they will attempt
to use every available computer for general Web access.
Sometimes, these can be computers designated for OPAC
or licensed database use only. When that happens, you
want to make sure that only the catalog or subscription
databases can be accessed from those computers. If
you don't, they will end up becoming general Internet
Public Web Browser (PWB) from TeamSoftware Solutions
controls Web browser sessions. PWB replaces the Internet
Explorer interface with an interface that is highly
configurable. It allows you to specify sites that can
or can't be accessed via the browser. PWB also lets
you customize a number of other options such as buttons,
drop-down menu items, home page default, pop-up policies,
printing settings, and download capabilities.
K-Meleon from kmeleon.org also allows you to control
many browser functions. It is free, open source software.
WINSelect from Faronics gives you control over many
browser and Windows features.
In 1992, extensive media coverage led to Michelangelo
virus hysteria. It was a DOS-based virus and was a
new experience for computer users at that time. At
UT Southwestern, we distributed Michelangelo detection
and removal tools on diskette to hundreds of customers
at a centralized "crisis center."
Virus writers have come a long way, and so have the
applications to combat them. Today, you need to update
your antivirus software at least daily. You need to
have aggressive, real-time virus scanning enabled at
A number of good tools are available to help with
this effort. A few of the major antivirus vendors are
Computer Associates, McAfee, Panda, Sophos, and Symantec.
Running anti-spyware software on a system for the
first time can be an enlightening and shocking experience.
It's not uncommon to find hundreds of pieces of spyware
on a system. Spyware can violate your privacy and compromise
the integrity of your systems.
You can download free anti-spyware software from
several sites. One tool is Spybot Search & Destroy
from Patrick M. Kolla. Another free application (for
non-commercial use) is Ad-aware from Lavasoft.
Patch Management Tools
Information technology professionals have been accustomed
to keeping antivirus software up-to-date. The Blaster
worm opened our eyes to a new threat in 2003we
saw that Windows systems also needed to be kept up-to-date
with critical updates issued by Microsoft. The industry
has been in a whirlwind of activity since Blaster,
trying to anticipate the next round of malicious software.
There are a number of applications available to help
keep systems patched and secure.
Microsoft has developed a patch management tool called
Software Update Services or SUS. It is used to deploy
critical Windows updates throughout your library. As
of this writing, SUS 1.0 with Service Pack 1 is available.
SUS 2.0 is in development and has been renamed "Windows
Shavlik Technologies provides a powerful patch management
product called HFNetChkPro. The Microsoft Baseline
Security Analyzer (MBSA) uses the HFNetChkPro scanning
engine. MBSA is a free tool that allows systems administrators
to identify required patches for computers throughout
Your staff members could spend a great deal of their
time matching patrons to available public access computers
as well as refereeing fights for available computers.
[Editor's Note: See the feature on page 18.]
However, the process can be automated to free your
staff for more sophisticated (and safer) patron interactions.
EnvisionWare's PC Reservation controls patron access
to public access computers. It can work with an ILS
to authenticate patrons prior to granting access to
a computer. It can be configured for use in a patron
self-service mode or a staff-managed mode. It even
supports making reservations via the Web or telephone.
"Running anti-spyware software on a system for the
first time can be
an enlightening and shocking experience."
Comprise Technologies offers Smart Access Management
or SAM. It has a number of interesting modules for
time, reservation, Internet, desktop, and report management.
Print Management Systems
Print management systems help to reduce wasted paper
and ink cartridges. They also make the printing cost-recovery
process more efficient for both patrons and staff.
With LPT:One from EnvisionWare, you can set a price
per page, a maximum number of pages that a patron can
print, and different prices per printer. A simple dialogue
leads the patron through the printing process and gives
her an opportunity to cancel printing altogether.
Computers By Design, GoPrint Systems, and Pharos
Systems also offer solutions to manage printing. Most
systems can be controlled by staff or can work independently
with both card and cash payment systems.
System utilities is a broad category. However, it
gives me the opportunity to mention some miscellaneous
tools that I have found to be helpful.
Norton SystemWorks from Symantec includes a number
of products, such as Norton Utilities, which can detect
Windows and disk problems and fix them, as well as
optimize file storage on your hard drive.
Partition Commander from VCOM can create a new partition
on an existing system. I have used this product to
create a new partition for antivirus software. That
partition is treated differently than the others on
the system. For example, on systems with Centurion
Guard, the partition with antivirus software is not
cleared at reboot.
X-Setup Pro from XQDC, Ltd. is a tweaker program.
It can help you to modify Windows settings that are
buried deep within the Windows registry.
Multiyear system warranties are commonly available.
Hardware has also become more dependable. However,
there are times when you still need a bootable hardware
diagnostic program that can help troubleshoot hardware-related
problems. ToolStarTest from Veteran Computer
Solutions has helped me out of a few jams. Another
useful tool in this category is the Ultimate Boot CD.
Some Microsoft Software Options
Microsoft Windows, especially the more recent versions,
offers options to perform some of the functions that
I've addressed in this article. In most cases, features
can be applied from a server or at individual workstations.
Group Policy can control the Windows desktop as well
as many other Windows features. In Windows 2000 and
XP, you can run Microsoft Management Console to set
group policies. An example may help to demonstrate
the feature's potential: In Windows XP, you can set
Group Policy to prevent patrons from seeing the Network
Neighborhood icon on the desktop.
NTFS is the NT file system. A partition that is formatted
with NTFS has extensive security capabilities. For
example, you can set read-only access to a folder for
specific users or groups.
Windows versions since NT have different user types.
In Windows XP, for example, the user "public" might
be a limited user (restricted to performing only certain
functions). The sysadmin would be an "administrator" user.
Microsoft provides the Internet Explorer Administration
Kit or IEAK to manage IE. It was designed to help configure
and deploy the browser.
"Print management systems help to reduce wasted paper
and ink cartridges."
Microsoft offers PowerToys for various versions of
Windows. Within PowerToys is a program called Tweak
UI. It is somewhat similar to X-Setup Pro mentioned
earlier. It provides a graphical interface that allows
you to modify a number of Windows settings.
Finally, Systems Management Server or SMS is offered
by Microsoft as a comprehensive solution for change
and configuration management. It can help administrators
in the areas of application deployment, asset management,
and security patch management.
Just a Quick Overview
I have breezed through many software tools. Many
more are available to help you manage your public access
computers. Use this article as a starting point. After
analyzing the needs of your particular library, you
should do further research. You can probably find a
few affordable tools to meet the needs of your environment.
There are a number of choices in most of the categories
of software that I have discussed. Many of the vendors
mentioned have other products that may also help you.
Software tools must be maintained and kept up-to-date
in order to function well. In many cases, vendors offer
companion network tools that provide the ability to
maintain all computers from a single administrative
workstation or server. Some of the tools also have
extensive reporting capability to assist in decision
Don't despair. There are a number of commercial and
free products and resources to help you manage one
of your biggest challengesthe public access computer.
Richard W. Boss, "PC Reservation & Print
Management Software," Public Library Association
TechNotes, June 2003. http://www.ala.org/ala/pla/plapubs/technotes/pcreservation.htm
Michael P. Sauers and Louise E. Alcorn, Neal-Schuman
Directory of Management Software For Public
Access Computers, Neal-Schuman Publishers,
Jennifer Ward, "The Library Web Manager's Reference
Center," Berkeley Digital Library SunSITE, May
20, 2003. http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/Web4Lib/RefCenter/lwmrcpublic.html
Richard Wayne, "Links to Desktop, Company,
and Enterprise Security Resources," Strategic
Information Management Services, March 10,
Richard Wayne has managed the
systems group at The University of Texas Southwestern
Medical Center at Dallas Library since 1992. He does
hands-on technical work with Windows, UNIX, Macintosh,
PDA, wireless, and other technologies. Prior to joining
UT Southwestern, he was in the information technology
field for more than 10 years in a number of technical
and managerial capacities. He is also the principal of
Strategic Information Management Services, a library
technology consulting firm. He has worked with a wide
range of library technologies in public, academic, and
special libraries. His particular area of expertise is
information security in the library environment. His
e-mail address is email@example.com.