Measure Twice, Cut Once

I’ve been working this summer on a student/intern contract at the Patrick Power Library at Saint Mary’s University, here in Halifax. I’ve joined the Information Literacy crew as well as the Research and Reference team, and right now I think it’s safe to say, “So far, so good”. I’ve met some good people, learned a few things, and shared a few others. I’m happy, and I think they’re happy, so we’re all smiles.

One project I have been working on extensively is the development of audio and video screencasts for the library. I’ve gotten my hands dirty by working with Adobe Captivate and one of my favourite pieces of GNU GPL software – Audacity. For the record, Audacity is a lean, mean, sound-engineering machine, but I find Captivate incredibly difficult to use. I’m a seasoned tech-geek veteran and can catch on to different pieces of software fairly quick, but all that I quickly learned about Captivate is that its functionality and GUI are finicky. I think the software needs a re-boot, but that’s a thought for some other post.

What I’ve quickly learned about screencasting, however, is that one should aim high but never aim for perfection when working with audio and video. There is no such thing as a perfect-10 when you’re developing screencasts that are primed for smart devices like iPhones or similar LG or RIM products. Although it’s easy to be critical of our own work, we need to stay focused on releasing a finished product in a timely manner. Always remember that most small glitches or hiccups are barely noticeable on small screens or will generally be overlooked in the grand scheme of things. That’s not to say that one should throw production value out the window so much as it is to suggest that it’s okay if the hex color code you though you wanted was one micro-shade lighter than you expected.

When it comes to screencasts, we need think “gestalt”. We need to think “big picture” and be focused on the aim of the product. Most screencasts are small 1-3 minute wayfinding guides, so it won’t be the end of the world if you mumble your way through “open access electronic databases” on every take when laying down your audio.

So whether or not you use Captivate, Camtasia, or even Wink (long live freeware!), try to keep the following ideas in mind. Aim for elegance, but also aim for efficiency:

1. Measure Twice, Cut Once.

We all may know this slogan from our own favourite home design shows, but its message is definitely applicable to screencasting. Before you capture screens, before you record your audio, and before you start toying with images in GIMP, make sure you’ve created a game plan. It doesn’t matter if you make a story board or a script or hash out a linear map of your slides – just make sure you’ve thought about the message you have to deliver as well as how you’re going to deliver it.

2. Kill your babies.

I cribbed this little saying from some journalist-friends. You will almost certainly fall in love with your subject matter and its delivery, especially in your first few attempts at its design. Now, be prepared to chop it into pieces. Your subject matter and the screencast itself will be worthless if you lose the interest of the user, so always think about how you can reduce your content without losing context. Remember: the revisions you make to the screencast will make it stronger and better. Have one point and one point alone, and keep to it.

3. You do not have a professionally trained voice.

Micromanaging audio will waste your day and delay the development of your next subject, so when it comes to audio, just make the cut and be done with it. Making five or six or even seven takes of one paragraph to make sure you sound “just right” is going waste your time. Instead, create a simple production key for each section of audio. First, take one or two practice runs of the section you’re recording just to be sure that the language is simple and that your pronunciation is on track. Then, make two – no more than three takes – of the section which are free of serious glitches. Don’t worry if you think you’ve paused too long between sentences or if your voice tailed off at a comma because in all likelihood you are the only person who will notice these minor infractions. Ultimately, all the takes are going to sound virtually the same to the first-time listener, so take the cut and move on.

Long live the screencast.

Captivate and Screencasting: Measure Twice, Cut Once

I’ve been working this summer on a student/intern contract at the Patrick Power Library at Saint Mary’s University, here in Halifax. I’ve joined the Information Literacy crew as well as the Research and Reference team, and right now I think it’s safe to say, “So far, so good”. I’ve met some good people, learned a few things, and shared a few others. I’m happy, and I think they’re happy, so we’re all smiles.

One project I have been working on extensively is the development of audio and video screencasts for the library. I’ve gotten my hands dirty by working with Adobe Captivate and one of my favourite pieces of GNU GPL software – Audacity. For the record, Audacity is a lean, mean, sound-engineering machine, but I find Captivate incredibly difficult to use. I’m a seasoned tech-geek veteran and can catch on to different pieces of software fairly quick, but all that I quickly learned about Captivate is that its functionality and GUI are finicky. I think the software needs a re-boot, but that’s a thought for some other post.

What I’ve quickly learned about screencasting, however, is that one should aim high but never aim for perfection when working with audio and video. There is no such thing as a perfect-10 when you’re developing screencasts that are primed for smart devices like iPhones or similar LG or RIM products. Although it’s easy to be critical of our own work, we need to stay focused on releasing a finished product in a timely manner. Always remember that most small glitches or hiccups are barely noticeable on small screens or will generally be overlooked in the grand scheme of things. That’s not to say that one should throw production value out the window so much as it is to suggest that it’s okay if the hex color code you though you wanted was one micro-shade lighter than you expected.

When it comes to screencasts, we need think “gestalt”. We need to think “big picture” and be focused on the aim of the product. Most screencasts are small 1-3 minute wayfinding guides, so it won’t be the end of the world if you mumble your way through “open access electronic databases” on every take when laying down your audio.

So whether or not you use Captivate, Camtasia, or even Wink (long live freeware!), try to keep the following ideas in mind. Aim for elegance, but also aim for efficiency:

1. Measure Twice, Cut Once.

We all may know this slogan from our own favourite home design shows, but its message is definitely applicable to screencasting. Before you capture screens, before you record your audio, and before you start toying with images in GIMP, make sure you’ve created a game plan. It doesn’t matter if you make a story board or a script or hash out a linear map of your slides – just make sure you’ve thought about the message you have to deliver as well as how you’re going to deliver it.

2. Kill your babies.

I cribbed this little saying from some journalist-friends. You will almost certainly fall in love with your subject matter and its delivery, especially in your first few attempts at its design. Now, be prepared to chop it into pieces. Your subject matter and the screencast itself will be worthless if you lose the interest of the user, so always think about how you can reduce your content without losing context. Remember: the revisions you make to the screencast will make it stronger and better. Have one point and one point alone, and keep to it.

3. You do not have a professionally trained voice.

Micromanaging audio will waste your day and delay the development of your next subject, so when it comes to audio, just make the cut and be done with it. Making five or six or even seven takes of one paragraph to make sure you sound “just right” is going waste your time. Instead, create a simple production key for each section of audio. First, take one or two practice runs of the section you’re recording just to be sure that the language is simple and that your pronunciation is on track. Then, make two – no more than three takes – of the section which are free of serious glitches. Don’t worry if you think you’ve paused too long between sentences or if your voice tailed off at a comma because in all likelihood you are the only person who will notice these minor infractions. Ultimately, all the takes are going to sound virtually the same to the first-time listener, so take the cut and move on.

Long live the screencast.

On the Job: Information Literacy and Promotion

After a short break from other courework and a small vacation, I started a summer contract in Information Literacy at the Saint Mary’s University Library, here in Halifax.

Regular readers (you may be dedicated, but you are few) will recall that I’ve worked at the library part-time this past year at the reference desk, but before that time I was a regular instructor and lecturer at the University’s Writing Centre.  Long ago, I was also a student at SMU graduated there with an honours arts degree.  Due to this long-standing relationship, I was initially apprehensive when the library offered me this summer position; in many ways I worried that much of my CV would be attached to one organization and therefore might raise questions when seen by future employers.  But after listening to a little advice from colleagues, I decided to take on the role since it is demonstrates in a positive light that an organization is pleased with my work and is excited to strengthen its relationship with me.  So we’ll see how all this pans out, but I’m confident it’ll be an exciting term.

But enough about me, and now more about the job.  This summer, I’m going to work with a small cadre of professional librarians in the information literacy department at Saint Mary’s.  Although IL at SMU is fairly small – there are only three staff members dedicated to the area (however, most librarians do take part in library and information instruction), they’ve got some great ideas kicking around that they’d like to put into action, especially since the library is finishing a physical expansion and the spirit of change is in the air. I’m going to have a big role in expanding the library’s use of LibGuides and will do a lot of work on web and document design. And this afternoon I started putting together some scripts and gathered the software needed to develop a bank of podcasts.  I may also broach the idea of developing and maintaining a Twitter account for the library, but this may be better served by their folk in promotional services, especially since my contract ends in September.

Anyway, as I walked home from my first day on the job, I began to think about how so many parts of information literacy has to do with promotions and outreach.  Of course, there is always the mundane taskwork to complete, from statistical analysis (this was also part of day one) to committee work to marking coursebooks.  Regardless, those of us (and dare I count myself as part of that ‘us’) in information literacy constantly have to promote ourselves and make ourselves known, not only to the students but to the faculty as well.  That’s not to say that we should give up the steak in favour of the sizzle, but it is to again put forward the need to have a least a small understanding of marketing if the library’s information literacy services to be rendered are ever to be found by the its market – the students.

LIS Schooling: Lessons Learned and Affirmed

Oh my, how has time passed. Like any good blog, this site has been built with one cup of best intentions and two cups of procrastination. The programme at SIM and life in general has kept me busier than I expected, so it has been difficult to do more than log in to check my site stats from time to time. The nasty throat infection and chest cold that attacked my person in late September did little to help the situation, I might add.

One month into the MLIS programme at Dal, I can perhaps look back and determine if there has been anything learned or confirmed about librarianship. This list is short and general in nature, but I’ve constructed it that way since, (1) shorter blog posts are more readable than longer posts, and (2), one month is hardly enough time to thoroughly analyze a brand new programme and culture, so it would be best to paint with broad strokes on this subject:

1. The study of management is vital to the future of librarianship.

This is a lesson which was learned within the first few days of the Fall term. Dalhousie offers its MLIS within the Faculty of Management, and there are several required courses that are firmly rooted in the cultural sphere of management instead of IS. The School of Information Management believes it has a duty to tutor its students on the importance of management and leadership, and I think it’s a wise policy. It’s safe to say that a plurality of this year’s new students have no schooling in management. It’s also safe to suggest that many people in the programme have more experience being managed as opposed to managing. Therefore, nearly one half of the courses that first year SIM students take in the first term deal with organizational behaviour and project management as opposed to cataloguing or reference work. This is not to suggest that traditional librarianship courses are given short shrift. Rather, there is a common understanding in SIM that its graduates, as professional librarians and information professionals, must be prepared to work with and lead others in projects, on budgets, and toward common goals or objectives. No man is an island, and no library or organization is devoid of people. Management is not a bad word, but a set of necessary skills everyone should be adept with.

(Interestingly, Meredith Farkas noted the same thing after considering the results of a recent survey on LIS schooling. The call for more management skills is hardly new, but it apparently continues to be given short shrift. I’m fairly happy, however, that my school responded to this issue long ago.)

2. Technology is vital, but technology does not trump service.

Library 2.0, Web 2.0, People 2.0, Two 2.0. We can ponder and praise the rise of interactive and user-friendly technologies such as blogging software, social networking tools, twitters, podcasts and whatever might come next, but none of these can replace the service aspect of the profession. The best part of my week doesn’t occur when I’m checking one of many portable devices for the most recent news, but instead when take my shift at my alma mater’s reference desk. A certain thrill that is equal parts fear of, excitement for, and anticipation of the unknown comes over me when a student asks for help acquiring information in a field I’m not familiar with. Librarianship service is a process, a discovery of information mediated through the librarian. Note that I am not saying “filtered” or “accessed” there. When I say “mediated”, I mean to suggest that we are there to guide some one toward the information they are looking for. There is no controlling of information or gatekeeping. Rather, we are there to show some one the route and help them get to where they’re going so that hopefully they can get there on their own in the future. This human component can’t ever be overlooked.

(This is a belief I’ve long held. All of my experience in academics long ago taught me the importance of leading the horse to drink, so to speak.)

3. Professional librarians and library technicians can, and should work together.

When I work at the reference desk, I sit as either an “MLIS student” or a “Professional Librarian in training”. I work alongside both professional librarians and library technicians at the desk, and they are both equally capable of being the mediatory I mentioned above. One month into my professional training, however, I’ve encountered both the understanding that professional librarians and library technicians can work together as well as the belief that “library technicians are similar but different”. Yes, a library technician may be “similar but different” (whatever that means), but that doesn’t mean they should be valued any less than any of our other colleagues. The library at Saint Mary’s University appears to break down these artificial barriers, and I hope most other organizations try to do the same. I’d prefer to work for an organization that values what differences in people, and works with them to make the most of their own skills and goals. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. Or perhaps that’s a simple goal that could be put into place with relative ease elsewhere.