Screencasting in libraries: build a relationship and not a movie

This past month, my work producing and managing online learning materials collided head-on with the launch of our university’s new website. The Library’s website (which is the school’s largest site by page number and by usage, so they tell me) improved top to bottom: our home page now features a single-search bar that gives our users quick access to WorldCat, our databases, our course reserves, our traditional catalogue, and more. We encountered some very big hiccups, as any big web change will, but I think that most students will benefit from it.

One of my major tasks during the launch has been to update our tutorials. This has been a very slow process since there is only one of me to face off against over 100 tutorials (let alone dealing with my other duties in the normal work week). I wouldn’t say that I’m disappointed with my pace since I’m moving as fast as one can, but I am frustrated that more couldn’t be done in the short time we have. Instead of updating all the tutorials in one fell swoop, I have to prioritize which objects demand the most attention immediately while leaving others behind for later. I refer this work to my colleagues as triage: it’s messy, it doesn’t look good, and our emergencies and our fatalities are in full view of anyone passing by.

If one good thing has come out of this, though, it has been the development of new tutorials which showcase everything the new site can do. Some of the tutorials have been hit-and-miss, while others have been very successful in classrooms and in the general public. The new tutorials feel more like The Web in 2010, and they definitely put the old tutorials in their place – back in 2005 or so. Check out this collection as an example:

1. Dalhousie Libraries’ “Welcome to the Library” tutorial. It’s informative, but its colours are dark, and its message is very formal:

2. The new “Getting your Research Started with the Dal Libraries Website” tutorial (Oct 2010). This tutorial is fairly long at 3 1/2 minutes in length. However, it is instructional by design and is meant to be shown in a classroom setting, to be followed up by real-life surfing and examples offered by a real-life librarian:


3. The most recent tutorial, “Finding Databases with the Single Search Bar”. This tutorial is under 2 minutes in length and features a face (me!) so that the voice doesn’t become a ghost in the machine. Its tone is intentionally conversational:


The third tutorial is my favorite. This video achieves something we have been talking about quite a bit at Dal Libraries as of late – bringing the actual librarian into the tutorial. We have a large number of tutorials that do a great job encapsulating their message – they often have superb production value and credit must be offered to my predecessors. However, as good a job these tutorials do at capturing the lesson at hand, we’re not certain if the student hangs around from start to end to take in all that’s offered. And if they’re not sticking around, then there’s no point in keeping the tutorials on the Interweb. So right now we’re shortening the message’s length and we’re making the librarian a real living person and not just a voice speaking from the computer. Our argument is that if people will turn to our videos to fill an immediate information need, then we have an obligation to give them exactly what they’re looking for. And if the information need remains unmet at the end of the tutorial, then we must show that there truly are real, living people out there (through our virtual reference service or in-person) who can help them.

Does the third tutorial convey all of what I’m hoping it does? Likely not. But all the same, I’m pretty sure it does a better job than the other two tutorials at showing the user that librarians can be of service to them. And I think this is something other libraries should be doing, too. If, at the end of the day, I can create a short video that helps nurture a relationship between a librarian and a library user, then I’ll come away satisfied.

Some notes:

  1. All three videos were developed with different versions of Camtasia screen-capturing software
  2. We believe the jury is still out on the effectiveness of tutorials in 2010. Our stats show usage, but I’m constantly suspicious of Google Analytics (this is the topic of a future post). Neither do we have consensus regarding our focus groups and usability tests
  3. There is no significance to No. 32