Screencasting to an Audience of One

screenjellyFor a patron to learn that our library has just the resource they were looking for, followed by a helpful tutorial by a librarian, only to realize a day later that they can’t remember exactly how to access it worries me. Many patrons quickly forget the title of a recommended resource, let alone how to find it on a library’s website. This is very true when I am on the customer side of service desks.  Perhaps they will recall the name of the resource and even how to find it, but will not be able to replicate the search.  Worst case scenario my patrons will feel stupid and I will have lost them forever.  Isn’t this the same fear now causing many librarians to walk patrons to items on the shelf and not just pointing? Is it sufficient pointing our patrons to an online resource, walking them through it and hoping that they will remember everything? I think not.  Handing out easily lost, misunderstood, or forgotten step by step directions to databases on paper/bookmarks is a step in the right direction, but can’t more be done?

Why not create screencasts designed to answer a patron’s specific question at the same moment you are showing them the resource at the reference desk?  While researching screencasting, I stumbled across a video of a community college librarian discussing screencasts for individual patrons using Camtasia (I don’t have a link to this video and have not been able to find it again.  Please comment with a link.).  A great idea, I thought, but a bit cumbersome.  Camtasia, or Captivate for that matter, is powerful but takes more than a few minutes to create a screencast and upload it to a video hosting service.   It could work for email reference or distance students where time is less of an issue.  Camtasia is also somewhat expensive and to have a copy of it on each patron touch point is unfeasible for most libraries. A different tool was needed.

To make individualized screencasts functional, I wanted an application that was easy to master and had blazing fast upload time.  Enter Screenjelly.  It requires nothing more than a Twitter account and is completely free.  To use it go to and click on record.  Screenjelly stores the videos on its own server, just email the link to the patron.  It doesn’t provide any editing tools, but for quick and dirty “how to get there” and “how to use” screencasts, editing is unnecessary.  You get 3 minutes of recording time with optional sound.  Go try Screenjelly.   It takes longer to explain how to use it than to figure it out by playing with it. Screenjelly even provides statistics on how many times the screencast has been watched, making it simple to check to see if the patron has viewed it.  Many other screencasting tools exist, such as Screentoaster, and would also work.

I have been producing these screencasts for an audience of one for three weeks now.  Every time I make one the patron looks from me to the computer screen and says “Cool!”   Most times they had no idea such a technology even existed.  I plan on asking for inexpensive microphones for each service desk to add audio to the screencasts after training our public service staff on how and when to use it.

I think these individualized screencasts are a valuable tool that all public service desk workers should learn and use.  Embedded below is my most recent Screenjelly screencast.  It was designed for a patron wanting online tutorials on using Excel 2007 because of an upcoming job interview.

TTW Contributor
Mick Jacobsen