Being at the Point of Need 6

One of the most important, if not most important, aspects of screencasting (yes, it is another screencasting post, I swear I have other interests see the Summer Reading series at LISNews) has nothing to do with designing or producing, but where it is placed. Screencasts, to be most useful, have to be at a point of need.

Placing screencasts, chat widgets (thanks David Lee King), or other tutorial at the point of need seems so self-evident (a priori) that I don’t believe I need to make any arguments for it. More important are some of the techniques, hypothetical and production, of putting the screencasts in front of the patron without being annoying.

The Catalog
I can think of many places screencasts could be placed in a catalog. A list in a sidebar, no results found page, place a reserve, review my account page, etc.

My place of work has recently started using Aquabrowser. One of the benefits of Aquabrowser is that it is easy to identify common search terms and return a hyperlink to a resource we want to highlight. For example, a search using the term “business” will get a link to the Skokie Library Business Portal on the top of the returned results. If it is possible to return a link, it should also be possible to return an embedded screencast or at least a link to a pop-up window containing a screencast. I have not yet seen this in the wild. I certainly hope vendors and our open source geniuses are reading this and taking it seriously.

Boutique sites or Pathfinders
Boutique sites/pathfinders/LibGuides/etc. are traditional means of highlighting areas of a collection. Bringing together print items and paid plus free online resources for a particular topic is something libraries have been doing for a long time. Screencasts explaining how to answer representative questions in regards to a particular collection area are well placed in these. The Skokie Public Library has been doing this with our Business Portal and will continue to do so as other boutique sites are designed and released.

But what about databases? These are the most difficult, under-utilized and expensive resources libraries provide. Eric Frierson,  a librarian at the University of Texas at Arlington,  came up with a brilliant idea (the best idea I heard at ALA 2009 in fact) about how to put screencasts exactly where our patrons are.

Eric designed a frame around UT Arlington’s databases. The frame contains links to to JavaScript popup screencasts pertaining to that particular database. Do yourself a favor and take a moment to see the proof of concept

So simple. So awesome.

So where are you putting your asynchronous tutorials?

TTW Contributor
Mick Jacobsen

6 thoughts on “Being at the Point of Need

  • Tijl Vandersteene

    Thanks for this interesting post Mick. Right now I’m working on a paper about the use of screencasting in (public) libraries. Your vision and links are very helpful.
    I think that screencasts should be as near as possible to the problem they relate to and that they should be part of a bigger strategy to support and instruct the user. The use of examples in or next to searchboxes or forms could be another part of this bigger system.
    I believe it might be useful to also put all screencasts in single place (a page named ‘user support’ or ‘tutorials’ or …). You should put screencasts near the problem and you can collect them so users can browse screencasts and/or subscribe to a feed.

  • Aaron Tay

    Interesting idea. The same goes for all types of help documentation, FAQs, screencasts, meebo chats etc, if you toss it all in one place, nobody is going to refer to it. You need to provide access to it, at the time they need it.

    I’m not sure about frames though, so the idea is to frame a subscribed library database like say Business Source Premier? I’m not sure if that would be allowed (framing i mean).

  • Eric Frierson

    Hey! On the frames – I actually e-mailed EBSCO and they said they didn’t care, as long as it didn’t allow non-authenticated users into their database.

    Now, use of FRAMES in general is questionable from a usability/web compatability perspective, but dammit Jim, I’m a librarian, not a professional web developer! 🙂 Ha ha. Haven’t had time to explore iFrames as a solution. Also haven’t contacted other vendors to see if they would be okay with it.

  • Batarang

    The catalog and database screencasts are most important. It irritates me that our vendors haven’t created them already, but I hope our library decides that this is a worthwhile endeavor for various staff to produce without the all-seeing eye of our marketing folks getting in the way.

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