Guest Post: Exploring the Cloudship App

Library Tech Talk is happy to welcome a guest author, Towson University Albert S. Cook Library’s current Residency Librarian for Diversity and Innovation, Sarah Espinosa! Sarah has been rotating through departments in the library during the first year of her residency, contributing to a variety of projects and services in Research & Instruction, Archives & Special Collections, and Technical Services. Here on Tech Talk, she shares with us how she keeps all those projects organized!

Academic librarians manage multiple projects with greater complexity than the traditional to-do list can handle. Projects have collaborators, tasks and sub-tasks, due dates, communication plans, required resources, and more. I’m finding paper organizers too limiting for constantly developing projects.  However, the tools we use for office communication and organization (the Microsoft Office suite, Google apps) don’t cut it, with their limited task structure. Students experience the same challenges as they face more collaborative and experiential projects in their disciplines. So I looked for free project-management applications online that I could use and recommend to others. After using Cloudship for a couple months, I’ve decided that it works well as a web-based application for limited personal project management.

Using Cloudship

Cloudship can be utilized as a desktop application, a web application and a mobile app. I use the web application to manage my work projects, which I like because of the option to create sub-tasks, notes, tags, and due dates.

The dashboard of the web-based Cloudship app.

The dashboard of the web-based Cloudship app.

I enter a task in the top text bar, and then I simply drag-and-drop the task into the correct project. Or, to add tasks within one project, I select it from the left sidebar. The drag-and-drop method makes it easy to reorder tasks by date or in order of importance, and to drag tasks beneath others to create sub-tasks. I can filter my tasks using the To Do, (due) Today, Flag, Completed, Scheduled, and Trash buttons at the top of the screen. The search filter for tagged tasks works extremely well.

Drag-and-drop a task beneath another to create a list of subtasks.

Drag-and-drop a task beneath another to create a list of sub-tasks.

I haven’t utilized a lot of Cloudship’s functionality, which includes linking resources to my project, adding details and collaborators to projects, and sending communications between collaborators. Since I’ve been using Cloudship as a personal project manager, I’m not sure how well the collaboration aspect works. I also have not used the resource tab. It makes more sense to add a resource directly to a task, instead of having a free floating list of resources. Also, Cloudship doesn’t handle URL resources well. The thing that really bothers me is the calendar: there’s an option to use a Cloudship calendar, if you create a paid account, but Cloudship doesn’t integrate with my Outlook or Google calendars.

Cloudship Mobile App

Even so, Cloudship has been exactly what I’ve needed so far–a task manager that allowed for more complex task structures and the flexibility offered by a cloud-based manager. Because of that, I thought I’d try the mobile version. Unfortunately, a lot of the functionality and ease of use I appreciate in the web application just isn’t there in the mobile app.

Here’s the mobile dashboard, which echoes the project-task list from the web dashboard:

The dashboard for the Cloudship mobile app

The dashboard for the Cloudship mobile app

To access my project list, I click the arrow in the top-left corner; to add tasks, I click the plus sign in the upper-right corner; and to navigate between Tasks, Projects, and Resources, I click a tiny arrow next to the plus sign. It isn’t impossible–just clunky. I find myself having to constantly switch which sidebar or window I’m using because I’m always in the wrong section. The app makes no use of the swipe gesture or the ease of drag-and-drop.

Worst of all, I can’t figure out how to create sub-tasks. This deficiency differentiates between Cloudship’s mobile and web versions, and as a developing mobile user–and a librarian recommending apps to students for their own project management purposes–it’s enough to make me jump ship and try out something else. Applications like Wunderlist and Trello make better use of drag-and-drop, swiping, and sub-tasks.

I’ve also noticed that there’s a lot of Cloudship community support and suggestions, with frequent response from developers, about a year ago–then everything stops, which leads me to wonder if Cloudship is still developing. It would be sad if this project were abandoned, because it has potential. However, other apps have both web and mobile ease-of-use, while Cloudship is better used as a web application.

Are you interested in contributing a guest post to Library Tech Talk? Contact kimberlymiller [at] towson [dot] edu for more information.

Design Without Designers

Psychology poster created in Canva

Psychology poster created in Canva

Librarians produce a surprising number of flyers, posters, handouts, signage, and other objects used to instruct or inform our users. While many of these items are utilitarian and just need to get the job done, ideally we’d also like them to look good. Some of us can take advantage of campus multimedia design centers with designers to help bring large projects to life, but the typical academic librarian probably has not taken a graphic design class and may or may not dabble in Photoshop. Although some design-daring librarians venture into Adobe Illustrator, more often that not we fall back to comfortable office applications like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, making projects look “good enough” in programs that were not built for design work.

Recently inspired by sites like Librarian Design Share, I have been trying to jazz up my usual library instruction handouts and collection promotion materials. While I know what I like when I see it and I have spent plenty of time fiddling with projects in Microsoft Publisher, I’ve never developed what you might call the “designer’s eye” necessary to create truly beautiful designs.


I signed up for Canva, currently in beta, a few months ago when I first read about it at Free Technology for Teachers, hoping it would push me to overcome some of my design stumbling blocks.  Thanks to our latest snow days here on the East Coast, I’ve finally found the opportunity to play around with the site. By providing both pre-fab design templates and customizable objects in one easy-to-use package, Canva is an online service that aims to help average Internet users create beautiful design projects.

Creating in Canva

After signing up for a free account, you can access design templates for pre-sized cards, social media graphics, presentations, posters, blog graphics, Facebook covers, photo collages, business cards, and invitations. You can also create your own design using custom dimensions.

Selecting a new design in Canva

Selecting a new design in Canva

After starting a new project, edit your design by choosing layouts, applying backgrounds, and adding text or images using the menu on the left-hand side of the design canvas. You can also search through over one million images, shapes, lines, banners, icons, stickers, buttons, text holders, and so on, or upload your own images to the project. Canva’s drag and drop interface makes it easy to select and drag items from the menu tray to the design canvas, then resize and arrange objects as necessary. You can also adjust the colors of each object on the design canvas, add text, and change fonts (choosing from the 100+ available, with no Comic Sans in sight).

Working in Canva

Working in Canva

Although Canva offers many free images and layouts, the site also includes a large amount of “premium” content (including images, backgrounds, etc.) that you can choose to purchase for your design. Premium objects are offered via a $1, one-time use license. While this means you need to purchase premium objects each time you use them in various projects, the final cost is still lower than purchasing other stock photo options.

Completed projects can be shared via social media (Twitter and Facebook). downloaded as an image (PNG file), or downloaded as a PDF. Canva also provides a direct link for the design project, which you can use to collaborate with others on your design. This can be useful for sharing your design with project team members or for sending design prototypes to other stakeholders for input before producing the final product.


Although Canva is easy to use, it doesn’t exactly take all of the guess work out of creating beautiful designs. Customizing the colors, arranging objects on the canvas, and selecting fonts still requires some what of a “designers eye” to be truly effective. Canva currently offers five quick, hands-on tutorials that guide you through improving design-related skills, including choosing fonts, using color palettes, and understanding layouts. Each step in the tutorials features a “Learn” section that discusses a design principle, and a “Do” section in which you practice the design skill. Each “Do” section also includes a “Need a hint” button, which links to an instructional video that demonstrates how to accomplish the task. Working through these tutorials didn’t make me a graphic designer, but they did help me understand the basics of what I need to do in order to create better looking projects.

Projects in Libraries

Given the large number of templates and pre-defined project types, Canva could be useful for a wide variety of projects in the average academic library. This could include designing library instruction or other workshop presentations, posters and signage, flyers, handouts, and other promotional materials. Additionally, as academic librarians become more active in promoting and encouraging visual literacy, Canva could be a tool for students to use during library instruction sessions that promote engaging with and creating visual media.

Although Canva does not promise to make everyone a designer, it could be a useful tool for taking the next step in stretching our design muscles. What are some projects you’re working on that could use a little design upgrade?

Leaping into Gesture-Based Computing

Gesture-Based Computing

Gesture-based technology, the ability to control devices through gestures or body movements rather than mouse clicks and keystrokes, has appeared in pop culture and sci-fi for many years (the go-to example is the 2002 movie Minority Report in which Tom Cruise’s gesture-controlled computer helps him identify the location of future crimes). However, gesture control technology has been slower to take hold in higher education, with the first appearance of gesture-based computing in the 2010 Horizon Report as an emerging technology trend with a potential to impact teaching and learning in colleges and universities.

Until recently, gesture-based technology was prohibitively expensive for most consumers, including libraries and librarians. With the release of gaming systems like the Nintendo Wii in 2006 and Xbox Kinect in 2010, gesture-based computing is making its way into many consumer households. Additionally, most modern mobile devices (including smartphones and tablets) emphasize interaction and navigation through gesture control.  

Leap Motion

Although gesture-based computing has established itself in the consumer market, many of these devices require a steeper price point than

he Leap Motion Controller, as compared to the size of an iPhone 5

The Leap Motion Controller, as compared to the size of an iPhone 5

libraries may have to devote to experimental technology. Due to it’s $79.99 list price (+shipping), Leap Motion  has become an affordable entry into the gesture-based computing market for interested educators and librarians. Released in July 2013, the Mac, Linux, and Windows-compatible Leap Motion system comprises of two parts – the Leap Motion Controller and apps available for download from the Airspace app store.

The Leap Motion controller is a small (about 3in long x 1in wide) device that plugs into the computer via USB. Installing the Leap Motion controller is as easy as plugging the controller into a USB port using one of the two provided cables, downloading the necessary software from the Leap Motion set-up site, and setting up a free Airspace account. A small selection of apps is already included in your Airspace account area, including the Orientation app, which demonstrates what the device “sees.” The device detects the space directly above it, with an approximately 2ft by 2ft by 2ft detection area.

When it was initially launched, the Airspace store included about 70 paid and free apps; today, there are nearly 150 apps. Games represent the largest portion of apps by far, but other categories include apps for education, entertainment, and productivity (including computer control).

Cyber Science 3D Motion App

Using the Cyber Science 3D Motion App with Leap Motion

Although the novelty of using gestures to play games and control the computer definitely make this an engaging device, for most librarians it’s not yet going to be an everyday use item. Due to the small detection area, you really need to hold your hands right above the device for it to function properly. Continue to interact this way for an hour or two, and your arms start to get tired. The device seems to be very accurate in detecting motions, though perhaps a little too sensitive since it tends to interpret jewelry (like a ring or a watch) as an additional finger or hand.

And the user experience really varies greatly by app. In many of the apps, the gesture sensing does not seem as sensitive as the initial Leap Motion Orientation demonstrates and there can be a lot of flailing about to figure out exactly what the app wants you to do. It is particularly difficult to understand where the invisible “screen” plane is when using Touchless for Windows to control your computer, which means getting real productivity out of the device is difficult (there are good examples of frustrations using Touchless included in this post from Scott Hanselman).

That being said, as app developers continue to improve and add to their offerings, the Leap Motion experience will likely improve. Right now, it’s limited to being useful for introducing library staff and users to the concept of gesture-based computing, perhaps by setting up a game demonstration for staff enjoyment or as an outreach program for students.

Future of Gesture-Based Computing in Libraries

Although inexpensive, practical gesture-based computing is still very much in development, there are already some excellent examples of how the technology trend may impact academic libraries and higher education institutions. Examples include:

  • The work done at the Bavarian State Library, which allows for interacting with 3D digital objects purely through gestures. Imagine digitally “flipping” the pages of a rare book, increasing the reach of archives and special collections materials.
  • The entrance to the recently constructed Johns Hopkins University Brody Learning Commons features the 12ft by 7ft Balaur Wall, which uses the Microsoft Kinect to allow users to interact with different types of media through gestures.
  • Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a gesture-based system using Wi-fi signals to detect body movements and control household electrics and appliances. Using Wi-fi signals to detect gestures may be useful because it allows for applying gesture-based technology to situations where it is not possible (or wise) to detect motion with the cameras and infrared light required by many gesture-based devices, including the Leap Motion controller and the Xbox Kinect.

What do you think the future of gesture-control technology will hold for libraries?

Visualize Your Keywords

With the middle of the Fall semester upon us, many research and instruction librarians find themselves in the thick of instruction season. Whether it’s credit-bearing information literacy courses or one-shot workshops, it’s safe to say our library classes are in full swing.

The importance of generating and connecting related terms for keyword searching is just one of the skills frequently included in library instruction sessions. However, some students are easily frustrated in their quest for coming up with related terms; they may get “stuck” on what they consider a “perfect” term, or they may simply lack mastery of the required language skills necessary to imagine related key terms without additional help.

Librarians already employ a number of instructional techniques to help students brainstorm and generate keywords, including consulting reference materials, using group brainstorming, and identifying key terms from a related book or article. An additional tool librarians may consider incorporating into keyword instruction is a visual thesaurus like Snappy Words.

Snappy Words

Snappy Words Logo

Snappy Words is described as a free “online interactive English dictionary and thesaurus that helps you find the meanings of words and draw connections to associated words.” Basically, search for a word to two-word phrase in Snappy Words, and you’ll receive a visual, clickable map of related terms. Your map is generated based on Snappy Word’s search of the Princeton-developed WordNet lexical database. The database uses lexical relationships between words to group terms, and this data is displayed when you search Snappy Words.

Searching in Snappy Words

Searching Snappy Words is very simple. Enter your word or phrase into the search box and click “Go.” Snappy Words searches its database to create an interactive word map of synonyms and related terms. You can then zoom in or out on various portions of the map, click and drag the terms to explore relationships, and hover over terms to see definitions.

Although the site includes advertisements and links for other companies, using Snappy Words requires no registration, log-in, or other personal information. It is also worth noting that Snappy Words requires Adobe Flash, and therefore cannot be accessed on some mobile devices.

Here is a quick search I did for the word “trust.” Since this term has at least two different uses and definitions, there are multiple clusters of related words. Several synonyms connected to the search term in the center of the map, like “faith,” “confidence,” “believe,” and “trustworthy,” are related to the term trust defined as “allow without fear.” The farther out in the web you go, the farther you get away from your initial terms, including antonyms and broader terms. There is also another cluster of words related to the term trust defined as “something (as property) held by one party (the trustee) for the benefit of another (the beneficiary).”

Snappy Words sample search for "trust"

“Snappy Words” sample search

In addition to the map of related terms, Snappy Words provides a graphical representation of additional language features, including the parts of speech for each word and how the words are related to each other.

Snappy Words Chart of Term Relationships

The connections in Snappy Words demonstrates how the terms are related.

Terms are color coded based on the parts of speech, while the connecting branches between associated terms indicate the relationship. For instance, a solid grey line shows that the terms are synonymous; the dashed grey line connects terms that are derivations of each other.

In the Classroom

The language-related features of Snappy Words, including the term relationships information and definitions, could be useful in library instruction sessions when demonstrating how the keywords you choose for a given search can influence the types of results you receive.

Snappy Words seems most useful for terms that are common English-language terms, and not necessarily discipline-specific terminology. And the look and feel of an interactive thesaurus may appeal to learners who prefer to navigate and express ideas in a more visual way.

Librarians know the results from a database search are only as good as the search terms the user chooses. Helping students understand the importance of finding and choosing the correct keywords continues to be an important aspect of instruction and reference interactions in academic libraries. Will you be giving Snappy Words a try to spice-up your next keyword lesson?

Creating Panoramas with Hugin

Upon returning from last month’s ACRL 2013 conference, I was excited to sit down and explore Hugin after more than one librarian mentioned using it to create panoramic and/or 360-degree images (for one example, see this PDF of Scott Rice and Margaret Gregor’s Presentation  “This Library Orientation is Fun! Building a Successful Virtual Experience for Students”).

Based on the Panorama Tools project, Hugin is a free, cross-platform photo stitcher that allows you to join overlapping images into a single panoramic image. Although Hugin’s advanced features can be initially overwhelming for the casual user, with seemingly endless image manipulation tools,  the “Assistant” tab can get you started creating panoramas in just three quick steps.

After downloading Hugin, the first step in the assistant is to load your images. I decided to test out Hugin using images of the Towson University campus I snapped with my phone’s camera. Hugin will attempt to automatically detect information about the lens used to take the images, and it easily recognized the information for my iPhone’s camera.

Hugin Assistant

Hugin Assistant

The next step is to “Align” the images. Hugin automatically attempts to create a single panoramic image from the images you upload – including selecting “control points” between images (significant overlapping points in each photo used to align the images). From there, you can also adjust a number of other settings, including layout, projection, and cropping.

Hugin Panorama Preview

Hugin Panorama Preview

Finally, you can “Create your panorama.” The Hugin processor will ask you to save your project (which means you can come back to work with it again later) and will produce your panoramic image. (Tip: It look me a while to find, but you can adjust the image file output to produce TIFF, JPEG, or PNG files in the “Sticher” tab in the upper right-hand portion of the Hugin screen).

Below you can see the before and after of the simple panorama I created using Hugin. Four individual photos are stitched together to create a single image, with the Hugin assistant automatically attempting to adjust the images’ exposure, orientation, and cropping. If you are not pleased with your panorama, you can go back and try adjusting any of the image settings as-needed.

Image series before....

Image series before….

Panorama after using Hugin

… and panorama after using Hugin.

Creating this simple panorama with the Hugin assistant took me less than five minutes from start to finish (maybe 10 minutes if you include install and picture taking time). You can also opt to by-pass the assistant, and follow these directions provided by Hugin to dig deeper into the program. The assistant feature seemed to work well with my smartphone snapshots in “ideal” photographic settings – outdoors, with plenty of natural light and subjects that are farther in the distance. More complicated projects would benefit from someone with an interest in digital photography and equipment that is much more sophisticated than a smartphone camera.

Although there are more settings than I could fully explore in one sitting, I can see how the advanced features in the tool would be useful for larger projects, particularly in the hands of users with a higher level of photography experience and knowledge (or time and interest to develop such knowledge). Libraries might be interested in further exploring Hugin if they are producing images of their library to use, for instance, in promotional materials or online tours.

Hugin also includes tutorials on its site that demonstrate several other techniques, including stitching multiple rows together and joining scanned images. And according to Hugin’s website, they will be unrolling a new interface sometime in 2013 (you can see a preview on the Hugin website), which promises to include Simple, Advanced, and Expert settings.

Why not take a few quick shots of your library and see what you can create!

How to “Explain Everything”

If the latest version of the NMC Horizon Report Higher Education Edition is any indication, tablet computing continues to be at the forefront of higher education trends. As a new tablet owner myself, I have been looking for more ways to incorporate it into my daily work life aside from reading email, taking notes and enjoying the occasional YouTube video. Also, as more librarians are using tablets for roving reference or during instructional sessions, it’s interesting to consider how shifting more of our day-to-day work to tablets might look.

Given the increasing number of librarians interested and involved in creating online instructional materials, one area to explore in tablet computing is screencasting and screencapture applications which allow librarians to do this type of work on-the-go.

Explain Everything

One of my favorite applications I’ve found so far for screencasting from my iPad is Explain Everything. Explain Everything is an iOS app which allows you to interact with images and presentations on your iPad, including adding annotations and recording live animation or voice narration.

Creating and Editing Projects

To begin a new project in Explain Everything, you can upload images (JPG or PNG), upload other compatible files (including PDF or RTF and PowerPoint, Excel, Word, Pages or Numbers files), or start from scratch with a blank project. Projects are presented as a series of slides, with new pages or images from imported documents each appearing as separate slides. You can rearrange, duplicate, insert, and delete slides within the Explain Everything project.

Explain Everything Home screen

Explain Everything home screen displaying saved projects.

Once a project is created, you can manipulate objects using the interactive white board. Tools in the whiteboard allow for adding new slides, annotating or free-hand drawing, inserting shapes or typed text, adding additional images, and opening a live browser window. You can also rotate, resize, and delete objects.

Explain Everything Whiteboard

Editing and recording interactive whiteboard in Explain Everything. Image created using Skitch


In addition to manipulating the slides on screen, you can record a presentation or screencast. Using the “Record” button on the bottom of the whiteboard will capture your live annotation, object manipulations, laser pointer, and voice narration. You can continuously record while navigating from slide to slide, and easily pause the recording during interruptions.

Since Explain Everything also allows you to open a live browser window, you can easily create projects which demonstrate online resources. This is particularly nice for libraries as we create guides for users to reference when interacting with our online catalogs, databases, etc. Unfortunately Explain Everything’s recording capabilities may not capture some online animations (including pop up windows and javascript), which can make it difficult to demonstrate certain interactive online activities (like typing into a search box).

For demonstration purposes, you can see a couple of quick videos I created using the recording function.

Saving and Exporting

One of the best features of Explain Everything is its ability to export projects in different formats to different locations. Projects can be exported as Explain Everything’s XPL format, or as PDFs, images (PNG), and videso (MOV/MP4), and can be saved to various places like the iPad camera roll or Youtube, as well as your favorite cloud storage service (including Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Drive). You can also adjust the quality and size of exported images and videos, though the quality of its compressed videos may leave something to be desired for some users.

Export and Save in Explain Everything

Export and Save in Explain Everything

Wrapping Up

Although not a free app, Explain Everything’s current price at $2.99 (or $1.49 per copy if you’re purchasing more than 20 copies through Apple’s education volume purchasing) is significantly lower cost than many other screencasting alternatives which offer the same type of features and capabilities. Additionally, you can learn more about using basic and advanced features of Explain Everything with video guides and a free iBook manual. [Note: At this time, Explain Everything is available for iOS only. However, Android users may want to check out these posts when looking for Android-friendly alternatives.]

In addition to creating quick, low-cost screencasts and tutorials, Explain Everything might be useful for librarians who are using iPad carts in library instruction or libraries with iPad check out programs, providing students an easy way to create and export their own screencast projects or narrated presentations.

Have you tried to create screencasts or tutorials using a tablet application? Leave us a comment!

Managing Social Media with IFTTT

Yesterday I attended the first *official* meeting of the Maryland Library Association’s Social Media User Group. The primary discussion focused around a panel of local library professionals who are active in managing library social media accounts. Throughout this discussion, several tools were mentioned for managing multiple social media accounts to create a cohesive presence across platforms. With many of the panelists singing the praises of “IFTTT” for managing content, and several attendees left wanting to know more, the site seems ripe for further discussion in the library world.

What is “IFTTT?”

If This Then That logo

“IFTTT” (pronounced like “gift” without the “g”) stands for “If This Then That.” It is a web-based service that allows you to create automatic connections between different internet applications. These applications, which IFTTT calls “channels,” currently include over 50 sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Delicious, as well as productivity applications like email and Google Drive. Once you’ve created your IFTTT account, you can activate any of the channels in which you have an account and would like to link to other applications.

After activating channels, you will be able to create “recipes” to automatically link content across accounts or to automate activities you perform frequently. Recipes consist of a “trigger” from one channel that leads to an “action” in another channel. Want to archive your Facebook posts as a journal in Evernote? Or automatically post a link of your most recent blog post to your Facebook timeline? Create a recipe!

Recipes in IFTTT

Create Recipe in IFTTT

Create a Recipe in IFTTT

IFTTT gives you the option to set up personal recipes or share your recipes with other users. This means there are already several shared recipes set up for IFTTT channels that you can use or view as examples.

IFTTT leads you through creating a new recipe in a few simple steps. Let’s say I want all of our new LibTechTalk posts to automatically appear as links on my Facebook page. First, I select the channel that will initiate the trigger (or the “this” in the “if this then that” chain).

Choose Trigger in IFTTT

Choosing a trigger channel in IFTTT

Once I’ve selected a channel, I need to choose a trigger action. For this recipe, I’ll choose “Any new post” in the WordPress channel. This means my recipe will be “triggered” every time a new post appears on LibTechTalk.

Choose Trigger in IFTTT

Choose “Any new post” in the WordPress as the recipe trigger.

Next, I choose the channel in which I want the next action to occur (or the “that” in the “if this then that” chain).

Choose action in IFTTT

Setting up an action

In this case, I want the action to occur on my Facebook page, and will select the Facebook channel accordingly. Then, I’ll choose the action I want to occur in Facebook, in this case “Create a link post.”

Choose action in IFTTT

Choose an action in IFTTT

After selecting the action, I can customize how the post will appear in on my Facebook page.

Complete action in IFTTT

Customize an action

Finally, add in a description of the recipe and I’m done! I can also choose to share the recipe with other users, turn the recipe “off,” or delete the recipe altogether.

Finished personal recipe

A personal recipe in IFTTT


Although IFTTT does not allow you to monitor any of the activity in your social media accounts, it takes some of the hassle out of linking activities and content across several different sites. You will still need to manage the spontaneous engagement that is so important in cultivating a vibrant social media presence, but IFTTT can help you automate the routine tasks you find yourself completing time and time again. Best of all, IFTTT is free to use and can be accessed anywhere you have internet access.

Ready to dive into IFTTT?

How do you use IFTTT? Do you have any great recipes? Tell us in the comments!


New LibraryH3lp Feature: FAQ Module

Recently, our library has been studying ways to improve the quality of our instant messaging reference service. While we’re thrilled the popularity of IM reference has continued to grow (according to our data, the number of questions we answered nearly quintupled during the two year period from 2008-2010!), increasing popularity can also lead to not-so-fun growing pains.

Once such instance is when, typically during evenings or weekends, our reference services are single-staffed. Juggling multiple in-person and virtual reference interactions can make it difficult for one person to provide prompt service, leading to frustrations from librarians and students alike.

As we have been looking for ways to alleviate such situations, I was happy to see LibraryH3lp debut their new Frequently Asked Questions (long-time readers might remember we discussed using LibraryH3lp to address previous IM conundrums). Although I’ve see other examples of FAQ’s on various libraries’ websites, LibraryH3lp makes it easy to create a searchable (and mobile friendly!) FAQ site you can build to supplement other reference service resources.



Building the FAQ site is relatively straightforward. LibraryH3lp users can start right away using the “FAQ” tab in their admin site.

First, check out the “Questions” tab where you can add questions and answers. You can also assign each question to any number of topics, which will then be browse-able on your live FAQ site. You can also visit the “Questions” tab after your page is set up to view usage statistics like the number of views and likes or dislikes per question.

Adding a question to LibraryH3lp FAQ

The “Pages” tab allows you to customize specific features of your FAQ page. Here, you can specify the URL, assign a theme, enter additional contact information, and customize how the LibraryH3lp chat widget appears on the FAQ page. Additionally, you can customize any section of the page with standard HTML and/or your own CSS through using the “Templates.”

Pages tab in LibraryH3lp FAQ module

Pages tab in LibraryH3lp FAQ module

For more specific details about setting up and configuring your own FAQ module, see the LibraryH3lp documentation. And check out Library H3lp’s own FAQ page for an example.

We’re hoping that sending our chat users a quick “Hello, we’ll be right with you!” message along link to a more in-depth, searchable FAQ page while they are waiting for further assistance will help improve the responsiveness of our IM reference services. While this certainly does not provide the same depth and level of service their eventual chat with librarian will, it is quick and simple to set up and could be a good resource for users who have a commonly asked question or just need to be pointed to some quick facts about the library.

We’re just starting to get our FAQ page set-up, and I will provide updates to this post as we progress and finalize our page.  In the mean time, does your library have a similar FAQ resource you’ve found successful?  We’d love to see it!

Mobile Help Guides?

The idea for this week’s post came from a conversation I had with a student during a library instruction session. This student wanted to know if the library provided online instructions for navigating the library’s mobile page and mobile database interfaces. My answer was “Well, no, not specifically… But many of concepts and principles presented in our other help guides should still apply.” The student seemed satisfied with that answer, but I continue to wonder: how can we provide the same type of point-of-need instruction documents (PDFs, videos, etc.) to mobile users? Or even, should we be providing this type of support?

Long-time readers probably know Library Tech Talk authors have a great interest in mobile devices. We introduced why we thought mobile technology would become important for libraries, previewed the iPad upon its release, demonstrated how to use jQuery Mobile for making mobile websites, and show you tools that use mobile devices to engage library users in reference and instruction. But so far, we haven’t talked about providing instructional support for these devices. As more of our students rely more on smart phones, tablets, etc. to view, consume, and create information – with the ECAR reporting that the number of students using smartphones for academic purposes has nearly doubled since 2011 – academic libraries are pushed to not only provide mobile versions of their resources, but also to help people navigate those resources.

While I am still investigating more systematic responses to this question, I’ve found a couple of interesting tricks and tools, particularly for creating screen captures.

Mobile Screenshots

Many library help guides include screenshots to demonstrate step-by-step instructions for using a resource, and since mobile sites frequently look different than our full sites, images for mobile instruction should reflect this. But do you know how to take a screenshot on your favorite mobile device? The actual method varies by device and operating system. For instance, with Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, etc.), simply pressing the “home” and the “power” keys simultaneously will take a screenshot of whatever you’re currently viewing and save it to your pictures.

Cook Library Mobile Site

Towson University Cook Library’s mobile site, taken with an iPod touch.

Not an Apple user? There is also be quite a bit of information floating around the internet to guide you through taking a screenshot on your other devices (including the Kindle Fire and Android devices).

Mobile Annotations

In addition to taking the actual screenshot, there are applications specifically designed for you to use the mobile device to annotate and edit screenshots, rather than switching over to image editing on a personal computer. One such free app is Evernote’s Skitch. With versions available for iOS, Mac, and Android, Skitch allows you to do basic mark-up of photos, screenshots, and maps using your mobile device.

Image showing the Skitch interface and tools

Skitch annotation tools

You can use annotation tools like text, arrows, and shapes to call out or highlight important parts of the image. Additionally, freehand drawing tools allow for more creative highlighting and drawing on the image. There’s even a pixelation tool allows you to blur out sensitive information (like an account number or library log on information). You can then email your completed images to be saved or, if you’re an Evernote user, you can save them to a specific notebook in your Evernote account.

The images below were created using Skitch on my iPod touch as examples of demonstrating important features of mobile database.

Photo showing annotation using Skitch to demonstrate the library's mobile site.

Using Skitch to demonstrate the library’s mobile site.

Screenshot demonstrating how to enter search terms

Annotated screenshot demonstrating keyword searching in a mobile database.

Image illustrating the "Find it" button.

Using “Find it” to locate articles in the mobile database.


While screenshots and annotations are the building blocks to providing help to our mobile users, a question I have yet to satisfactorily answer is: how do we deliver this content? Many of our library’s help guides are PDF documents, which are not necessarily easily viewed on smaller mobile screens. Creating videos and screencasts is another option, and currently our library’s mobile site links to our YouTube channels for video help guides. However, what tools are available to help us to create these videos showcasing the mobile interface itself? And are videos the best solution? Or should we focus on delivering the content on a webpages, taking a responsive design approach?

As I continue to explore this line of questioning, I’d love to hear from our readers about projects you’ve heard of or what your library is doing to address this potential need!

“Year of the Infographic”

Lately, it seems like everyone on the internet is a graphic designer, with customized infographics hitting every news outlet, blog, and personal website. Some have even dubbed 2012 “The Year of the Infographic.” Now, thanks to an ever-growing group of online services, librarians without graphic design backgrounds can start creating their own infographics in just a matter of minutes.


Loosely, infographics use pictures, words, graphs, and other visual elements to express information. Ideally, infographics are designed to uses these visual elements  to organize complex ideas and data into a more easily understood form. For a more detailed explanation, see “InfoGraphic Designs: Overview, Examples and Best Practices.” Or, check out the “What is an Infographic?” infographic.


Infographics themselves, along with other data visualizations, are certainly not new. And here at LibraryTechTalk we have already discussed a few different tools for creating visualizations. But recently there are new online services that offer ready-made templates and themes users modify by adding their own data. This means slick, professional infographics can now be created by just about anyone in less time than it takes to learn more advanced graphic design software. While there has been some criticism of these types of tools and the products they create, they are potentially valuable options for the everyday user who is intimidated by more advanced applications.

Two examples I’ve recently explored:

Piktochart – Jumpstart your own infographics using one of their ready-made themes. Piktochart offers a free basic service, as well as two options to upgrade to a paid “Pro” account – Monthly or Yearly.  WIth the Free account, you can choose from 5 free infographic themes which allow for some limited color and font customization, as well as pre-loaded shapes and graphics. After you “load” a theme, you can add or change graphics, shapes, and text on the page. There is also a chart wizard where you can manually add data to make a simple chart, or you can import your own data in CSV files. You can also upload up to 5 of your own images. When you’re finished, completed iinfographics can be saved and downloaded as an image (.PNG), but with the free account all of your images will also include the Piktochart watermark.

Piktochart Screenshot

Creating an infographic with Piktochart.

Upgrading to a Pro account gives you access to over 70 additional themes, more options for customization, up to 100 slots for uploading images, downloading as raw data, and watermark-free images.

(Monthly Pro pricing is currently $14.99/mo and a Yearly Pro account is currently $129. Also, it looks like account prices will be increasing at the end of August.) – Use visual themes (which they call, “vhemes”) to create and share your own infographics. Signing up for a free account gives you access to 15 vhemes. In the “creation tool,” drag and drop the vheme of choice onto the canvas, or choose to start with a blank canvas. Next, customize the infographic using’s pre-loaded objects, adding shapes or text, and uploading your own images. Unfortunately does not include any chart-making capabilities. Due to this lack of feature, does not necessarily stay true to the “infographic” ideals, but is an easily-accessible tool for an average user to begin exploring infographic creation.

Search Infographic

Infographic created using

When you are finished, allows  you to share your infographic in a number of ways, including downloading as a JPEG, generating a web link, or copying code to embed the image in a web page, blog, etc. You may also choose to save your infographic as “Private” (default) or “Public.” is currently still in beta, which means there are likely additional tweaks and improvements ahead.



Librarians are thinking critically about how to translate data about our services into easily-digestible and meaningful messages. Iowa State University Library is using data visualizations (including infographics) to tell their library’s story. The American Library Association has also used an infographic to demonstrate nationwide cuts to library budgets.


Infographics could be an additional tool in our instruction toolbox. Think about what kinds of skills might benefit from a more visual explanation. Students could create their own infographics to demonstrate what they learn in a library session. For example, Bizologie has created an infographic outlining how to research private companies.

Visual literacy

Even if we choose not to create our own infographics, we are concerned with visual literacy. As per the  ACRL’s Visual Literacy Competency Standards, “visual literacy” as “a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.” As infographics continue to increase in popularity, librarians will play a role in helping users effectively interact with visual information.


Do you have a favorite infographic or tool for creating infographics? How is your library using infographics? Tired of seeing infographics everywhere?

More information:

A more extensive rundown of infographics tools is available at Daily Tekk’s “Over 100 Incredible Infographic Tools and Resources.”

iLibrarian – 9 Data Visualization Tools for Librarians and Educators

Daily Infographic – Anatomy of a Librarian Infographic

Kathy Schrock –  Infographics as Creative Assessment

Junk Charts – The coming commodization of infographics