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!

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!

jQuery Mobile: Mobile Websites Made Easy

In case there was any doubt left in your mind, the 2011 Horizon Report declares that the time-to-adoption for mobile devices is one year or less (, pg.12). I would say the time to adopt is actually already here and possibly past. While there is still quite a bit of debate over whether native apps or web apps are the way of the future, there is no doubt that your library should be doing something to address the experience of your mobile users (see this article for more on that debate).

As mobile devices become more ubiquitous, more tools are available to help you develop your mobile initiatives. For web apps (i.e. mobile websites), several mobile frameworks have emerged to ease the development process. As the phrase indicates, mobile frameworks provide the framework for building mobile websites, allowing you to focus on the content and navigation. Most mobile frameworks are built to work on a wide variety of devices and provide a similar look/feel to native apps (i.e. apps that are built for a specific device).

While there are many mobile frameworks available, I have found the jQuery Mobile Framework to be both easy to use and well-documented (very important!). Additionally, the jQuery framework is compatible with a wide variety of devices and degrades nicely for those devices that are not quite as smart (see a list of supported platforms here). One of the benefits to web apps is the ability to create one site that works for any mobile device. Thus, choosing a mobile framework that helps you accomplish this makes sense.

So what does jQuery Mobile do?

Before I get into that, it’s important to state that jQuery Mobile does not eliminate the need to know how to create a website using HTML. In fact, to use it most effectively, it helps to have a solid understanding of HTML, as well as web programming languages like PHP or Coldfusion. What it does do for you is turn your basic HTML code into a mobile-friendly user interface by providing pre-defined Javascript interactions and CSS styling. All you have to do is add a few hooks (that’s what I call them) so that jQuery Mobile knows what to do.

screenshot of a hyperlink to Google

Unformatted hyperlink

So, by changing this line of code:

<a href=””>Google</a&gt;

into this:

<a href=”; data-role=”button”>Google</a>

screenshot of a jquery formatted hyperlink

hyperlink with the data-role="button" code added

I turn a small unfriendly link (for a smartphone at least) into a graphical, user-friendly button that is consistent with the mobile interface experience to which your mobile users are accustomed.

Put it to the test

Using the jQuery Mobile Framework, I was able to turn my library’s basic text-based mobile website into a smartphone-friendly experience within a matter of hours:

screenshot of Cook Library's mobile site for smartphones

Using jQuery Mobile I was able to turn our text-based mobile website into a smartphone-friendly site within a matter of days.

The documentation and demos that are provided on the site ( were extremely helpful for getting started.  They provide a basic template to start with, and there are plenty of tutorials and samples around the web as well. There are several different CSS themes to choose from, and, of course, you could always customize the themes to match your school colors, etc.

For anyone who relies on Dreamweaver for building web pages, it appears that the newest version of Dreamweaver (CS5.5) integrates the jQuery Mobile Framework (, making it even easier to create mobile-friendly websites. (There really is no excuse not to have a mobile site now!)

If your library hasn’t yet ventured into the mobile frontier, or even if you already have a basic mobile site, save yourself some time and ensure that your mobile site is compatible with a variety of devices by using jQuery Mobile. If you’re not responsible for your mobile site or if someone else is doing the coding, suggest that they look into jQuery Mobile or one of the other mobile frameworks that are out there.

I’d be interested to hear how others are addressing their mobile presence. What frameworks are you using? Are you building native apps or web apps? Feel free to leave a comment below about what your library is doing.

Note: In order to make your site display correctly on an iPhone, you’ll need to add the following line of code inside the <head></head> tags of your pages:

<meta name=”viewport” content=”width=device-width,user-scalable=no” />

This takes away the ability to zoom in and out on a page, but will make your site more friendly to iPhones. (This took me awhile to figure out.)

Poll ‘Em Everywhere

Do you ever look out at your class and see students checking email, text messaging, or simply sleeping?  Let’s be honest, library instruction has the potential to be a bit boring.  Why not spice it up and make it more interactive with Poll Everywhere?  Give your students a fun option for in-class participation using their own cell phones.  Poll Everywhere has two main types of polls: multiple choice and free text.  The choices in multiple choice polls are set up by the instructor on the Poll Everywhere website and voted on via text message by the students.  Like American Idol, your students can “vote” by simply texting a number or a keyword to a designated phone number.    This type of poll could be used as a quick quiz to gauge student engagement or it could be used to provoke class discussion.  The free text poll allows an instructor to ask a question and for students to text in their free text answers.  This could be a great way to brainstorm keywords or to get feedback or answer questions that students might feel uncomfortable to ask.  This could be especially for encouraging shy students to participate in discussions.  Both poll types update in real time without much of a delay.

Poll Everywhere has a variety of pricing options from free to $1400 a month (  Their free version includes up to 30 responses per poll which could work for some classroom settings.  For $15 a month you can bring that up to 50 responses.  Both versions require participants to text in a number rather than a keyword, which could get confusing.  For $65 a month, instructors can choose the keywords that students text for their answers.

In general, I think Poll Everywhere could be a great (possibly free) alternative to clickers in the classroom setting.  My only concern would be the cost to students.  While many of our students have unlimited text message plans, some do not.  Poll Everywhere does have one workaround;  students can choose to vote via a website instead.  This would, of course, only work in computer classrooms or for those who have unlimited data plans on their phones.    I think that as long as the activity is not required, it could be a great tool for any kind of classroom or even presentation setting.

Andy Burkhardt at Champlain College wrote on his experience using Poll Everywhere for library instruction back in October on his blog.  Check it out here:

Hope to see/ meet many of you at the ACRL conference this week!


Guest Post: The iPad and the Library

Even before its official launch on April 3rd, the iPad had already received its first reviews. Overall, the initial reviews were positive. And while many see room for improvements, everyone agrees that the iPad (with help from app developers and several major publishers) will be an influential force on portable touch computing. The big question for librarians and libraries is, How will it impact us? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the iPad from a librarian’s perspective…


Publishers backing the iPad include:

  • Hachette Livre,
  • HarperCollins,
  • Simon & Schuster,
  • The Penguin Group,
  • Macmillan,
  • Perseus Book Group, and
  • Workman Publishing

With backers like these (missing from this list of powerhouses is Random House), the iPad has already received enough support as a publishing platform to affect ebook pricing by important merchants such as Amazon.


With the new iBook store, Apple hopes to influence ebooks like it did digital music with iTunes. To start, the iBook store includes 30,000 DRM-free Project Gutenberg titles. Apple also announced that all non-DRM ePub formats are iPad compatible. A major issue for libraries will be how the iPad works with subscription ebook services that use a DRM format (i.e. Overdrive and Netlibrary). iPhone users can currently access NetLibrary via their web browser. Therefore, the same should hold true for Netlibrary web access via the iPad. Another possibility would be for ebook services to make their content compatible with apps like the Iceberg Reader from ScrollMotion (note the Random House content). Additionally, libraries could take advantage of iPad apps from book sellers like Barnes & Nobles and Amazon. With these apps, the iPad is one of only a few ebook readers that can display ebooks purchased through these popular bookstores.


Textbook publishers are looking at new possibilities for digital textbooks on the iPad that go far beyond simple text conversion. Here are some examples that will be available for the iPad:

The future of textbooks on the iPad depends on how students and educators take to the new format. For libraries, it could mean:

  • the ability to provide these textbooks on demand with a quick iTunes download, and
  • if e-textbooks receive wide academic use, libraries will need to better accommodate this new information format.

Seton Hill University has announced a program to give each student an iPad, which could significantly influence future textbook selections at this campus.


Newspaper and magazine publishers are looking to the iPad to replace declining sales of print subscriptions. Most online content from newspapers and magazines will display on the iPad’s web browser (though Flash content is not viewable). Some periodicals will have dedicated iPad apps available through the iTunes store. It’s important to remember that apps initially advertised as free may later require individual subscriptions. Also unclear is whether current subscribers will receive price breaks or if institutional subscriptions will be possible for libraries. However, before we over-think things, let’s keep in mind that many of these subscription issues can be resolved simply by database companies making their products iPad compatible. For example, EBSCOHost has an updated iPad friendly full-text view (taken from ERIC):

EBSCOHost Full-Text screenshot

Other publishers are looking to revolutionize periodicals, integrating multimedia and interactivity that is only possible on devices like the iPad.

Other media

One exciting release is the Netflix app, which allows Netflix subscribers to stream video to the iPad. ABC also has an app that streams many of their popular TV shows directly to the iPad. However, a major complaint about the iPad is that it does not support Adobe Flash. This fact has forced several online video services, such as YouTube, to provide an iPad friendly version of their videos. However, iPad’s lack of Flash could cause major problems for libraries providing online access to video databases. Many of these databases rely on Flash to provide content, and unfortunately it is unlikely that academic databases will be as quick to respond to the iPad as YouTube was.

So how does this help the library?

The blog Gizmodo has a recent post about why the iPad is the future. The gist of the post is that the iPad’s simplicity makes it easy for anyone to learn. For libraries, the iPad could serve as a great low maintenance computer to be loaned out for casual use, freeing up desktop computers for more heavy duty work. Students looking to check Blackboard, email, or Facebook may choose to borrow an iPad over sitting at a desktop computer. Additionally, the iPad’s use of iTunes software makes adding and deleting content very easy. If anything goes wrong, iTunes can quickly restore your iPad to its default settings. This feature also provides librarians a fast and easy method for clearing the iPad after each loan.

As a computer for librarians, the iPad will make a great roaming reference tool. The built in browser does a decent job displaying most library databases and catalogs. Most full-text content works with the iPad out of the box. I believe I can complete about 90% of my daily work on the iPad platform (with the addition of an iPad dock keyboard for lengthy typing). The iPad is also handy for catching up on all those articles you’ve been meaning to read. Instead of printing them, you can read them as PDFs on the iPad.

Only time will tell the extent of the iPad’s influence, but it is undoubtedly an emerging technology worth library attention.

Ken Fujiuchi is currently the Emerging Technology Librarian in the E.H. Butler Library at Buffalo State College. He has also worked as a lab and instructional facilities coordinator and adjunct faculty member in the School of Informatics at the University at Buffalo. Ken holds an Masters in Library Science from the University at Buffalo. His research interests include information literacy, information storage and retrieval, and human-computer interaction.

You don’t have to be just a Libtechtalk groupie. Did you know that this blog is looking for guest authors? Contact ctomlinson at to find out how you too can write about your favorite technologies and how they might be used in academic libraries.

Hey, QR code! Smile for the camera!

Here’s a recently over-cited prediction: “The mobile device will be the primary connection tool to the internet for most people in the world in 2020.” [1]  So how will people access the internet from their mobile devices? Using the tiny keys to punch in increasingly lengthy URLs?  Probably not.

An example of a QR code

An example of a QR code

Rather, cameras on mobile devices are seen as a more efficient way to access information on the internet.  How? Many ways.  But, the use of Quick Response (QR) codes is a rapidly emerging method for pushing content to a users mobile device without requiring hand-cramping URLs.

Taking a page from the ever-useful barcode, QR codes may look like 3d pictures that will leave you cross-eyed trying to see the hidden image, but they are actually encoded images.  The same way a book’s barcode can be scanned to input the book’s ISBN into a checkout system, QR codes can be captured (via camera) and processed by a QR application to lead you to enriched, context-sensitive information.

There are lots of possibilities for using these to make our patrons’ lives simpler, but here’s one to get the creative juices flowing:

Call numbers are an endless source of frustration for novice library users.  Posting QR codes that lead to a mobile-formatted tutorial about reading call numbers at the end of each aisle (right where your little call# range signs are located) could provide that “point of need service” libraries are always striving to fulfill.  Along with the tutorial, you could include your phone number (they are staring at their phone after all) or information about texting the reference desk for additional help.

This is just one of many possibilities for QR codes.  A great way to get started is to make your contact information available via a QR code.  I used to make mine.  Here’s how:

1. Fill out your contact info at

1. Fill out your contact info at

2. Choose a display mode for your mobile contact page.

2. Choose a display mode for your mobile contact page.

3. Add a picture of yourself or a company logo.  You can also enter a personalized message.

3. Add a picture of yourself or a company logo. You can also enter a personalized message.

5. Take a look at your new mobile contact page!  This is a fully functional webpage, so you can link directly to the URL as well.

5. Take a look at your new mobile contact page! This is a fully functional webpage, so you can link directly to the URL as well.

4. Preview your QR code.  Make sure to save it!  I would save it using their jpeg option.  You can then add it to anything the same way you would add any other image.

4. Preview your QR code. Make sure to save it! I would save it using their jpeg option. You can then add it to anything the same way you would add any other image.

Add this QR code to your website, handouts for presentations and instruction, your business card, and anywhere else you can think of!


[1] Rainie, Lee & Janna Anderson. The Future of the Internet III. Pew Internet and American Life Project, Dec. 14, 2008,, accessed on July 31, 2009.

“It’s just a modern day communication device…”

With the recent release of the 2009 edition of the Horizon Report, the definition of emerging technologies must be redefined, refocused, or at least re-evaluated. This new report, along with a discussion I attended in Denver, has prompted me to write about a not-so-new technology: cell phones. Or, as the Horizon Report calls them, mobiles. The reason behind this name-change is that these devices are much more than just phones; these devices allow you to “take pictures, record audio and video, store data, music, and movies, and interact with the Internet” from almost anywhere at any point in time.1 So, while the cell phone has been around for awhile, these mobile devices are rather new, but are creeping up on those of us in higher education more quickly than those old cell phones did 10 years ago or so.

“So why should I care if someone’s phone can take pictures and whatnot?”

Well, they could be taking a picture of you, so look your best. But, more importantly, mobile devices are a new and increasingly popular gateway to the world of information that is out there. As a library, it is important for us to make sure that the information we feel is necessary for students is accessible through these devices. This means websites, library catalogs, and tutorials should be built with mobile devices in mind. There is a great article on A List Apart to get you started thinking mobilely. (I think I just created a new adverb!)

“I just put my website up! I’m not going to change it now, so why else should I care?”

Mobile devices, like their legacy predecessors, are used for communication. Phone calls, text messages, and emails are no longer emerging methods of communication, but our methods of dealing with these communication forms have yet to emerge. Reference desks can take advantage of AOL’s integration of text messaging into their instant message interface. Library patrons can send a text to 246246 with “send tucookchat” at the beginning of the message, and it will be received at the reference desk (e.g. “send tucookchat are there any free computers on the 3rd floor”).

Library Tours
Museums have been offering guided audio tours of their collections for years. Why can’t this work for libraries too? Using a service like Guide By Cell, llibraries can provide their patrons with information about the library and offer help for commonly asked questions, like “How does this string of letters and numbers help me find a book?” Dartmouth is offering this service already.

Clickers (student response systems) are all the rage in library instruction right now: active learning and instant feedback – a match made in heaven! An emerging technique is to use mobile devices as a clicker. Students can text their answer, the data is compiled, and instantaneously produced into meaningful results. Platforms for this type of interaction are being developed by researchers like SMSRS Research and companies like Turning Technologies. Of course, if you have a twitter (find out more about twitter) account you can collect feedback from students via their mobile devices right now. To text to someone’s twitter account, simply send a text to 40404 with “@username” at the begninning of the message (e.g. “@mulcahey99 you have the coolest screen name ever!”). Of course, your students will need to have a twitter account too…

This leads me to my caveat for all of this. We sometimes assume that every student who walks through our doors is a user of the latest technologies, has their own cell phone, sends texts to their friends, and knows more about computers than we do. While this may be mostly accurate, it is not always the case, so it is important to consider (especially for instruction) how to involve those who may not be as technologically inclined. Schools like Abilene Christian University are accounting for this by distributing iPhones to all freshmen.

As more universities follow in Abilene Christian’s footsteps, mobile devices will become more and more prevalent on our campuses, not just for communication but in the classroom and in the library.

(And for those who haven’t seen it, the title of this post is a reference to Steve Martin’s “L.A. Story” – best movie ever.)

1 Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (2009). The 2009 Horizon Report. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.