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.

LibraryH3lpFAQ

LibraryH3lpFAQ

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!

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Serve Yourself up Some Gimlet

Most libraries have some sort of mechanism to track their reference statistics and for many of us, it may even be the old pen and paper.  Gimlet (http://gimlet.us/) is an excellent tool not only to track questions easier, but also to help libraries create a knowledge base of questions and answers.  Additionally, Gimlet allows users to pull a variety of useful reports.  Best of all, it’s extremely affordable at $10 a month.

Instead of simply counting questions, Gimlet can easily be set up to track a variety of data points including question duration and type, patron type, format, and location of question. While these main categories are static, the selections within the categories can be edited. The back end portal set up extremely easily and anyone with basic Internet skills can do it.  Once the category selections are chosen, it is easy to add users to the portal by simply inviting them via the website.

Gimlet is web based so it can be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection.  After users have been invited to join the site, they will set up a password and then can start recording questions, answers, and various aspects of the interaction.  Tags can also be used to better identify common topics of questions.

As mentioned, Gimlet does more than just track questions for future reports; it also sets up a knowledge base of questions and answers and can be searched via keyword or tag and can include date limits.

Because I only had a free trial when trying out Gimlet, I could not see the variety of reporting options.  However, a recent Charleston Advisor article (Breitbach 2011), mentions several of the reporting tools.  In addition to basic line graphs showing the various data points, Breitbach says, “…details statistics allow users to run pivot tables (cross tabulations)…For example, users wanting to compare “question type” with “format” (in-person, phone, IM, etc.) or any other variable entered into the system…in a matter of seconds.”

Overall, I think any library that does not currently have an automated reference statistics system should seriously consider this product.  For those of us that already use an in house system or use another product such as Libstats, we may want to do some comparisons.  With the very low cost, the ease of customization, and the advanced reporting, Gimlet might win over many other systems currently in place.

Breitbach, W. (2011, April). Gimlet. The Charleston Advisor, 12 (4), 36-38.

Join.Me at my computer

How many times have you been talking to a patron on the phone and as hard as you try to explain a database function, the patron isn’t able to follow along?   You could whip up a quick Jing video to email to the person on the other end of the line, but wouldn’t it be quicker if you could instantly share your screen!?  Join.Me is the answer!  As opposed to some commercial screen sharing conference tools such as WebEx or GoToMeeting, Join.Me is available for free and is extremely easy to use.  There is no downloading or accounts required on either end, and you can be up and sharing in seconds.

Here’s how:

  • Librarian goes to http://join.me and clicks on “Share”
  • Librarian is asked to “run” an application – this  generally does not require any administrative privileges.  (This seems to work more smoothly using Internet Explorer.)
  • Librarian sees a Join.Me tool box appear at the top of his or her screen with a number code.
  • Librarian tells patron to enter that number at the http://join.me web page under “Join.”
  • And voila! The patron sees the librarian’s computer!
It’s easy to share with Join.Me

It’s as easy as that!  Once the patron is viewing the librarian’s screen, it’s easy to show step by step directions to navigate a database!  An additional feature is that the librarian can even give a patron access to their mouse so that the patron can try their search his or herself!  Another bonus feature of Join.Me is that it has a chat function and a free (long distance) phone number for teleconferences.  For those looking for additional bells and whistles, Join.Me also has a paid “pro” account which also allows you to set up a custom code in place of the number that is used to connect that patron to the librarian.  For example, if I set up my custom code as cooklibrary, the patron would simply enter cooklibrary on the “Join” section of the website.  Additionally, the pro account also allows you to schedule meetings in advance. However, Join.Me or Join.Me Pro don’t include many of the tools that other web conferencing programs have such as highlighters, pointers, etc.

While I’m not convinced that Join.Me is the best tool for actual web conferences, it is an excellent way to quickly get sharing and could be extremely useful for any telephone reference you encounter.  Try it out and let me know what you think!

Guest Post: Addicted to Jing

I just Jinged again. It’s becoming a bit of a habit… How to check to see if we have a journal  – Jing. A search strategy in a quirky database – Jing. The steps to request an article through interlibrary loan – Jing again!!

Jing is an alluringly addictive little piece of freeware that allows you to make movies (as well as screenshots) of whatever’s transpiring on your computer screen.  (There is a Pro version with additional features, including upload to YouTube.)

Jing comes to us from Techsmith, maker of SnagIt (for screenshots) and Camtasia, used by many libraries to create instructional tutorials. You may be familiar with Adobe Captivate, also for tutorials.

Even if you are a Camtasia or Captivate guru, think of Jing as a quick fix for the tutorial urge.

  1. Library interfaces (and librarians) tend to be fussy and showing can often be better than telling.
  2. Jing is simple: it records in real time, with few choices to make…and if you bollix it up, just start over!
  3. Jing offers the option of posting your video to a free Screencast account – that means that you do not have to host these (massive) files on your own server, but can just send a handy link.

You probably wouldn’t create a full-blown tutorial to address an individual patron’s question, but Jing is perfect for this. I’ve also used it to recap demo searches for instruction sessions and promote new databases to faculty.

Your first Jing video

jing

The Jing sun

Launch the program, whose icon (the Jing “sun”) will then lurk at the edge of your screen until you are ready for Jing action.

Hover over the sun and select the crosshairs, so you can set your screen capture dimensions.

Select the video icon in the toolbar that appears under your capture zone.

After the 3-second countdown, now you’re recording! Move your cursor, type, click, etc. Your video can be up to 5 minutes long (I never got that far).

To stop the recording, click the rectangular stop button on the toolbar.

Once you are done, you can view your video. You can save a copy (it’s in Flash) or better yet, “share it” to Screencast.com so you can send a link for viewing. Your video can also be embedded within a web page for extra coolness. To add an embed button to your toolbar (you know you want to), go to your “More” button (the cogs), click again on the cogs to delve into preferences, and proceed to Customize Jing buttons. (Again, to upload directly to YouTube, you must cough up for Jing Pro. )

Link to tutorial

Here’s an example of my handiwork, made in response to an emailed reference question on media in the Ukraine (!). My accompanying email sketched out the steps and the reasons why I tackled the search the way I did, but at least I didn’t have to write, “on the left side of the screen….”

Some notes

  • You have the option to record audio along with your video. I do all my Jings “mute” as I don’t have a good-quality microphone. Also, I’m not certain of my ability to chew gum, perform a snappy database search, and narrate the experience simultaneously.
  • To compensate, I’ve developed some recording mannerisms.  When choosing a link I may “highlight” it with the mouse (maybe go back & forth). To emphasize an area of the screen, I may lasso my mouse around it a couple times.
  • The free Screencast account includes 2 GB storage and 2 GB monthly bandwidth.  After 9 months of Jinginess, I have only used up 10% of this. Now you can organize your Jings into folders, if you sign into Screencast.com directly. (Filing the Jings into folders does not adversely affect your sharable links.)
  • If you happen to have Camtasia, you can edit your Jings.
  • If you want to use a Jing for more formal purposes, you could rename the link to something less weird with a URL shortening service, such as TinyURL, that allows custom aliases.

Screenshots with Jing

Just choose the image icon instead of video and set your screen capture parameters as for video. Once you’ve snapped the screen, you can label, highlight, and add arrows.

A screenshot created with Jing

A screenshot made with Jing. Pretty darn professional!

Where to get it

Jing is available for both Windows & Mac. More information at:  http://www.jingproject.com

Another option: Screentoaster

Link to Screentoaster video

Here's a Screentoaster video I created. I got to change my preview screen!

If you are excited by the idea of making quick tutorials, you may want to check out another free service called Screentoaster (thanks Carissa!) that does not involve a software download at all but merely logging into your free Screentoaster account. Working by means of a Java applet, Screentoaster can record all or a portion of your screen at the prompt of the Alt-S command. After you create your movie, you can add audio and/or captions, even change your preview screen. Then you can upload to YouTube or Screentoaster (for better quality not to mention speed), or save the movie to QuickTime (.mov) or Flash (.swf) Formats.

Link to YouTube tutorial

The same video on YouTube (which wipes out the cute captions).

While I like the option of adding captions and audio, this may mess with the quick-fix ethos, and Screentoaster seems to slow things down a bit while it’s running (and the resulting shaky screen, while not visible in the final product, gave me a bit of stage fright). However, Screentoaster is still well worth pursuing, especially if in your workplace administrative rights (needed for Jing installation and occasional software updates) are hard to come by.


Shana Gass is a Reference Librarian and liaison to the College of Business & Economics at Towson University. In addition to Jing, she’s intrigued by the new FASB Accounting Standards codification, post-industrial landscapes, and ugly yet catchy music.

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