Monthly Archives: March 2009

Trial Instructional Videos–Trying out different software!

I’ve been playing around with some different screen capture software to see what works, and what is possible to achieve with each. From what I’ve seen, the hardest part seems to be figuring out what to say and avoiding saying “um.” Since I’m a poor MLIS student, I’m just using free software without any editing tools.

The first software tool I tried was Debut . A very quick and easy download, it took a matter of seconds to download and install. It has a very intuitive interface, and I was able to begin recording right away. There is a little quirk I’ve not been able to figure out a way around. You can set the size of the screen capture, but you can’t set a delay for starting recorrding. And without editing capabilities, I can’t seem to figure out how to erase the first moments when the recording program shows up. Regardless, I’ve made a sample video using Columbus Metropolitan Library’s new Kids’ Catalog.

Original Video – More videos at TinyPic

The next one I tried was Webinaria, which has the added advantage of hosting the files in flash format. It also has some basic editing features built in. The problem I had with the software was that it didn’t seem to work the way it was supposed to. Every time I tried to convert the files to Flash it crashed the program, and while it allowed you to insert text in the video it didn’t have a way to save the file besides converting it to flash which didn’t work. Fortunatly, I had another software tool on my computer to convert the video to flash, otherwise the file was WAY too big to be hosted anywhere.

Here is the Webinaria video I made, also for the CML Kids’ Catalog.
The Webinaria website offers a link to embed the video, but I’ve not been able to get it to work, so I included the direct link.

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Making Instructional Videos

Besides using the built in camera on my laptop to practice storytimes, I’ve never actually made a video of any sort, let along an instructional one. I have watched a fair number of these videos, in my online classes, and during the Learn & Play program, and so understand that there are various ways that they can be put together. Helpfully, this past month’s School Library Journal ran an article on creating screencasts called “That’s Infotainment” . This contains information on what types of instructional videos are currently being used, tips on how to make them, reviews of software, and how to publish and promote them.

From this article, and the instructional videos I’ve seen over the years, I’ve seen a number of different kinds of instructional videos. One way that I’ve seen used is pairing power point presentation or slide shows with audio commentary. This is good for lectures, and can be combined with screen shots to demonstrate steps to take in any process. On the whole, it seems to be a very text heavy medium, which makes it difficult for children to follow. It might be best for library catalog stations that do not have audio capabilities or fast processors.

Another option is using a video camera and recording someone demonstrating something, using props, and even the occasional sign board. These aren’t as easy, since you have to have a pretty good quality camera to get a clear picture, and a steady hand or tripod to hold it. Plus it is hard to show someone how to use a computer program using a video camera, because of the glare off the screen if nothing else.

Perhaps my favorite instructional video method for library technology instruction is the screen capture. It allows users to see what the steps look like, and what to do when, while still allowing for sound and text together. The problem with this is that most of the screen capture utilities are quite expensive, and even more so are the editing tools required to polish them.

While I continue to review these libraries’ electronic resources, I will experiment with the various tools out there to create screencasts and other electronic instruction tools. My next area for review are the electronic databases that libraries subscribe to, either directly or through State Library services.

Library Instruction and the OPAC

Online Public Access Catalogs all really have the same aim, to help users discover items that fulfill their information needs. Even though many systems pile features on top and around this purpose, perhaps to facilitate discovery, the basic purpose of the OPAC remains the same. After reviewing four systems it is obvious that there are a lot of factors that go into the intuitiveness of a catalog. Some OPACs have a lot of features, but no assistance for how to use them, others have lots of instruction for multiple features, but they don’t work how they are supposed to, which lessens their overall usefulness. The question isn’t if they work—because with enough time and effort it is possible to find materials through all the catalogs—but how well they work for users independently accessing them.

 

Many libraries rely on in-person staff instruction to guide users in discovering the features of their OPAC, neglecting those users who either access the OPAC from the internet or prefer not to ask for help. Even those libraries whose OPACs have instruction may not be able to reach those with specific needs, or reach children, who may not understand the terminology used in some catalogs (such as UAPL’s OPAC). There really isn’t one solution to make all of these OPAC’s more accessible for parents, teachers, and children, as each of those reviewed had different issues. Certainly catalogs like CML’s and the UAPL that had almost no instruction could integrate more directly into their interfaces, and those like Salt Lake County Libraries could make their instructions more obvious.

 

In conducting this first review, I understand that many of these OPACs are purchased from outside distributors, and that the individual libraries may not have the ability to add or modify them to integrate more instruction. Perhaps, instead of cramming instructional tools onto the search interfaces, some of these libraries might provide electronic tutorials to guide users in the catalog. Instructional videos are quick and easy to make, and can bring together written and oral instruction together to better reach both children and adults. In my next post, I will discuss the technology and process of creating an instructional video to demonstrate how to use the CML catalog to find materials for children.

Upper Arlington Public Library OPAC

The last Online Public Access Catalog I will be reviewing is that of the Upper Arlington Public Library. Like the other OPAC’s this one has multiple levels and tools that users can utilize to access the catalog and find information. The UAPL OPAC does not have as many user interfaces as the CML OPAC, but it is equally as complicated. Accessible from a link on the sidebar of the main page, the library does not have dedicated computer terminals at the branches just for catalog access, allowing users to just use the internet access computers to search the catalog. My review here will follow the same pattern as with the previous reviews, looking at the following three questions:

  1.  What tools and interfaces are available for accessing the catalog?
  2. What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the catalog?
  3. What explanations/tools are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?

 Tools and Interfaces Available for Accessing the Catalog:

 There are two main access points for the Upper Arlington OPAC, as well as a series of tools that can be used to “filter” the results of each interface before the search is conducted. The two interfaces are extremely different types of searches, not merely an advanced and basic interface.

  The primary search that opens from the “Library Catalog” link on the side bar of the main page is a “Browse Search.” It is a very simple interface, with one entry point and five different “search types.” These are really search areas, as all searches performed from this access point are the same type—they are catalog/index searches that are word specific. That is if you type in “tree” in a title search, you will get an alphabetical list of titles in the catalog that start with the word tree. The search works the same way with subjects, authors, call number searches, and journal title searches. Similar to the Salt Lake County OPAC’s “Starts With” search, this search allows users to enter into the catalog and see all entries; in fact once a search is conducted users can browse through all catalog entries, not just ones with Tree in the first word.

 This OPAC also has a Keyword Search, accessible from a link at the top of the search interface. This interface has three different entry points that can be customized to perform a keyword search in one out of nine areas. These range from the typical Author, Subject, Title, Subject, and Anywhere, to the more specialized numerical searches ISBN, ISSN, LCCN, OCLC (yes this is the OCLC accession number, I looked it up and tested it), and by the barcode. Under the search boxes is an area to create filters to further limit the search results. These limits are in four different drop-down menus and two different date range possibilities (publication ranges and context dates). Users can narrow down results based on Nature of Contents, Format, Language, or Publication Location, but none of the choice options within these areas would be useful for those looking for materials for children, or even a lot of public library patrons. They range in the “nature of contents” from Abstracts/summaries to legislation, and finishing with thesis and treaties.

 One final tool for searching the catalog is actually not directly on either of the search interfaces, but is set on a box on the side of the page frame and from a link at the bottom of each search interface. This is a “Session Filter” option that allows users to set limits on the results of every search conducted during a specific session (what is a session is not explained, but if the screen is left on either search interface for very long it moves to the “My Account” screen. For the most part these limits are the same as those at the bottom of the Keyword search interface, with the addition of the ability to narrow down the search to items at one or more of the systems three branches.

 

Assistance Available to Explain or Guide the use of the Catalog:

Of the four OPAC’s reviewed, the UAPL has the least available tools integrated to assist users in searching the catalog. There are some text instructions, for instance “Select items to filter on. Hold down CTRL to make multiple selections.” But that is pretty much the extent of the assistance available from on the website for users to learn how to navigate the catalog.

 

Explanations/Tools Available to Evaluate the Results:

 Results are displayed in a numbered list that tells the user the number available, where they are located, what the title is, the author is, publication information, and also allows users to place a reserve directly from the results list. An icon next to the number illustrates what format the item is, though there is not a key to explain what they mean. Below the icon are three links to different levels of information on the item, first a full item screen, second an item level screen, and then the MARC record screen.

The three types of records contain data describing the item. First is the “full” record, which contains basic information about the item: call number, author, title, publication, and subject. It doesn’t have any information about if the item is available or at what library it could be found, beyond the call number. The second record is the “item” record dedicated to the circulation status of the item, its current location, and so on, as well as including the basic details from the “full” record page. It provides a chart of different status options, from Checked Out, On Hold, Requested, and so on. The final record is the MARC record of the item, simplified somewhat, but showing all of the information entered in the basic fields. For those not accustomed to reading and interpreting MARC records, this may not be the most informative screen.

 

Overall Review of Upper Arlington Public Library OPAC

 

 In some ways this is a very simple OPAC, it doesn’t have a lot of flashy Library 2.0 features, but that doesn’t mean that using it is straight forward and easy. Besides not having instruction and guidance built into the catalog, it is not an intuitive search, as it uses terms and record numbers that are not popularly used outside of library science. In particular, there are no tools or limiters that might help users discover what materials are suitable for children. The limits seem better suited for adults or even academic libraries. Even the individual item records are difficult to interpret, seeming to offer a perspective more suitable for staff and professionals, not parents, teachers, or children.

Columbus Metropolitan Library OPAC

My third OPAC to review is that of the Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML). Like the Salt Lake County system, CML’s catalog is fairly complicated, with multiple interfaces and a number of tools designed to facilitate access. The catalog is accessible from catalog terminals in the library building, from the header bar at the top of the library’s website, and from a box available on the front page of the website. As in my previous review, I will look at the follow three areas in my discussion of this OPAC:

  1. What tools and interfaces are available for accessing the catalog?
  2. What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the catalog?
  3. What explanations are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?

Tools and Interfaces Available for Accessing the Catalog

While there are at least five different interfaces for the CML OPAC, most of the tools available for searching the catalog are the same wherever the search is conducted.

 

The first interface is the one on the front page, which allows users to search either databases (called Premium Resources) or the Catalog. Users can conduct a search of the OPAC from here based on Author, Title or Keyword.

 

Perhaps the most frequently used is the interface reached by hitting “catalog” at the top of all website pages (it is the search interface displayed on the catalog stations at the library). It is a basic search, with just one box for a general keyword search. Under the keyword search are links to the advance search, and a portable search interface that can be accessed via portable devices such as blackberries or iPhones. (it is the same as the basic search interface, except with out the graphics)

 

The next most common interface is the advanced search, which offers users the chance to specify the keyword searches to particular fields. So if users know part of a title or the author’s name, they can use the Advanced Search to narrow it down. There are seven spaces to search Title, Author, Subject, ISBN/ISSN, call number, Publisher, or publication year. It is also possible to select a specific format, such as DVDs, Large Print or just Books.

 

Recently the library has launched a new search interface, a Kid’s Catalog. It is accessible from a link on the basic catalog interface and from the kid’s page on their website. The Kid’s Catalog features two interfaces that are roughly identical to the basic search and advanced search of the general catalog. In the advanced search, however, there are only four categories to search in (Title, Author, Subject, and Call Number) and a format limitation. This catalog basically adds a limit to all searches, restricting results to items listed as juvenile in certain places in the MARC field.

 

Assistance Available to Explain or Guide the Use of the Catalog

CML’s OPAC provides a very limited degree of assistance for users searching in their catalog. The search interface is provided by Aquabrowser, which offers a small introduction on searching from the results page. Clicking on HELP at the top of the results screen brings up a short document with a few tips on some of the special features, such as the display cloud that appears to offer alternative word choices. The only interface with additional directions is the mobile interface, which has more detailed written descriptions of how to conduct a search.

 

Assistance in Evaluating Search Results

The catalog has a variety of tools to help users evaluate and narrow down the search results to help determine the item that best fits the information needs. First there is the item record itself, from the first search results to the detailed record screen. In addition, there are two primary areas for narrowing down results, an area on the right side that suggests other search terms and one on the left side that allows users to narrow down the results. The search results are displayed in a list that shows the title, the author, a brief summary of the item, the call number, the series, the subject, and what search terms discovered the item. It does not show if it is available, where it might be located if it is available, nor does it allow users to place reserves from the initial record. This location and availability information is contained on the individual item record, which also might contain a huge range of other information. Each item record contains the basic bibliographic data, as well as availability and location, summary, table of contents, sometimes reviews, and sometimes excerpts from the book.

Along the right site of the results screen, there is a display called a “Discovery Cloud” that offers alternate spellings, related search terms, transitions to other terms, and links them to the original search. This cloud can be turned off if it is distracting or not needed, as it is most useful if a user needs assistance coming up with a keyword. One thing that is difficult with the cloud is that it doesn’t offer such obvious variations as plural forms of the word. This is significant because the key word search does not rank plural items with singular. So for a search of “tree” there are over 6,500 results and for “trees” there are just under 6,500, but the results are sorted entirely different, so to find non-fiction books on trees would require a user to go through pages and pages of results. It would be nice if the alternate spellings and search traces showed plurals, especially irregular plural formats.

 The left side of the results screen offers ways to limit and search through the results, which is very important because of the shear magnitude of the results generated by a keyword search that can pull words from often lengthy records. There are many different categories under which results can be narrowed down, depending on what kind of search is performed and whether the search uses the Kid’s Catalog or the general one.

 

The first option is to limit by location, which narrows down the items to those items that are at a branch or that have been checked out from that branch. So if people want just books at the location they are this is a start to narrow down the options, but it isn’t perfect, since it also pulls up items that are currently checked out from the location. In addition, the only way to find out if an item is in is to open up the record and scroll down, since availability is not shown on the results page.

 

Next come a series of refine options, allowing users to limit their results to produce more focused results. Some of these are fairly standard bibliographic areas, author, subject, language and format, but some offer more detailed factors that can be very useful in locating a particular book within a large amount of search results. Each area has the top 5 or so results for that limiter, with the number of items listed under that term, with a link to the remaining terms. For instance the area “Author” offers the specific spellings and format of all the authors who created materials in the search results, sometimes with thousands of results, which can be seen on a separate screen. Other options can be very specific, such as location were the story takes place, character in the item, or merely narrow down the format to non-fiction or picture book. These are helpful if paired with a very broad search term.

 

The children’s catalog has additional limiting areas that are specifically designed to assist parents and caregivers with selecting items for their children. Beyond merely limiting the results to materials identified as having a target audience of Juvenile (which is something that also can be used to limit results in the general catalog), this catalog provides other factors allowing users to select materials particularly for children. Rather then just specifying the type of book, like picture book or chapter book, the Children’s Catalog allows users to narrow down by age level to find picture books for either toddlers or preschoolers or juvenile fiction by grade level. This search also allows users to narrow down the results by number of pages, which many parents and teachers also use as criteria to determine age appropriateness (whether or not this is an effective method is another question).

 

Overall Review of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s OPAC

CML’s OPAC is heavy on features, but very light on instruction. This leads one to wonder how well users are able to independently use the catalog and take advantage of the features. In addition, without any explanation about how the search works and how to get the most out of it by putting the right kinds of terms in, it is hard to believe that even with great limit options and information to aid interpretation people are able to effectively discover all of the works available to meet their information needs. The features to help parents and teachers find resources for children are very helpful, but there is no where that points them out or explains how to use them or why one might want to.

 

Salt Lake City Public Library OPAC

The second OPAC I’ll be reviewing is that of the Salt Lake City Public Library System. While similarly available in both Spanish and English, unlike the county system, the City Library’s catalog is very simple. It is accessible both from catalog stations in the library building, and from the sidebar of the library’s website. As in my previous review, I will look at the follow three areas in my discussion of this OPAC:

  1. What tools and interfaces are available for accessing the catalog?
  2. What type of assistance is available to explain or guide the use of the catalog?
  3. What explanations/tools are available to evaluate the results of using the catalog, particularly for those looking for materials for Children?

Tools and interfaces available for accessing the City Library Catalog:                  

This OPAC is fairly simple, both in Spanish and in English. It has a Quick Search interface and then five pages each for searching by specific areas. The Quick Search has a drop down menu to select what specific area to search, which has all the same areas that are listed below with the addition of the ability to search by ISBN/ISSN/LCCN. It is also possible to search in a specific area (such as Title or Author) by clicking on it underneath the quick search. This leads to a new page with just one search box, designed to search just for that specific thing. The only exception to this is in the Keyword Search, which contains more tools for directing the search. Keyword searches can be narrowed down by material type, language, and date range, and can be sorted by relevance, date, or title.

 

Assistance Available to Explain or Guide the Use of the Catalog:

Even though this is a very simple catalog, with few different tools and interfaces, there is assistance provided to help users. In each specific search area, there are examples of how to phrase search queries, and how to create search strings to get the best results. These are on the same page as the search box, and range from simple explanations of what order to put the first and last name when searching for an author, to lengthy explanations of how to compose a keyword search using truncation, adjacency, proximity, and various other terms, each with examples. Unfortunately they are not translated into Spanish, but since the actual catalog is in English besides the interface, it is not really possible to get a full bilingual experience.  

 

Explanations/Tools Available to Evaluate the Results of Using the Catalog:

Once a search is conducted using any of the simple interfaces, there is some information immediately available to help users evaluate the results of their search. First the results are ranked based on relevance, which means the most pertinent records are at the beginning. Then the basic details are shown, including whether or not the item is available and where it is located. Users are also able to rate items, and save them into lists, which they can access later.

 

 Another interesting feature to help users with their information needs are links to information related to the item in other databases, and to reviews from places like Amazon.com. This can help users determine if a selected work will fulfill their information needs. Unfortunately, when I tested these additional resources, most of the links did not work, and brought me to pages that said “no result found.” Certainly, these are only helpful if they actually work consistently enough for people to trust they will be working!

 

Overall Review of the Salt Lake City Library’s OPAC:       

While this is a very simple system, it has some bells and whistles that elevate it beyond the traditional catalog, however, few of these features are particularly useful for parents or children. With no way to narrow a search to Juvenile or Children’s materials, or rank books based on reading level or intended audience, this catalog leaves something to be desired. The useful descriptions on each search page could also be modified to include more information about using the more advanced features on each item’s detailed record. These features seem likely to be neglected, as there is not a lot of assistance in using them.