Library screencasts should be beautiful

I've spent many hours the past few weeks working on this.

Background: 2012 is the first year all College of Wooster seniors are required to submit their Independent Study Theses (IS) digitally to the library. We have prepared on many fronts for this occassion. On the technology front we developed a DSpace instance through OhioLINK to preserve the ISs. On the policy front our library director successfully lobbied the faculty who voted for a new policy that compels student to make a digital submission. On the marketing and outreach front, we placed posters around campus, trained all library staff and Research Help student employees to be able to answer questions, and created both print and screencast instructions to guide seniors through the process.

How the screencast was made: I teamed with several library colleagues and one student employee. We created a script in Google Docs, the student recorded the audio using an Olympus LS-10, and I recorded the screencast using Screenflow on the Mac. While recording only took a few minutes, the editing was a tremendous undertaking. More hours than I can count were spent ensuring that the video was as concise and beautiful as possible.

Screencasting tips:

  • Use beautiful software. Screenflow/Camtasia on the Mac, and Camtasia on Windows are both powerful and easy to use, and fairly inexpensive compared to Adobe. Stay away from Jing, Screencast-o-matic, and other free solutions. You get what you pay for.
  • Don't waste the viewer's time. Start your screencast with a bang. Don't introduce yourself, don't spend more than 10 seconds saying what the screencast will cover. When was the last time someone told you, "I loved waiting for that!!"? Never. Nobody likes waiting. Just get right to it. 
  • Edit, edit, edit. Cut one second here, and one second there. Cut a half second here and there. If you can take a 5 minute video and cut it down to 2 minutes, while covering the same amount of content, you have saved your viewer 3 valuable minutes. Multiply that by 1,000 views, and you've saved the human race over 2 days.
  • Don't make the viewer squint. Constantly stay zoomed in to the relevant area of the website you're showing. You'd be amazed at how few people fullscreen a web video, so if you stay zoomed out, the viewer won't be able to see anything. Also, liberally apply call-outs, highlights and annonations in your screencast. If you click on a link, it should be clear.
  • Add music as long as it isn't too cheesy.

Why beautiful screencasts matter: Your library has a message. You want students to make the most of your online resources and databases. The more beautiful and well produced your screencast tutorials, the more your message will spread. A student is more likely to learn from an enaging screencast, and even share the link with a friend. Best of all, beautiful screencasts are a lot of fun. I've had a blast working with colleagues on developing ideas for new screencasts, recruiting library staff to be voice actors, and showing the end result to students. Screencasts can be used beyond library tutorials. Students could use screencasts to present their original research. I hope others consider adding it to their librarian toolbox.