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Going with the Flow: The Intersection of Information Strategy and Time

Going with the Flow: The Intersection of Information Strategy and Time

By Suzanne Grubb

It’s pretty common to talk about information services as a flow, dropping metaphors about content streams and information pipelines (or fire hose-strength deluges). But it’s much less common to find librarians grappling with the practicalities of working with a flow-based medium. I was inspired by a recent blog post philosophizing about the application of flow-pacing processes to UX strategy to take a deeper look at my own library, and how our platforms, users, and policies are starting to evolve into a flow-based model.

Information Events (Static) vs. Information Performances (Dynamic Flow)

It’s traditional to view information sharing as a static event: We provide articles, citations, search results, compiled facts and headlines. We have gotten very good at tracking usage in downloads, page views, and people served. We’ve developed a wide variety of mechanisms to evaluate the success of a library program in terms of the information delivery event — How many times did we connect a person with a resource? On a scale of 1 to 5, how useful was this resource? Do users find what they are looking for?

Information flows








Image Credit: Peter Morville, CC Attribution License 2.0

But we don’t have a lot of ways to track and evaluate our information services as a dynamic “performance” that occurs across time, with varying levels of intensity. When you analyze the flow of information in your library, it raises questions like these:

  • At what rate do users typically digest library content (i.e., the amount of information or resources provided / the amount of time set aside during the day for study and review)?
  • How many words-per-minute — or resources-per-minute — does a user skim through while searching? How does this rate vary on the library platform versus a standard Google search?
  • How often does a user re-read/re-play/re-visit a selected resource…on the day of discovery? … later that week? … later that year?
  • How frequently do users re-run the same search queries? … and for what reasons?
  • How many times each day (or hour) does a user refresh the data on a dynamically updated page? How does the rate-of-refresh vary…from morning to afternoon? …by location?

We live in a world where it no longer makes sense to think of book, articles, reports and resources as static objects. While tracking information events is a relatively easy, brute force way to see trends in our reach and demand for services, tracking information flow provides a nuanced, sophisticated model for how our services support the larger organizational/academic/public ecosystem.

More importantly, it forces us to redefine information service delivery in a more strategic, forward-looking way. Instead of asking the old-fashioned question of, “What can we do to deliver the right information to the right people?” we need to start thinking, “What can we do to help people better integrate this information into the existing rhythms of their work/study/life?”

Information Flow in the Wild

Once you make the mental shift from “static” to “dynamic” information systems, it’s easy to spot evidence of a global shift toward flow-based strategies. Here are a few of my favorite examples of ways information publishers, users, and platforms incorporating components of time and fluidity into their models:

 Content Streams and Scholarly Communication

  • Many prominent journals have shifted to “continuous publishing” models, releasing new contributions to the science base upon acceptance (“papers in press”) and electronically publishing outside of monthly or quarterly print issues (“online first”). While the concept has been in existence for over a decade, publishers and librarians are still struggling to resolve several technical issues in managing metadata and records for articles that are part of this flow.
  • Academics and information workers are still figuring out what it means to move idea exchange “from the Cathedral to the Bazaar” where the accessibility of real time exchange and discourse is changing our timescales for scientific discourse, as well as our measures (e.g., altmetrics alongside citation tracking).
  • Automated big data information flows have created a valuable, broadly accessible stream of content-snapshot products that are force us to redefine the way we deliver, evaluate, and track information products (e.g., the GDELT project has been a recent obsession of mine, with its ability to generate daily trend reports, daily world leaders sentiment analysis, and on demand ad hoc reports through Google BigQuery).

User Expectations

  • Continuous flow of information isn’t just a creator-to-library phenomenon, but also a library-to-user expectation. Traditionally, digital products were delivered to desktops: now, they are delivered to people – wherever and whenever they are. This goes beyond considerations of responsive design into models for just in time library services.
  • While push notifications, social sharing, and targeted RSS channels have long let users control how they tap into “streams” of information, we’ve only recently starting solving the problem of maintaining citation metadata within the flow of user-directed snippets and remixes. My library has recently started experimenting with adding org and Open Graph data to our own websites to help metadata flow with our content, and we’re keeping an eye on emerging services like figshare which promote the citable sharing of figures and other objects traditionally embedded within larger works or repositories.
  • One of the most overt nods to the user-time continuum I’ve seen online is the recent inclusion of a calculated “average reading time” for articles on content platforms like Medium, and it will be interesting to see the impact it has on user engagement.

Screenshot of Medium







Platforms and Tracking

While we are still largely lacking in metrics and vocabulary to talk about information service delivery in terms of time-based rhythms, the “real time” reporting feature in Google Analytics can be a great help in wrapping your brain around how to start visualizing rates of information flow.

Screenshot of Google Analytics


    • For my library, I’ve reworked a few of our content analysis reports: Where I previously monitored month-to-month changes in user interest across categories and keywords, I’ve now also started monitoring trends such as the rate of change of user interests across time and categories. Data collection is still in its early stages, but I’m excited to see what this analysis reveals, and whether I can use this information to predict future content needs more strategically.

    Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of what’s possible and what’s out there. If anyone else is experimenting with building flow-pacing into their library services, monitoring user information rhythms, or deploying other tools and protocols to evolve into a continuous-information universe, be sure to drop a note or a link in the comments.

    Suzanne Grubb is a digital librarian/instructional designer and all-purpose info-geek, currently building a Clinical Research Education Library for a DC-based association.

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    Six Steps of Video Production for People Who Don’t Do Videos (Part 2)

    Six Steps of Video Production for People Who Don’t Do Videos (Part 2)

    By Suzanne Grubb

    This “Six Steps” guide is posted in two parts. See Part 1 in the September issue of Chapter eNotes.

    In Part 1 of this post, I covered the process for planning and creating a timeline for a library video tour, using a video I recently created as a working example. In Part 2, I’m going to continue on from where we left off, and share some thoughts on the process for creating the video that you (Step 1) planned and (Step 2) drafted a timeline for

     Step 3: Get the Pieces

    A note about production.

    I’m going to avoid going into the specifics of multimedia production, because we all have our strengths and preferred software.

    But I wanted to make the important point that as long as you create a plan that plays to your personal strengths and knowledge, you can use absolutely any video editing software and end up with a clean, well-structured video.

    The video tour that I made was my second attempt at a creative video. For my job, I do a lot of editing of lecture/presentation recordings, so I happen to have Song Vegas (professional video editing software) installed on my computer.












    But I could have created this same exact video using Camtasia Studio (a very inexpensive, incredibly easy to learn video editor that I highly recommend for anyone looking to dabble in instructional videos.)

    And I could have created about 90% of this video using Powerpoint to create the static visuals



















    And Windows Live Movie Maker to synch up the static visuals, screencasts, and audio.








    The point being – if you know how to use professional video editing software, it’s a great tool that can speed up the production process and let you incorporate some fancier/more complex ideas into your video.

    But it is not at all necessary or important to have (or know how to use) fancy software to make a video. In fact, if you’re intimidated by visual design, and think you don’t have the skills – Powerpoint can actually be an extremely effective, easy-to-use tool. Here are a couple of things I do to set up PowerPoint to create ready-for-video screens:

    • Change the page size. By default, Powerpoint slides are 4:3 length/width ratio. Go to Design -> Page Setup to change the page size to 16:9 to create a standard widescreen video.
    • You’ll need to Export all of the slides in JPG format to use them in a video editor. By default, exported JPGs are low resolution, resulting in a fuzzy video. You can change your settings to export high resolution images that will be clear and crisp in your video.
    •  You’ll save a lot of time if you customize the default fonts, colors and layouts in the Slide Master to match your video style.
    •  Don’t ever use the slide animations. However, if you keep things simple, you can build interesting faux-animation effects by duplicating slides and using the flip-book principle.

    Whatever tools you choose to use, understand their capabilities and limitations. If you aren’t sure how to get a visual effect to look right in your chosen software – just don’t use that effect, and brainstorm a different technique that you know you can do well.

    Gather all your files.

    Once you’ve decided on your tools and approach, use the timeline you developed as a checklist of elements that need to be found or created. Search the Internet for Creative Commons licensed images (don’t forget to credit in your video or description), take photographs and/or shoot video, find music and/or record audio, record screencasts, and find, make, beg, borrow or steal whatever visual elements you need.

    As much as possible, stick to the timing and specifications you outlined in your timeline. If you find that a live action video or screencast needs more seconds than you allotted, it’s okay – just remember that you’ll need to cut time from something else later.

    As you’re gathering your files, make sure that objects that will be used for similar purposes look (or sound) consistent.

    • Screenshots: Did you clean up your browser, so you’re not showing bookmarks/other personal information? (Pro Tip: You can use Firebug, or Chrome’s “Inspect Element” to tweak a page’s html to change log in names, change article titles, remove ads, etc. to better highlight a concept – or to hide details you don’t want visible).
    • Images: If you’re doing a series of similar images or screenshots – are they all the same (or of a complementary) width/height? Do the borders all match? Do the corner settings match (round vs. square)? Are they all high resolution? Do you have any that stand out as unintentionally “oddball” for any reason (e.g., nine photographs taken in front of a white wall, one taken in front of a bookcase)?
    • Audio: If you recorded your own audio, do all of the segments have a similar volume? Do they have a similar amount/type of background noise?
    •  Video: If you recorded your own live action video: do any of your segments stand out as “oddball” when compared with the others (e.g., three well-lit shots, but one shot is much darker because you forgot to turn on the lights)? If you plan to stitch together several shots in a sequence, do you have visual continuity (e.g., does a person have a hat that disappears/reappears)

    Once you’ve got all of your files, and you’ve checked to make sure all of your files look like they actually belong in the same video, it’s time to start putting it together, in sequence.

    Step 4: Edit Mercilessly – Put it Together

    Make Your First (Very Rough) Draft

    Using the timeline you created in Step 2 as a guide, lay out all of the visuals that you just created/collected in their intended order, and compare it to your audio track(s).

    If you’re using my PowerPoint technique, build all of your screens, in order, then run through them like a flipbook as you play your audio. If you’re diving straight in and using a video editor, place all of your visuals into the timeline, and drop in your audio however it fits.

    Congratulations! You just created the first draft of your video!

    Revise Mercilessly

    1. Check your overall timing. Are you running way too long, or way too short? Revisit your timeline and add or delete material until you are in the right ballpark.
    1. Refine your pacing, and optimize audio synching. As you are running through your video, pay attention to your pacing. Do you feel like you are rushing through certain screens too quickly? Do certain parts feel like they are dragging? Adjust your timing accordingly.

    Check your visuals against your audio track to see if adjusting your order, or slight timing tweaks can better line up your visual concept with your audio concept. Are visual transitions occurring in time with the music? If the music builds and falls in intensity, would a different ordering of your visuals help support this sense of rising and falling?

    Remember that if you add time to a screen in one place, you’ll need to make cuts elsewhere – either by removing an element, or combining two elements. If your live action video or screencast elements are too long – look for opportunities to speed up the footage (e.g., instead of typing out each letter in a screencast, show the first two letters being typed, then cut to a completed form).

    1. Consider your order and tweak your visuals. If you’ve had to cut out a bunch of material, make sure you video still makes logical sense in the current order. If you do reorder elements, make sure you adjust your visuals as needed (e.g., if you decide to reorder items in a Countdown Top Ten list, make sure that the numbers you display still count down in the right order).
    1. Improve your transitions. How does it feel moving from one screen to the next? If it something feels too abrupt, consider adding in some whitespace or a screen with a keyword between the scenes. If it feels too confusing, try a different order – or if you are attempting a fancy fade/wipe, try simplifying your technique.


    One you’ve finished revising your first draft, put it away for an hour. Then repeat the process with your second draft. Keep repeating as needed/until you are happy with how everything looks, sounds, and flows.

    Create Your Final Draft

    Once you’re happy with your visuals, your audio, your transitions, and your timing, create a final draft of your video.

    If you’ve been working in PowerPoint so far, it’s time to export your slides as jpgs and synch them to your audio using your video editor. (In most programs, you will be able to “select all” and drop all the slides in at once).

    If you’ve been working in video editing software this whole time, it’s time to render the video (i.e., “export” or “share on YouTube”).

    If you need help with this step, Kent State University Library has a great collection of Video Production Tutorials, including iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, and links to free software and resources.

     Step 5: Edit Mercilessly

    Polish once you’ve got a final draft that you’re happy with, you’re almost there. You’ll just want to review your video carefully (or, better yet, have someone else review the video) in order to catch any potentially embarrassing errors.

    1. Pause the video on every single text screen. Proofread for typos, and be especially vigilant with any proper names.
    1. Listen to the audio to make sure there aren’t any technical glitches like unexpected silence or skipping.
    1. Watch the visuals carefully, especially at transitions, to make sure there aren’t any unexpected blips or blackouts – pay attention to the first and last second, where errors often slip in when you edit.

    And, get your video ready to post online.

    1. Create a descriptive and compelling title and brief description for the video.
    1. Decide whether (and if so, where) you want to add an “annotation” with a link to your site, if your video platform allows.
    1. If your video contains speech, consider making it accessible to a wider audience (as well as to search engines) by providing a transcript or closed captions.

    Once you’ve tidied everything up and created your final video, you’re ready for the last important step

    Step 6: Share







    Like I said at the beginning of Part 1, I decided to share my experience with producing a library tour video because there are a lot of folks out there looking for tips and suggestions on how to get started.

    My way works for me, but it’s certainly not going to work for everybody – so I hope you’ll share your own experience and advice. And if you made (or make) a video, be sure post a link in the comments to help inspire someone else!

    Suzanne Grubb is a digital librarian/instructional designer and all-purpose info-geek, currently building a Clinical Research Education Library for a DC-based association.

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    Community and Fundamentals – DC/SLA Board of Directors Election!

    Community and Fundamentals – DC/SLA Board of Directors Election!

    by Chris Vestal

    We’re excited to announce the DC/SLA Board of Directors Election! This is your chance to weigh in on who you want leading our Community!

    This year the election will run from September 2 through 11:59pm EST on September 29. Only current DC/SLA members in good standing can vote and membership status will be verified.

    To cast your vote: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/viewform?formkey=dDFTLWZRQVR3eDBnWnMtNzQ5T2Jzc3c6MA

    To learn more about the candidates:


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    Six Steps of Video Production for People Who Don’t Do Videos (Part 1)

    Six Steps of Video Production for People Who Don’t Do Videos (Part 1)

    Here’s how to make a non-boring video tour for a digital library with no budget, no equipment, and a little creativity.

    By Suzanne Grubb

    This “Six Steps” guide will be posted in two parts. Look for Part 2 in the October issue of Chapter eNotes.

    As librarians, we’re always looking for new ways to tell people, “Hey! Look at all the cool stuff we have!” And, “Look how these cool tools can help you find and use our stuff!” Video can be a particularly engaging and effective way to do this, and a lot of us are starting to experiment with tours, tutorials, and interviews that showcase our services.

    The good news is that the bar for entry is really low.

    Easy-to-use tools to create and share videos are freely/cheaply available. (In fact, about a third of us have already created and posted a video online.) You probably have everything you need already installed on your computer.

    The bad news is that the bar for entry is really low.

    It can be hard to find examples of library videos in the sweet spot between “there’s no way I could do that” and “I want mine to be better than that.” A lot of DIY library videos you’ll see are 11-minute long monologues reciting lists of facts about how many books are available or the click-by-click-by-click-by-click steps to search the catalog. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

    Over the past month, I’ve had several folks ask me about a video tour I made to introduce my association’s new digital library. Specifically, they’ve wanted to know, “How did you do that?” and “How can I do that?”

    I thought I’d share my answer here, in case other people find it helpful. I’m using my video as an example for this discussion – not because I think it’s particularly awesome (there are many flaws I’d fix up if I had more time) – but because it’s a good example of what’s possible in the DIY world without any fancy-shmancy skills or equipment.

    Let’s be clear: If you want cinematographic brilliance and high-quality production, stop here. Go hire yourself a professional.

    But for those of you who want to learn how to make an effective video that gets the job done – and that people will watch – read on for the Six Steps of Video Production for People Who Don’t Do Video

    Step 1: Plan, Plan, Plan, and Plan

    When you hear the words, “We need to make a video for this!” your first thought is probably something like this:






    “Oh, no! How do you video? I don’t know how to use a camera/use editing software/animate/YouTube!?”

    Don’t panic! Here is the most important tool you will use in the entire video production process:






    That’s right. Your notebook.

    Careful outlining and planning is the biggest difference between making a good video and making a boring, sloppy video. And every hour of advance planning will save you roughly three hours of time spent producing, editing, and crying bitter tears of frustration.

    You may have noticed that there are four “Plans” in the title of this step. That’s because there are four dimensions of a video that have to be planned for.

    It’s a lot to think about, and I’m going to be diving into a lot of detail – but don’t let that scare you off. If you’re flying solo (or with a partner) creating a short, simple video for a well-defined project, it’s very possible to come up with a solid plan in a couple hours. (As with many tasks, your planning time will increase exponentially with additional people and complexity.)

    Dimension A: Message

    Woman shouting





    That is, what exactly is this video supposed to accomplish? Just like creating an article, presentation, or other instructional resource, there will be certain points you want to make or knowledge you want to convey.

    Let’s break this down into pieces:

    Key Message: This is the “mission statement” for your video. What specifically do you want people to take away from watching the video?

    This isn’t something that you will ever share with anyone else, so don’t worry about fancy wording. But you will use this to guide pretty much every single decision you make from this point on, so the more specific you can be, the easier time you will have.

    Here’s how I refined the key message for my video:

    Here’s a tour of the new digital library. (Too broad)

    Look at the publications and features of our new digital library. (Better, but still too broad – What do I want people to know about these features?)

    Our new digital library has a lot of cool new stuff – too much to cover in detail here, but you should get a general idea of what sorts of resources and tools are available. (Now we’re getting somewhere, but why do I want people to know this?)

    Our new digital library has a lot of cool new stuff – too much to cover in detail here, but you should get a general idea of what sorts of resources and tools are available so you can dive in deeper and explore what’s interesting/useful for you personally.   (Bingo.)

    As you can see – there are several different directions I could have taken, starting from the “here’s a tour” concept. This would have been a very, very different video if I had refined down to, “Here is how to search for resources in the digital library,” or “Let me tell you why our new semantic engine is going to change everything,” or “Here is a history of why and how the library was created.”

    Mood: How do you want people to feel about your library?

    For example, we wanted to stay clear of the image of being a bunch of stodgy scholarly research journals, and project a sense of welcoming and fun for non-researchers. So I decided on a “light” and “playful” mood for my video. This helped guide the colors, music, pacing and other creative decisions I made.

    If we had wanted to focus more on building credibility in the scientific community, for example, I might have chosen an “innovative” and “bold” mood instead.

    Objectives: This is the meat of your content planning. What should people know/be aware of after watching the video. List out every single thing that you want to make sure gets included. Don’t worry about order or how you are going to show it this point – just get all your ideas down on paper.

    For example, for my video, my list looked something like this:

    Publications: show all 3 types (Journals, Perspectives, Magazine), show 25 total, show CEU opportunities, show different content types (articles, multimedia), continuous publishing model, 40 topics covered

    Tools: email alerts (two ways to access), sharing toolbar, figures PPT creator, viewing tables and figures, search (author, semantic tagging)

    Other: available on mobile, semantic related articles/topics, use your current log in, picture of the logo, website address

    Call to Action: What next step do you want people to take after watching your video?

    My call to action was “go to the website (and explore).” Other effective calls to action I’ve seen include, “Watch the next video to learn more about X?”, “Set up an appointment for a research consultation”, and “Try it yourself.”

    Dimension B: Time

    Hands and clock




    You’ll want to figure out how long your video should be pretty early in the process. You don’t need to lock yourself into “exactly 62 seconds” at this point, but you should have a very good idea of what range you’re aiming for – something like: “about a minute.”

    How Long Do You Need?

    Remember that the longer the video, the more likely it is that a viewer will not only “drop off”, but drop off quickly. Consider that 50% more people will watch to the end of a 1 minute video than a 2 minute video.

    Of course, you will need to consider how much content you have to cover – for obvious reasons instructional/how-to oriented videos tend to be much longer than promotional videos. But as a general rule, shorter is better. For most situations, 120 seconds (two minutes) or less is more than enough time to do a virtual tour, and I’d strongly recommend aiming somewhere in the 30s to 90s range.

    Challenge Yourself

    If you’re like me, you’re going to look at the list of objectives you created in the last exercise, and you’re going to say, “There’s no way I can fit all that into 90 seconds.” But the fact is – you probably can, and if you try, you’ll have a better video as a result.

    Setting a challengingly short timeframe will force you to be very selective in the production process. You’ll have to obsessively eliminate anything that doesn’t strongly support your message in order to fit in all of your content. And you’ll end up with a video that is more interesting and engaging because it will “tight” and move quickly out of sheer necessity.

    Dimension C: Audio

    Audio quality matters a lot more than you think. Ironically, viewers are generally far more forgiving of poor visual quality than poor audio quality. It’s definitely okay to have audio that is forgettable – but inappropriate or poor quality audio can completely sink an otherwise well put together video.

    Here are a few considerations in planning your audio strategy.

    Voiceovers and Talking Heads: If you don’t do a lot of videos, you will be very tempted to just have a “talking head” video (i.e. a human talking to the camera telling you about the library) or a “voice over” video (i.e., a human describing the on-screen action).

    While recording a voiceover/talking head (or deciding that you’re too shy to narrate and creating a computer-generated voiceover) is really simple to do – if you are an amateur who wants a professional quality video, you should be very, very careful here.

    Voiceovers definitely have a place, especially if you want to convey a lot of educational or instructional information. But they can be time consuming and difficult to execute well. I could write an entire article just on the topic of recording good audio voiceovers – but for here, I’ll just leave the following tips:

    Write a script.

    Make sure your script uses natural-sounding, conversational language.

    Use a good microphone to record (i.e., NOT the one that comes built into your computer or camera).

    Do whatever you possibly can to eliminate background noise.

    Have a person/stuffed animal/something you can look in the eye in the room while you record to sound more natural and less robotic.

     Music: If you don’t have anyone talking in your video, you’ll definitely want to play music. There are a lot of good sources of free or inexpensive royalty-free stock music online. (I’m personally a fan of the YouTube Audio Library, Pond5, and iStockPhoto.)

    You can search stock music libraries by duration, so you can pick a song that’s already the same length as you want your video to be. You can also search for key words that match your intended mood, like “futuristic”, “bright”, or “corporate.” (Pro Tip: A lot of stock music also has easy-to-hear edit points. If you want to cut a song short, or loop it to make it longer, this can be easily accomplished with a free audio editor like Audacity.)

    When you find something you like, also consider how strong the “beat” is, and how easily you will be able to synchronize your visuals to the music. An easily identifiable beat can make a world of difference, and save you a lot of time in quickly and cleanly matching visual transitions to the music.

    This is especially important for the less-musically inclined. If you can clap along with your favorite song, you’ll probably be fine matching things up in your video. If you have to carefully watch your neighbor at concerts so you can match your claps to their claps – make sure you choose a track where you can literally see the beat.

    I took screenshots of two different music tracks in my video editor. In the second (easy) example (this is the song I actually used in my video tour) I could potentially match up visual events to the music without ever listening to the song once. I don’t have to know anything about rhythm to line up the start of a visual event with an obvious spike.

    Hard to Synch to Audio

    screenshot of audio






    Easy to Synch to Audio

    screen shot of audio with spikes


    Dimension D: Visuals

    Here’s where you can really let your creativity shine. How can you show off your library? Photographs? Concept art? Charts and graphs? Text? You will ultimately be the person creating or gathering all of these visuals, so above all, make sure that you play to your own personal strengths. A professional video shop thinks in terms of “Wouldn’t it be cool to do…?” But as a non-professional who doesn’t want to spend a lot of time on this, you need to think in terms of “How can I use what I already know to do cool things?”

     List Your Resources

    Think about the objectives you mapped out earlier for your video. Make a list of resources that you already have or can easily make or get that you want to use to convey each objective.

    My list looked something like this:

    [Publications: show all 3 types (Journals, Perspectives, Magazine).] — Possible visual: Scroll through all Cover images? Screen shots of pages?

    [Show 25 total publications] – Possible visual: Text saying “25 Publications”

    [Demonstrate Tools: email alerts (two ways to access), sharing toolbar, figures PPT creator, viewing tables and figures, search (author, semantic tagging)] – High-speed screencast highlighting a couple possibilities (etc.)

     The amount of detail to include is up to you. Adding detail here will save you time later – but some people might have better luck saving the detail work once their creative juices are flowing a bit more freely later in the process.

     A Note on Camerawork and Live Action Video

    Modern technology has made it incredibly easy for anyone to use a smartphone to shoot HD video of people and places. You will be tempted to say, “I’ll just shoot a video of my building/my boss talking/people using my library.” But, as with voiceovers, it is incredibly difficult and time consuming to shoot (and especially to edit together) professional-looking live action video. If you do decide to go this route, the best advice I have is this:

    • Use a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, buy a $10 gorillapod. If you aren’t willing to do that, prop up your camera on a beanbag, book, anything else rather than hold it yourself.
    • Get more light – and pay attention to shadows. If you’re an amateur and you think you have enough light, you probably don’t – but make sure the light isn’t directly behind what you’re shooting (a person in front of a window can be particularly tricky).
    • Learn how to whitebalance. Pretty much any camera (including your iPhone) has a way to adjust this.
    • Avoid zooming/panning. This is very difficult to pull off well. If you need to get close/move to the left or right, stop the camera and start a new shot.
    • If you are recording a person talking, use an external microphone.
    • Check for eyesores with a critical eye. It’s easy to gloss over details in a familiar environment, but do your best to spot potentially embarrassing objects (e.g., remove alcohol, trash), personal appearances (e.g., remove name badges, check for hair sticking up or shirts coming untucked), and unfortunate alignment (e.g., lines in the background appearing to emerge from a person’s head like antennae).

     Frameworks and Tropes

    You want your video to have a consistent look, feel and flow to bring viewers smoothly from one piece to the next. So take a look at the list of potential visual resources you just created, and start to think about how they might fit together into a visual story. Consider the mood/objectives of your video, and especially consider your skills and the resources available to you.

    If you already have a great concept for the video, fantastic! Run with it, and think about clever ways to deploy it and/or make it more interesting.

    If you’re like most people, though, you’ll be panicking and desperately trying (and failing) to come up with some creative idea for bringing this all together. Fortunately for you, there’s an online idea bank chock full of clever video storytelling ideas. It’s called YouTube.

    Watch a bunch of videos that in the same genre you’re aiming for. Like this Ted-Ed Website Tour or this Harper College Library Tour. You don’t want to plagiarize and steal content. But you can learn a lot by thinking through what you specifically like and don’t like about different videos:

    What’s cool? For example the “website inside a computer monitor” trope in the Ted-Ed video was my inspiration for showing our mobile site in a smartphone and tablet in my tour video.

    How long is each shot displayed on screen? Does it feel too long or too short to you? For the ones that feel too long, check how long they actually are, in seconds. For the ones that feel too short, check how long they actually are, in seconds.

    How does it start? Does it jump right into the action? Is there a pause or delay? Do you like how the introduction looks and feels? If so, what elements can you use in your video introduction (e.g., show logo with slow zoom in, held for 3 seconds.)?

    How does it end? Does the ending feel too abrupt? Are there elements you want to use in your video (e.g., logo + clickable annotation linking to website, held for 5 seconds)?

    How does it move from one visual to the next, while keeping a sense of unity? Are there elements you can use in your video (e.g., flipping through several different photos, but keeping them visually linked by displaying inside a frame)?

    As you watch videos, write down a list of basic visual tropes, motifs, or patterns (like lining ‘em up, in threes, this or that, snapshots … anything) that you see that you might deploy throughout the video to hold together and move between not-obviously related content and ideas.

    When you’re ready, narrow down and select a few ideas that you think will work the best in your video. For example: In my video tour, I wanted to convey a sense of “lots” across several categories (with the particular items themselves being unimportant). I saw a video that did the “scroll quickly through a bunch of different endings to a sentence” trope, and thought “Hey, I should use that.” A couple words of caution, though:

    Be judicious in your use of repeating tropes. For example, if I had used the “change up the end of the sentence” idea for every single concept in my video, it would have gotten really tiresome, really quickly. But using it a couple times, at the beginning and end, helped to create a sense of unity and closure.

    Avoid mixing genres. Unless you know what you are doing, avoid bouncing between, say, photographs and concept art.

    Graphic Design 101

    Choose the most important style elements that you will use in your video, including colors, fonts, and image formatting rules (e.g., borders, rounded vs. square corners, shadows, etc.). If you have a branding/style guide for your organization – use it. Otherwise, make choices that will support your mood/message.

    No graphic design skills? No problem! Just plan to keep your video stylistically simple. Very simple. When you break it down, my video tour is just text and screenshots/screencasts of the library website. I specifically planned it that way because I am terrible at visual design, and knew I’d spend hours upon useless hours trying to make it look clean and professional if I did anything more complicated than that.

    There is a lot that could be said, and a lot of material written by people a lot smarter than I am about basic design principles, but the most important advice I have for my fellow hopelessly-non-graphic designers is this:

    • If you have text, choose exactly one font in two sizes. Do not deviate from this. (Bonus points for choosing the font that matches your library’s branding.)
    • Choose a maximum of two colors to use for any text or accents. (Bonus points for choosing colors that match your library’s branding, or if you ask a designer to pick them for you.)
    • Use a grid to keep visual elements aligned. (If your software has a grid function, turn it on. If it doesn’t, try grid software or even a grid paper image as a temporary background.)

    If the idea of picking style elements scares you, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using Microsoft Office (or other software) style defaults, as long as you are consistent.

    Once you’ve thought through all of your ideas for the message, timing, audio, and visual framework of the video, it’s time to start building out your timeline.

    Step 2: Edit Mercilessly – Drafting a Timeline

    This is the step where you take all of your planning notes, and turn them into an ordered list of what happens in the video, when. I like to do this step on a whiteboard because I constantly change my mind and move things around as I go. The quickest way structure your thoughts, is to build an outline.

    Start with a barebones timeline. Take a look at your list of objectives, and group them into 3-4 main categories or “segments”. Think about how much time you’ll want to spend on each of these main segments. This is just a starting point, so don’t put much thought into it yet. Just go with your gut: if it’s really important and there’s a lot to cover, it gets a lot of time; if it’s just one little thing, it gets a couple seconds.

    Make a simple timeline of these categories, and add an Introduction at the beginning and Conclusion at the end. Remember that if you’re making a 90 second video, the time spent in each category has to add up to 90 seconds.

    Here’s my first timeline

    brief outline of videoAnd then start filling in the details. Start filling in the details of what objectives you’re going to present, in what order. Once you have some items filled in, start talking through the order, to see if it makes logical sense. If not, play around and try out a couple different orderings. And keep filling in more details. Once you’ve got your content or narrative structure more or less pinned down, start filling in the details of the specific visual resources you listed out in the planning phase.

    longer timeline for videoAgain, you’ll want to talk through the start-to-finish order of these, as well, and move things around as needed. Edit down mercilessly. Once you have your outline filled in, with a timeline of all the cool visuals you want to include, think about how long it will actually take to show each visual.

    There certainly isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but if you want a general idea of how long things take in a video, I’ve found that you can expect:

    • Simple text (a couple words) needs 1 second minimum.
    • Simple text plus a simple image needs longer – about 3 or 4 seconds minimum.
    • A short sentence needs at least 3 or 4 seconds – or longer if it is very important. (Avoid long sentences altogether.)
    • A simple image needs 1-2 seconds minimum, but the more complex it is (or the more images put together in a single shot) the longer you will need.
    • A screencast needs at least 5 seconds to avoid feeling rushed.
    • A shot that lasts longer than 6-8 seconds without significant action or motion starts to get boring.

    Will everything you have planned actually fit into the allotted time? Probably not: Try to get a sense of how much time you will need to cut out – 5 seconds? 30 seconds?

    Look at the key message you drafted back at the beginning of your planning. Ruthlessly eliminate anything that does not directly and strongly support this message. If you are thinking, “I can’t eliminate My Pet Idea. It doesn’t fit with the message, but it will look awesome” – you are wrong. Cut it (and save it in your idea bank for your next video).

    Look for overlap. Do you have elements listed that are redundant? Or that can be combined?

    Look for long elements that can be turned into shorter elements. Does your timeline include three 6 to 10 second screencasts? Can you turn one of these into a 3-second screenshot.

    If you can create a detailed timeline that (1) has a logical flow of events, (2) is the right duration, and (3) you can get or create all of the necessary pieces to implement – you are well on your way to creating a solid video. Once you’re satisfied that you’ve accomplished this, it will be time to pull together the files and media you need to actually produce the video.

    In Part 2 of this post, I’ll give some additional thoughts and advice on different ways you can use the tools and software you already have to get text and images video-ready, and I’ll go over the process of pulling your audio and visuals together into an actual video.

    Meanwhile, if you have additional advice or suggestions for would-be video producers (or a video tour of your own that you’d like to show off), please share in the comments!


    Suzanne Grubb is a digital librarian/instructional designer and all-purpose info-geek, currently building a Clinical Research Education Library for a DC-based association.

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    The Big Data Landscape: A Field Guide for the Rest of Us

    The Big Data Landscape: A Field Guide for the Rest of Us

    by Suzanne Grubb

    Like many of you, I don’t work with datasets that can’t fit neatly into an Excel workbook.

    My inner geek loves reading about the world of machine learning and predictive analytics – as well as articles in Information Outlookor the several sessions at the Annual Conference covering the amazing work done by our colleagues curating and leveraging massive datasets. But it feels like all Big Data discussions in the library world are falling into one of three categories:

    • “You Can Make Data Products, Too” how-to/cheerleading pieces, encouraging information professionals to build their skills as data workers,
    • “Your Organization Should Be Using Big Data” high-level strategy pieces for managers, or
    • “Not Actually Big Data” pieces written by folks who have confused datasets-that-are-large with “big data.”

    I work for a niche digital library that doesn’t have the resources for in-house data-wrangling or a mission that warrants a big data strategy. And I suspect there are many others out there like me who are struggling with how to find our place in the big data ecosystem.

    For those of us who are falling through the cracks in this Big Data conversation, I’m hoping to put together a field guide to some of the additional players – beyond researchers and data scientists – who help shed some light on the ongoing evolution of the big data landscape.

    The Government

    In May, the White House released two reports (the US Open Data Action Plan and Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values) articulating the policy agenda for big data. Of particular interest to librarians: the reports specified a commitment to strengthening privacy protections, supporting innovation in education, supporting digital literacy, and improving public access to government datasets – including expansion of Project Open Data, Data.gov, and open source tools to use data.gov.

    Privacy Advocates

    Groups like EPIC and the Electronic Frontier Foundation frequently discuss the implications of operating in a world where automated data collection is treated as a given, as well as the challenges of de-identifying and anonymizing datasets. In the coming years users will expect (and organizations may be required to provide) greater control over personal data. Even if we don’t collect and store user data within our own organizations, we need to be aware of how this information might be passed through to data brokers and other third-party vendors – and prepared to act in the event of a breach.

    Scholarly Publishing

    There are several initiatives looking to use big data to disrupt the way we think about research. Alternative methods for measuring the impact of a publication, like Altmetrics, take into account social sharing and other data to quickly shed light on trending topics and the public reach of research, while standards like FundRef and ORCID are setting the stage for a wealth of readily available big data tools that will enhance our ability to visualize and explore the research ecosystem.

    Data Publishers and Data Curators

    There has been incredible growth in the number (and geographic distribution) of open access data repositories over the past decade. Fortunately, there is a growing number of organizations curating and cataloging these datasets (like Databib.org, DataCite, Quandle and many others). In order to help users locate and evaluate data sets, it’s important to understand the considerations involved in publishing and using data.

    Citizen Hackers and Startups

    The emergence of a hackathon culture – with nationally sponsored and grassroots, local events that connect data scientists and coders with causes and problems – alongside a proliferation of data-product startups means that there has also been an explosion of free apps to help the non-data scientists among us in visualizing and manipulating data. Even if you do not want to host a hackathon, there are a huge number of projects (for example: codefordc.org/projects.html) that provide highly useful functionality for specialized datasets in all subject areas.

    While I hope this post provides some food for thought, this is certainly not a complete list. What else would you include in your version of Big Data field guide? I hope you’ll post your thoughts and additions in the comments.

    Suzanne Grubb is a digital librarian/instructional designer and all-purpose info-geek, currently building a Clinical Research Education Library for a DC-based association.


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