or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 8/9/09

   August 15th, 2009

screentoaster.com demoThis isn't exactly a reference question - well, Part 1 is, but Part 2 is the real reason for the post.

Part 1
A patron called in asking for help using ReferenceUSA. I was talking her through how to create a custom search, and everything was going fine. But when I told her to click the "View Results" button to run the search, she said she couldn't find it.

"It's the big green button on the right," I said, while actually thinking, "are you kidding me? How can you miss it?" But no matter what I said, she couldn't find it. So now I'm thinking it's a coding bug on the ReferenceUSA website, so I run through all the "which browser are you using?" questions to narrow things down.

It turns out, we were both using Firefox 3 on Windows XP, so we more or less should have been seeing exactly the same thing. But just to be on the safe side, I opened IE to see what was happening there. I resized both browser windows so I could see them side-by-side, which required horizontal scrolling to see the entire screen. When I switched back to Firefox and scrolled to the right, my "View Results" button was gone!

I maximized the Firefox widow, and it appeared again. So I asked the patron if she had her Firefox maximized, and she said no. She maximized it and let out a little shriek when the button appeared. We both marveled at this for a minute, then I helped her through the rest of what she was doing with the database before we hung up.

Part 2
Later, I was trying to figure out how to report this occurrence to ReferenceUSA tech support. To type it all out in email would be long and perhaps not completely clear (as I sure you just witnessed). Then I got the idea to create a screencast - I had just read about Screenjelly on TameTheWeb, and Mick made it sound so easy. So I tried it, and it didn't work. The Screenjelly website didn't work, I mean, and I have no idea why.

But further in the post Mick also mentioned ScreenToaster as another one-click screencasting tool. So I tried that, and I made a little video in one take (no audio, but it wasn't necessary in this case).

So instead of a long-winded and convoluted email to ReferenceUSA, I basically sent them this:

Hey guys-

I noticed a weird thing happening in ReferenceUSA that I think might be a CSS coding bug. Please take a look at the video below to see what happened - I hope you can fix it:

A few days later, a RefUSA tech support person called to thank me for sending the video. She said others had reported the same thing, but she was having trouble replicating the error. But now that she saw it, they were going to get to work fixing it.

So, yay for a screencast being worth a thousand words. And now that I've done one, I'm going to keep playing and try to make some instructional demos for our website, databases and catalog. I'll even try to find a microphone, so I can add some audio instructions.

Oh, and a bit about ScreenToaster: you record your screen with one click, and then the video is either stored on their website or uploaded to YouTube. They can also be embedded into your website - here's the one I made (it's clearer at full size):

And thanks to Mick and Michael for the TameTheWeb post that explained things so well - check it out for more on screencasting.

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6 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/9/09”

  1. Mike B Says:

    I make screencasts with audio from time to time to show staff how to do stuff. It’s the next best thing to showing someone how to do something in person. The advantage is that it can be referred to at any time. Hopefully we will do some for patrons this year.

    Software:On a PC I use CamStudio (free)
    On my Mac I use a combo of Mousepose’ and iShowU ($29 and $29)

    A list of screencast software:http://mashable.com/2008/02/21/screencasting-video-tutorials/

    The hardest part to me is getting the video compressed, hosted and embedded. Some of those turn key websites may be the way to go.
    Good post. I’m looking forward to trying screentoaster!

  2. Mick Jacobsen Says:

    Hi Brain,

    Happy to be of help. I have been using Screenjelly for bugs as well e.g. Libraryh3lp and Lexis Nexis.

    I bet patrons will start using these tools to send us help requests in the very near future.

    Sorry that Screenjelly didn’t work for you, very strange. I like it and now they seem to be offering it via email etc. not just using Twitter.

    BTW, love the reference question of the week posts.

  3. Nys Says:

    Thanks! interesting links – screentoaster looks particularly useful.
    Oh and love the live comment preview down there 🙂 so awesome! More people should have it!

  4. Nys Says:

    Oh and your Skull Illusion Scarf is totally awesome! Might have to check out that pattern now 🙂 – yay for more knitting librarians! ^.^

  5. Jen Says:

    This is great – I want to do some tutorials on how to use the OPAC or simple websearching techniques. This is exactly what I was looking for to help me get started.

  6. Swiss Army Librarian » Update on Screencasting Options :: Brian Herzog Says:

    […] weeks ago, someone who reads my website emailed me this question: I was wondering, in reference to your article from August 9, 2009, what web-based screencasting resources you might recommend given that both […]