Report - Screencasting as a Training Method

Introduction           Report           Action Plan           Bibliography


Library technology is always changing. The abundance of online databases, OPACs, and web-based sources provides librarians with a vast array of information available at their fingertips. While few can argue that this is a bad thing, many nevertheless become frustrated at the sheer number of sources and the multitude of different ways in which the information they contain is accessed. While librarians may become used to the methods of successfully searching such sources, library patrons are often confused by the number of steps required, if aware of their existence in the first place.

Despite the incredible changes in technology within the last few decades, one thing that hasn’t changed as quickly is training methods. As Roberts (2005) says: “many librarians still teach information literacy in the same way that our older colleagues taught bibliographic instruction” (p. 26). The lecture format is still alive and well in many training sessions; granted, often with the addition of computers to follow along with. While this time-honored method of instruction has its benefits, there are new ways of sharing information that are much more suited to the needs of modern library patrons and the access methods of computer-based information sources.


The recent proliferation of certain software applications is a great boon to librarians who wish to instruct patrons in the steps required to search databases and catalogs. These applications record the action that is happening on-screen and allow that recording to be manipulated. The resulting videos, often saved in Macromedia Flash format – one of the most commonly available plug-ins – can be used as online versions of technology demonstrations (Notess, 2005). These applications are often inexpensive, if not free, and easy to learn (Roberts, 2005).

The benefit to the library trainer is the ability to show rather than tell the patron what to do. As anyone who has tried to train someone else in a procedure knows, often the steps involved are second nature. When one tries to slow down and repeat these steps to another, it becomes more difficult to remember exactly what steps one takes each time. Since screencasting is more like taking a video than writing down steps, this becomes less of a problem when it is a simple matter to record what happens on-screen. Patrons are then able to sit back and watch the videos – or listen – especially helpful for visual and auditory learners (Notess, 2005).

Perhaps the best way to become convinced of the benefits of screencasting is to read one learner’s positive experience. Udell (2005) describes learning a new programming language with the help of a screencast he had watched. As he explains, the traditional methods of information retrieval, navigation and search, were replaced by the newer method of video playback. He describes trying to learn a specific functionality of the programming language:

[A]lthough I couldn’t name what I was looking for, I was dead sure I’d seen it. What’s more, I had a strong sense of where, on the timeline of the screencast, [the instructor] had shown it to me. Sure enough I found it there, looked up the details in the documentation, finished my task, and moved on to the next one. After this pattern repeated four or five times, it struck me that something rather profound was going on ... With video playback at my disposal ... fast-forward and rewind trumped navigation and search (p. 32).

If Udell had taken a class on this software, he might have never remembered how to find that one piece of the puzzle he was looking for. But watching the screencast provided him with a mental map that allowed him to easily retrieve from his memory where to find the information and learn it more permanently.

The benefits of screencasting as a new style of learning are clear; but there are further benefits. Screencasts are quick to create once the librarian/trainer knows how to use the software. Notess (2005) describes one such incident: he received an e-mail reference question, and providing an answer required showing the patron how to navigate 10 clicks through a website. Notess recorded himself following the steps, uploaded the movie to a website, and included the URL in his response to the patron.

These types of files are also available for patrons to view at any time, provided the patron has access to a sufficiently high-speed internet connection. While many classes in computer usage occur at specific times and necessarily exclude patrons who cannot travel or meet at that time, online screencasts make it easier for anyone to learn a certain technology at any time. The ability to include those who might otherwise miss out on valuable learning is of itself a powerful reason to implement screencasts.


Creating a screencast may seem intimidating at first, but the literature emphasizes that once the software is learned, the process becomes much simpler. Roberts succinctly explains the basic steps involved:

Say, for example, you wanted to show your patrons how to use the advanced features of MasterFile Select. You would start up the screencasting software, browse to your chosen location in the research database, and press the Record button in the screencasting software. From this moment on, everything you do on the screen would be recorded to an output file. Once you finished working through MasterFile Select, you would hit the Stop Recording button. Then you can go into the screencasting software and edit the output file, adding directional objectives, explanatory notes, and, in some cases, voice narration (2005, p. 27).

This is a very basic explanation of the process, but there are other tips to keep in mind when creating a screencast. The first is to find a quiet area; the librarian/trainer should have few distractions from the task at hand. To increase efficiency, a script of the mouse-clicks should be created, or at least practiced by the librarian before making the actual recording. Kerns (2007) notes that screencast developers at the Galter Library of Northwestern University found it easier to add voice narration after the initial screen recording rather than trying to narrate as the steps are followed. Finally, keep in mind that most of the screencasting programs allow the trainer to add visual sticky notes or text bubbles to the video, as well as the ability to emphasize certain portions of the screen (Notess, 2005).


There are many issues to consider when choosing a screencasting product; ease of use, technological requirements, and cost are a few of the major ones. Many screencasting applications allow a 30-day trial to evaluate the product, which can help libraries avoid a purchase that may or may not prove beneficial to their unique circumstance. A few of these are Macromedia, Qarbon, and TechSmith (Roberts, 2005). Using the trial period is highly recommended; this will allow the screencast designer to test the program on his/her machine, determine how easy it is to use, and examine the resulting output file for quality.

Before downloading software, it’s important to take into consideration the following details of a library’s unique environment:

·    Operating system/platform. Make sure the software you have chosen is compatible with your system, whether a Mac or PC, Windows XP or Linux, etc.
·    Internet connection speed. Think about the connection speed of the library as well as the end-users. If high-speed internet access is not the standard, consider software that produces compressed video files.
·    Desired output file format. Many users have already downloaded the Macromedia Flash plug-in; many have not. Consider alternatives to this type of output if you are concerned about accessibility.
·    Hardware necessary for extras, such as voice narration. To record audio, a library’s computer needs a sound card and speakers. To listen, the patron’s computer needs a sound card and speakers (Notess, 2005 & Roberts, 2005).


Listed below are a few of the more well-known screen cast software packages available (Notess, 2005 & Roberts, 2005). Features of each have been provided, but it’s important to consider all aspects of each software before deciding to purchase one. Take advantage of free trials in order to avoid an unworkable purchase.

Software:    Camtasia Studio from TechSmith Corp.
Free Trial:    Yes; 30 days
Cost:    $299
Features:    Third audio track for music, iPhone compatible, multiple output formats.

Software:    CamStudio
Free Trial:    N/A
Cost:    Free
Features:    Webcam picture-in-picture feature, compressed files, video quality options.

Software:    Captivate by Macromedia
Free Trial:    Yes; 30 days
Cost:    $699
Features:    Also assists in creation of presentations, quizzes, and podcasts.

Software:    TurboDemo from balesio
Free Trial:    Yes; 30 days with registration
Cost:    $199
Features:    Smaller files, viewer interactivity, multiple output formats.

Software:    ViewletBuilder Pro from Qarbon
Free Trial:    Yes; 30 days
Cost:    $399
Features:    Formatting help such as stylesheets and customizable buttons/events.

Software:    Wink Free
Free Trial:    N/A
Cost:    Free
Features:    Highly compressed files, multilingual support.


Here are some other examples of webpages that include screencasts (Kerns, 2007 & Notess, 2005). Some were created by libraries, while some cover other types of technical instruction. Browse them to see a few examples of the possibilities when using screencasting as a training method.



Now that you have an idea how screencasting can help train patrons and librarians, it’s time to experiment. Follow the action plan, create a useful screencast, and contribute to the growing library of screencasts as training materials. Share your successes online and get excited about the possibilities that this new software can provide to advance the goal of lifetime learning. Perhaps Udell (2007) puts it best: “Civilization took a great leap forward when we learned how to write stuff down. Now we’re learning to film our stories and to TiVo them. Fasten your seat belt” (p. 32).