January 2007 Site of the Month


Authors: Software Developer: Andrew Wiss; Storyboard: Emily Hart (Project Manager), SUNY Fredonia; Kerrie Fergen-Wilkes & David Schoen, Niagara University; Sheryl Soborowski, Lewiston Public Library; Elise Torre, Kaleida Health Libraries; Andrew Yeager, Medaille College

Interview with Emily Hart
Interviewer: Sharon Elteto

Description: “Beyond the Walls of Your Library: How to Find Books and More,” was created by the Western New York Library Resources Council, Storyboard Team. The team received grant funding through the Western New York Library Resources Council. The objective was to create a tutorial that would serve various types of libraries across Western New York, helping them to explore different methods of instruction and to reach out to users in exciting new ways. The objective of the tutorial is to teach Western New York library users to locate and obtain materials beyond their local libraries. The services described include: WNYLibraries (previously referred to as the Western New York Virtual Union Catalog), WorldCat, Infopass, and InterLibrary Loan. Although these services vary in use across libraries in Western New York, the concept of libraries sharing materials is a central theme for all libraries; therefore the tutorial was designed to be adaptable to meet the needs of individual libraries. The tutorial depicts the story of a library user who is going through the process of locating information. In order to engage the user in the story, the tutorial includes audio, video, and gaming or assessment components, ultimately moving away from tutorials that are highly textual.

Q. Would you please tell us about the technologies that were used to create “Beyond the Walls of Your Library: How to Find Books and More,” and why you chose them.

A. The tutorial was developed using Macromedia Flash. Our group was able to hire an experienced Flash designer through a grant provided by the Western New York Library Resources Council. We chose this route because we wanted to produce a tutorial that was exciting, interactive, and appealing to a new generation of library users. Our group wanted to move away from text heavy tutorials, which we associated with first generation online tutorials and paper tutorials or guides. We wanted a tutorial that would engage users and include elements such as audio, animation, and gaming components. The tutorial would serve as a prototype for future projects and tutorials.

Several of the group members were familiar with Flash, and had experience with web design and other screen capture and video editing software, such as Camtasia, which helped to select the most appropriate software for the project. The designer we chose was from the State University of New York University at Buffalo, Educational Technology Masters program, and owns a Flash design freelance business. It was a huge advantage hiring someone that had a background in education and who was already familiar with some of the resources.

By hiring a Flash designer, our group was able to concentrate on content development. Libraries are often constrained by limited staff, time, and funding. Our group was made up of volunteers from libraries across the Western New York region. We faced the obstacle of trying to develop a product that was new and exciting without having the time or possessing the technological skills to produce the desired product. By pooling our efforts and acquiring grant funds, we were able to hire someone who had the ability to design and develop a product that we wouldn’t otherwise have the time, skill level, or funding to produce.

Q. Did you face any technical difficulties in the development of “Beyond the Walls?” If so, what were they and how did you solve them?

A. There were several technical challenges faced in the development of the tutorial. One of the biggest challenges was selecting appropriate online resources to include in the tutorial. Our funding was being provided by our regional library council, so it was important to select resources that were available to all types of libraries in the region. The resources selected included local library catalogs, the Western New York regional catalog and WorldCat. The objectives of our tutorial were shaped around the resources we selected. The main objective of the tutorial was to teach our users about how libraries share books and other materials, and what resources were available locally. Although all of the libraries had access to WorldCat, its use was different at each library, with patrons having different levels of access. The regional catalog was a fairly new service in the region and few libraries had fully implemented the resource; the technology still had some bugs to be worked out at the time the tutorial was produced.

Other technical challenges posed difficulties for the implementation and upkeep of the tutorial. Although the tutorial was produced in multiple versions to be accessible to as many different users as possible, our group made the decision to use audio as the main dialog for the tutorial. At various libraries, users are limited in their access to computers with audio capabilities, because the audio has been disabled, or there is limited access to headphones. Another technical challenge that arose was whether or not to include or link to software that could survey users or record statistical data based on their responses and use of the tutorial. Public and specialized libraries had very different interests and policies regarding tracking the statistics that could be generated from the tutorial, whereas the academic libraries involved wanted to be able to use the tutorial for assessment. Because libraries had different policies and interests, a survey or statistical piece could not be included.

Another technical challenge was the ability to maintain the tutorial after the project had ended. There was a limited amount of funding to hire the designer for the initial project, which meant that someone in the group or region would be responsible for keeping the tutorial up-to-date in the future. Although funding was built into the project so that each of the group members would receive a copy of Flash and receive minimal training from the developer, the group members would still lack the skills and design experience and time to adequately maintain the tutorial.

Q. The authors of the tutorial are from several different institutions. What kind of challenges, obstacles or problems, if any, did this create? How did you resolve them?

A. The members of our team were spread out across the Western New York region, and included librarians from academic, public, and hospital libraries. This was one of the greatest strengths of our group. Because we had members that served a variety of users and each had different perspectives and motivations, the objectives and language used in the tutorial were strong and well defined. The strengths and variety of our members was also one of our limitations.

One of the biggest challenges we faced was that we were limited in the resources and skills we could choose to depict in the tutorial, because they had to be available and applicable to all member libraries in the region. Although each library involved was interested in creating a tutorial that was interactive and appealed to a new group of users, individuals’ objectives and motivations varied. For example, the academic librarians wanted to use the tutorial as a tool for assessment and information literacy, whereas the public and hospital libraries involved were interested in using the tutorial as an educational tool to provide information, and not for assessment. Another major challenge for the group was facing time constraints. Each of the group members were volunteers, so it was difficult to find the time to meet and work on the project when it was above and beyond everyone’s regular responsibilities.

Q. Would you tell us about the "Storyboard Team” that developed the project? Describe the team and their responsibilities for content development, software selection, and technology support.

A. Members of the Storyboard Team included librarians from a hospital library, public library, and several academic libraries in the Western New York region. The libraries were spread out across the region and members traveled to meetings about once every five or six weeks to one of the colleges in the middle.

Originally the group started when one of the librarians on the team, David Schoen, the Director of Niagara University, put out a call to the region to librarians who were interested in the project. He applied for grant funding from the Western New York Library Resources Council to fund the project. There was a large response to the call, with at least ten librarians expressing interest in working on the project. After a few meetings a smaller group emerged, with a total of six members, which eventually became the Storyboard Team. The larger group was consulted at several points throughout the process, including the proofreading of the final tutorial script.

At the beginning of the project, the group worked on establishing the resources and objectives for the tutorial. The majority of the meetings were spent writing the script or storyline for the tutorial, which were turned into Flash animations by the developer, who also attended a majority of the meetings. Some of the tasks were split up for the group members to work on between the meetings. The project manager took notes and recorded any edits to the script at the meetings, and followed up by making changes to the master script, which were sent to the group members for comments. Final changes to the script were made by the project manager and then forwarded on to the developer to turn into animations for that section of the tutorial. This process went on for a little less than a year, and the project in its entirety took just over a year and a half. The results were positive, but the process was often time consuming and was spread out over longer periods of time than the group had originally desired. This was mainly due to the fact that the group members were volunteers and had limited amounts of time to devote to the project.

Q. How did you manage the project and how long did its development take?

A. The entire tutorial took approximately a year and a half to complete. There were several stages to the process including: applying for the grant; securing a group; hiring a Flash designer; defining the resources and objectives; writing the script and storyline; finalizing the script and creating a second version that split the dialog and actions for the characters; student testing of the script for clarity and appropriateness; and development of the animations, audio, gaming components, etc. We also spent time testing and editing the Flash version; distributing the finished product to member libraries and to appropriate websites and listservs; and with Flash training for members of the Storyboard Team.

Q. Did you learn any specific lessons during the creation process that would help institutions interested in creating a similar tutorial?

A. The tutorial was a pilot project, an example that our group was proud of and hopes to emulate in the future. However, there are a number of things that we would do differently.

To solve the problem of upkeep and maintenance for the tutorial, a suggestion would be to partner with someone at a college in your region, possibly a graduate student in a graphic design or educational technology program that would work with your group on the project as an internship opportunity or for a reduced fee. Someone in the group could work closely with that person to learn how to maintain it, or a relationship with the graphic design or educational technology departments could be established so that there would be other students in the future to help maintain the tutorial.

We also found that:

  • it would have been easier to work in smaller groups.
  • it is necessary to have a strong plan for testing, implementation and marketing.
  • you need buy-in from libraries and regional units involved.
  • the team members’ libraries must especially support the implementation of the tutorial.
  • you need to plan for follow-up testing and surveys.
  • multiple versions or formats are better for accessibility and give a variety of options for implementation.
  • you need to make sure that the resources you choose remain constant.
  • choosing concepts is easier than basing something around resources when interfaces and designs for resources change regularly.

Q. “Beyond the Walls” was developed to be used by all member libraries of the Western New York Library Resources Council. Has usage been what you anticipated?

A. Because we didn’t include a plan for implementation and weren’t able to set up a system for tracking statistics, there aren’t any usage statistics. I know that several of the libraries put links to the tutorial on their websites, along with the Western New York Library Resource Council, but I’m not sure if it was used in instruction or implemented beyond supplying a link to the tutorial. I have since moved to a different college within SUNY, which has made it difficult to track or do any further projects with the tutorial at SUNY Fredonia. It’s possible that another push could be made for implementation in the region or a survey sent out to the librarians on the Storyboard Team to see what the usage has been and to have an idea of how they would change things if we were to create another tutorial.