Open Source Tools for Tutorials

Last time I covered open source tools to make your life more productive; how about this time we talk about making things easier for your patrons?

I’ve mentioned before that open source software is about community. I mention it again because I’m hoping that the things you produce with the following tools are shared with your colleagues worldwide.

One of the best ways to help our patrons is to publish tutorials for using our resources. One way to do this is to create a document, but what about creating a video tutorial instead? I know that when I was working in the law library we had plenty of text guides (web pages, handouts, signs, etc) but not one video tutorial. I don’t know about you, but I learn better when I can see something done versus reading about it.


The first and easiest way to make our tutorials more effective is to add images to our print tutorials. You can do this by adding a few screenshots to make it clearer to your patrons what it is you’re talking about. Saying that the link you need to click is on the right of the screen is helpful, but adding a screenshot with the link circled is much more effective.

ZScreen We’re all familiar with the print screen button found on Windows computers, but the problem with that is that it prints your entire screen to an image, presenting people with more of an image than they need. Instead you could try a screenshot program to focus your image on only the necessary parts of your screen. ZScreen is an open-source screen capture program for Windows.

Using an application like this will allow you to select the area of your screen to take an image of, upload the image to your web server and annotate your images all with one tool. Using images in your handouts, signs and web guides will help your patrons find exactly what they’re looking for in the various resources you subscribe to.


Camstudio Why not take your tutorials to the next level and, instead of presenting patrons with something they have to read, create a video guide for them instead? I attended a workshop at ALA last year that showed me the real power of screencasts (recordings of the actions on your screen) as both an educational and a promotional tool. If you take the video tutorials you create for your patrons and share them online using various different video-sharing services, you will not only help your patrons but also promote your library services in places where your library isn’t usually found.

Webinaria For Windows and Linux users there are a few options for recording screencasts. For Windows users you can try Camstudio or Webinaria. Linux users can give RecordMyDesktop a whirl. All three tools are open source and available to help with your tutorial creation.

RecordMyDesktop Each of these tools works in a similar fashion. You open the application and click the record button. You can then record both your voice and your actions to create a guide to help your patrons navigate your library website or research database. One thing that I probably don’t have to tell law librarians is that you have to be careful about what you record and publish. Make sure that when you are recording how to use proprietary databases you stop before you open any copyrighted article on the screen.

Video Editing

Avidemux Screencasting tools come with some basic video editing functionality, but if you want to get fancy with your tutorial and generate a professional-looking video you can try an open source video editing application like Avidemux. Using Avidemux, you can perform simple actions such as cutting, filtering and encoding. This helps you clean up the video so that you don’t have long period of silence or too much background noise (all things that have caused me to have to restart my video recordings in the past).

Taking the Time

Many of you will probably read this article and say, “yeah right, like I have the time for that.” I’m here to tell you that while this process might take you a bit of extra time, it’s well worth it in the end. Think of the number of times you’ve had to tell a new associate how to find the right article on Westlaw or how to print an article using HeinOnline. Add up all that time you spent explaining and instead use that to create a short tutorial video and point all patrons to that video when they approach you for help.

As an added bonus you can post these videos up on popular video-sharing sites and promote both your library and librarians as experts in a specific topic. For ideas on how to create tutorial videos feel free to take a look at the tutorials I record on a regular basis. They’re all short, to the point and very helpful to people looking to learn how to use the Koha open source ILS.

Open Source Tools for Tutorials by Nicole C. Engard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Posted in: Continuing Legal Education, Distance Learning, Legal Marketing, Presentation Skills, Virtual Library, Web-Based Training