Low-Cost Emerging Tech Tools for Librarians

by R.C. Miessler, Head Editor, INALJ Indiana

Low-Cost Emerging Tech Tools for Librarians

rcmiesslerEmerging technologies are inseparable from librarianship, especially when it comes to instruction and reference in an academic library. Sometimes acquiring certain tools can be difficult due to their expense; thankfully, there are lots of free and low-cost tools that librarians can use to create tutorials, websites and instructional sessions (or edit pictures of cats). I’ve made this list of some of my favorite tools, so try them out! If you’re currently searching for a job, many of these tools are used in non-library jobs, especially when it comes to technical writing and instructional design, and it never hurts to build up your personal skillset as well!

TypeItIn: If your daily grind involves a lot of repetitive copying/pasting identical information, TypeItIn is a lifesaver. It’s a toolbar that floats on the desktop; just program the buttons to enter text, keyboard commands, and even complicated macros to simplify common keyboard, and even mouse, input. A great tool for metadata experts, as well as for instructional designers who use a controlled vocabulary of technical terms and phrases. It’s also great for quick entry of usernames if you have a lot of different logins to juggle. Currently $19.95 for a single license, and there is a 30-day free trial.

CamStudio and Jing: TechSmith’s Camtasia Studio and Adobe’s Captivate are both excellent screencasting packages, but their expense can be prohibitive in some situations. If you need something functional but not as fancy to create screencasts, CamStudio has an excellent interface and offers audio recording and annotations. However, its output files are limited to .avi format, and there are some concerns over malware being bundled with certain installation packages. For an online-only alternative, though, try Jing – the output is limited to 5 minutes per video and the videos are posted online and can be embedded in documents using HTML. Both are free; CamStudio is open source*.

SnagIt: Probably the best still-image screenshot program around, it is full-featured and great for creating complex manuals, workflows and documents that need something more than just words. The editing tools are great, it can scrape text from documents and copy it directly to the clipboard, and also integrates Google Drive. It can even capture video of your desktop and upload it to TechSmith’s Screencapture.com service (like Jing), although it is not as full-featured as other screencasting tools. Starts at $49.95, with education and government discounts available, and there is also a 15-day free trial.

GifCam: Sometimes a static picture on a website just isn’t enough, yet a video would be too bulky to use. The animated .gif format has found its renaissance (just look at any Tumblr site, well not THOSE ones), and a short animated clip can be a great addition to a website if just a few action shots are needed to clarify something. There are several websites that will create .gifs, but GifCam is an application that is easy to use as positioning the program’s capture screen over what you want to record, just like using a digital camera. There is a built-in editor as well. Free! (And the g is a hard g, like giraffe. It’s not peanut butter.)

Omeka.net: Omeka is a great tool to create online exhibits, but not every institution has the resources to host it. To alleviate that, Omeka offers a free basic hosted version of their platform, which is great for student projects, or even as a basic institutional digital exhibit. The basic plan is somewhat limited in themes and plugins, so it’s not very customizable, but it’s a great starting point for getting a digital display going. Omeka offers additional hosted plans at various pricing tiers, or it can be installed on a third-party web server (some hosts offer one-click installs). Open source; free for the basic hosted plan, or as an installable platform. Hosted options start at $49.

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program): When it comes to editing images, PhotoShop is the industry standard. However, licenses are very expensive, and the standard feature set is overkill for the needs of most librarians. GIMP is an excellent alternative to PhotoShop, and it still has more features than you’ll probably ever use. It can even be downloaded as a portable app, so it can be installed on a USB drive or in your Documents folder without needing to bug your IT people. Be warned, GIMP does have a steeper learning curve than PhotoShop, and its interface doesn’t always seem that intuitive. That being said, when the standard Paint program won’t do, GIMP will probably serve your needs (and then some). Open source, and free!

Any great tools you or your library use? Tell us!

*One caveat: “open source” doesn’t necessarily mean “free.” Even though there’s no immediate impact on the budget in the form of purchasing software or a license, support may be limited, upgrades and bugfixes sporadic, and the cost of supporting these tools is also a factor. However, open source tools often work just (or nearly) as well as their commercial counterparts, and with a little research you can find the ones that best suit your needs.

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