Nailing a Giant Jello® to a Wall: Issues in Electronic Serials Management

Tech Tools

by Tech Talk Editor Ellie Dworak

EllieSadly, this being the last issue of  the Idaho Librarian, this will be my last “Tech Tools” column. I’ve enjoyed exploring ideas in my quest to bring you a column that is both useful and interesting. Perhaps I will write this column or something like it elsewhere. Until then, salut!

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Ellie Dworak
Tech Talk Editor

Last month, I spent some time with Nancy Donahoo the Library Section Manager for Serials Albertsons Library, Boise State University; and Nancy Rosenheim, the Library Head of Acquisitions & Collections, also here at Albertsons Library. Trust me when I say that these two know their stuff.

Thank goodness that I had only booked an hour for our talk – not because I was bored, mind you, but because the transcription software (to remain unnamed) produced a 35 page document of some pretty hilarious text.

For example, take this snippet from a section that didn’t make it into the article. Apparently that’s a good thing, because I made no sense:

Typically a stalker is proprietary of the content to do the copyright of them by the provider for these small but culture. Right now you would not disclose terms of the agreement right typically hum.

Am I right!? That said – the transcription hilarity was totally worth it. The conversation was both informational and fun, and I hope to have more in the future.

The following is a curated version of our conversation. The written word requires a narrative, while the verbal can traverse several at a sitting. I have done my best to use my editorial skills for good, and not evil, which is to say that my goal was to represent the truth within the narrative thread that I chose to weave into the account below.

Aside from interpreting the transcription software’s creativity and editing to create a readable text, I have used the language as spoken during the interview. I use the convention of square brackets to indicate blocks of texts wherein I paraphrased, summarized, or created context in my own words. I did not, however, use ellipses to indicate removed portions of verbiage. This was written not as a means of archiving history, after all, but as a column that I hope you enjoy, whether it’s all news to you, or you are nodding along as you read.

Nailing a Giant Jello® to a Wall:
Issues in Electronic Serials Management

 Ellie Dworak So tell me about issues in managing electronic resources.
 Nancy Rosenheim One of the biggest issues in electronic resource management are transfer titles. The transfer of titles from one publisher a platform to another and the transfer of the content and your rights and having to track that. So instead of just having to deal with title changes, which used to be one of the biggest problems of a serials librarian or [professional], there is the issue of title changes and title movement. (Looks to Nancy Donahoo) Do you have an opinion?
 c I agree wholeheartedly, that’s been particularly the case in the last 2 years as the small publisher has been eaten up by the big 6.
 Ellie Dworak Ah, so a lot of things transferred.
 Nancy Donahoo Yes, and it’s not just titles moving back and forth but the post-cancellation perpetual access which is supposed to be mounted wherever UKSG says it is. [UKSG,] the United Kingdom Serials Group started ETAS – Enhanced Transfer Alerting Service. The whole purpose of it was to identify when a title was going from one provider to the next and where the historical online access was going to be mounted, whether it would remain with the old or go to the new. And that’s important so that we know where to document that we are entitled to an early earlier content than the provider may think we do, and in some cases the buyout creates a problem.

My favorite one is Portland Press. They had a publication that ranged from 1947 to the present. We began getting it in 2010, so that means we were entitled to content from 2010 forward but out of the generosity of this publisher’s heart they gave us access to the historical content back to 1947 . . . Portland Press sold its holdings to a large vendor and when it went over, you only had access from 2015 to the present. You had to buy the historical content. So all of a sudden we lost this content.

And here’s the irony – we had subscribed in print up until the end of 2007 and then we stopped getting the subscription and we quit binding it. So we were able to prove to them that we had back to 2010 electronically, and we had in print to 2007. So that means now we do note have the whole run. The only way you can get that content is to buy the entire historical archives because they will not sell you year by year. That’s an example of the chaos that’s created.

 Nancy Rosenheim Nancy referenced the United Kingdom Serials Group, which has provided leadership in establishing the NISO [National Information Standards Organization] Code of Transfer Practice, which is great because there is now a standard which all publishers who transfer titles comply with the ETAS that [Nancy] referred to is the Enhanced Transfers Alerting Service, so we each get different emails that tell us when titles are transferring from one publisher or platform to another. Often the publisher will inform us, it is usually is at this time of year however sometimes they don’t tell you, and you find out some other way.

And there are some serious implications for the transfer in addition to tracking our holdings and making things available because there are budgetary implications. Right now we’re looking at different packages that we have and we have a title that used to be included in [one package] and it’s moving to another. It’s not huge but that happens all the time.

 Ellie Dworak And it’s something where you don’t want to have a hole in the subscription?
 Nancy Rosenheim Right, or you have to make a decision. Do we subscribe to something we haven’t had a discreet subscription to before or do we . . .
 Nancy Donahoo And some don’t give you choices . . . If you have an existing contract and journal titles move into these packages then you either pay an up-charge on the cost of your package – so you have your base and then you have an up charge because they know you had it before and for the life of your contract they’re going to continue to get money from you.
 Ellie Dworak Even though it may be a different price?
 Nancy Rosenheim It’s part of the contract.
 Nancy Donahoo Which makes it not very useful to have multiple year contracts because even though you might pay 6 percent instead of 5 percent, you pay through the nose for these individual titles that have moved into the database because you have to maintain them . . . some of them are less than $1000 and others are . . . $5000. We saw one that was $16,000 . . .  just the single title. So I mean we have no control over those prices.
 Ellie Dworak You can just wake up and the budget expense chart is totally changed?
 Nancy Rosenheim Different publishers, or different providers have different license terms . . .  it was a really hard concept that you have to retain a subscription and pay additional costs, because the whole point of [of these serials packages] was that you pay a flat rate and you get everything.
Nancy Donahoo Well, and we do for some. Project Muse is one of those that we pay a flat fee, and you see an inflationary costs, but you pay a flat fee and anything goes that goes into Project Muse you’re entitled to. The University of Chicago Press package is the same way. So there are still some of those out there.

The latest twist is that in the past we have had all the way back to some historical starting point and that’s been consistent.

Now [some publishers will] only provide a 20 year historical rolling wall. So that means that even though you’ve paid for all this content, and access to it, all these years . . . the very fact that we didn’t buy the archives means that they will start giving us 20 years rolling back. So if you start in 1997 now in 2018 year old I have as far back as ‘98 and the next year you only have back to ‘99.

 Ellie Dworak So it’s like a reverse furlough?
 Nancy Donahoo It is. It forces you, then, to go buy the historical archives.
 Ellie Dworak Were they always available at the time you started [subscribing]?
 Nancy Donahoo Most of our subscriptions began between 2006 and 2008 and most of them have been static with a historical starting point. They had the archives prior to that point but they never had a rolling wall on the back end. But now not as many people have money to buy it, or have already bought it if they want it, which means in order for them to make more money they are going to this roll, so that it forces you to buy it if you want that content.
 Ellie Dworak Tell me about leased collections. What are those?
 Nancy Donahoo Meaning that for your willingness to not cancel your existing titles and to continue buying them every year, or buying access to them, within 10 percent, meaning you might want to cancel one but to pick up another so there’s a little fluctuation, they give you the choice of buying what’s called their leased collection that has an untold number of titles in it. You don’t have post cancellation perpetual access but you’re not having to track those titles separately, you don’t have to worry about ownership of them. Students and faculty have access to them.
 Ellie Dworak I see, so for agreeing to maintain your core subscriptions, they throw in a bunch of other stuff for cheap.
 Nancy Donahoo One reason we make that distinction is because it has an impact on how we maintain our records and the level of documentation that we have to record.

When I took over in serials when Rose Marie left in 2014, the biggest thing she did for me before she left was basically tried to come up with a description of the types of purchases, leases, types of subscriptions that we have. She did a really good job, even s those, since she left they’ve changed and it’s – you know I think sometimes people think that this is very straightforward and there’s nothing straightforward to it, because as soon as you’ve got it figured out there’s a new spin on it . . . and then they make platform changes. Which makes it even more interesting.

 Ellie Dworak What does that mean?
 Nancy Rosenheim We talked about titles that transfer from across publishers or platforms, and now Nancy’s referring to the fact that we also have to track what platform they’re on. Sometimes the publisher is the platform like Elsevier, and sometimes the platform is the publisher, and that would be like Metapress. They published content from other journals on their platform, but they also published their own journals that were there too.

It’s an issue related to licensing because you need to be sure that you can have IP authentication when you’re reviewing the license for the resource and you might have to read a license for the platform. When we’re tracking usage statistics we have to track the usage statistics from the publisher as well as sometimes from the platform.

 Nancy Donahoo Every time [platforms changes happen], you have to change links; reestablish IP authentication; reestablish where you’re going to get usage statistics and if it complies with COUNTER 4; how they’re going to send it to you; if they’re gonna send it to you. So it’s like starting all over. There is no one point where you get everything done and it’s static. It’s very fluid and it’s like nailing Jell-O to a wall.
 Nancy Rosenheim While it is those would be among the bigger challenge is also part of what makes it fun.
 Nancy Donahoo Certainly interesting.

 

 Nancy Rosenheim It really interesting and keeps it from being just checking in issues of Time.  It really does require a lot of thought and a lot of tracking trends through literature and keeping up on where content is going.
 Nancy Donahoo So then you have people talk about open access. You can’t count on historical open access content to remain static and always be available. So, people are processing interlibrary loan requests and send links to the journal A-Z list with content identified by Serials Solutions as open access will get an email [from the patron] saying “I can’t access that.” And what it is, is that [the journal] went from Gold open access, which means that it was full-blown, to article level open access, which means you’ve got some paid content.

It would take an untold number of man hours and people constantly checking things to actually determine is it still the way it needs to be.

 Ellie Dworak Wow, I’m surprised everything works as smoothly as it does.
 Nancy Donahoo Be amazed, be very amazed.
 Nancy Rosenheim You know, I’m not surprised because we have really amazing people who are experienced and knowledgeable. But there are a lot of challenges.
 Ellie Dworak It must be a lot of work bringing somebody up to speed.
 Nancy Donahoo It takes a year. You have to go for the entire cycle to really understand the issue.
 Nancy Rosenheim Well, you know, there are a lot of published lists of competencies that are needed to be able to work with electronic resources. But it’s there’s always something to learn in a fun.

We talked a little bit of we talk about the transfer titles which is a huge thing and actually documenting perpetual access is the challenge that we’re coming to you now because we had a big package, which we don’t have any more. So our serials unit will go back, because we actually own access from 2008 to 2013 for a select group of titles. We need to be able to document those because it’s almost the same as having print.

 Ellie Dworak So you just have to dig through things like the old invoices and licenses?
 Nancy Donahoo You know when we first started getting into electronic content, I don’t think anybody could have ever imagined how very different it was from documenting paper subscriptions. I mean, you know, it’s on the shelf or it’s not on the shelf. You checked it in or you didn’t check it in.

You know, we thought “oh this is going to be so much easier.” Well it is easier in the sense that you don’t have to worry about it getting mailed to you and checked in and down on the shelf and somebody can walk out the front door with it. But it brings its own set of problems and part of that is the historical documentation. What license entitled you to what, and at what point did the license change. We find ourselves constantly going back and reading those things.

Even a new subscription you have to look at indemnification and where the government jurisdiction is because of the implications for Idaho law. We’re not attorneys but there are key things we have to look at. We can’t automatically renewed something. We can’t be in a position to not be able to cancel, so we have to have an out clause. If we lost our funding we have to have the ability to get out of the contract without going the court.

 Nancy Rosenheim When we are licensing things, there are issues that have to be resolved, and it really is a two woman job. We’re not attorneys, but the responsibility to review the licenses and be sure that we’re in compliance is ours. It’s something that we take really seriously, and we worry, but then again, we try to be decisive and move on.

Tech Tools – Flashcards with Flair

EllieWelcome to (or back to) Tech Tools, a regular column of The Idaho Librarian devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies. As always, I welcome your comments, ideas, and feedback on this post or other technologies you would like featured in this column.

Flashcards with Flair

I’ve come across online flashcards a few times and been curious. Do they work well in an online format? Do online flashcards offer benefits that old-fashioned 3×5 cards lack? There are a number of free web-based tools that offer this functionality. In hopes of answering those questions, I signed up for several free online flashcards products, tested them out, and chose three to review: Quizlet, Flashcard Machine, and Cerego.

Quizlet

Quizlet is a free tool for creating and using flashcards, which can be used to generate quizzes and games. After creating a free account, you’ll be taken to a dashboard screen which will show your (as yet non-existent) activity.

Creating cards: It’s super easy to create flashcards in Quizlet. From the top navigation area, click on Create a Study Set. Then, fill in the blanks with one field for one side of the “card” and one field for the flip side (which Quizlet calls a definition).

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To the right of each card, there are 3 icons to: add a photo, add a sound file, and search for definitions/answers within the flashcards from other Quizlet users. However, you cannot upload your own photos or audio with a free account. The search for definitions feature functions nicely, letting you review a list of matching definitions. Click to select one, and edit if you wish.

Flashcard collection: Quizlet contains a library of flashcards created by users. I could not locate information about how large this collection is, but I didn’t have trouble finding material on a variety of topics.

Search/browse: Quizlet allows for a simple keyword search, after which you can sort by relevance or date. There is no browse option.

Reusing flashcards: Once you find a study set that meets your needs, there are number of ways to reuse the cards. The two that I found most useful are copy and add to folder. Once cards are copied, you may edit them, whereas add to folder just saves them for you to use later.

Studying: Quizlet’s strength is in the many ways that you can study using flashcards. The options include:

  • Flashcards is very similar to using actual Flashcards. Click a card to flip it over, click the forward arrow to view the next card in the set.
  • Learn mode presents the flashcards as a fill-in-the-blank quiz. This is a good self-assessment next step.
  • The Speller option is interesting. It reads material from the study set, which you then type. I think that this is meant to help with retention, since in doing this you’re hearing, seeing, and typing the words.
  • Test presents a test with a variety of types of questions including fill-in-the-blank, true-false, matching, and multiple choice.
  • The Scatter game presents words with definitions in random boxes. Drag one to another to make them disappear as the timer counts up.
  • The goal of the game Gravity is to type in the definition (or the term) as the meteors fall toward Earth. With this game, you can choose from 3 levels of difficulty as well as whether to see the term or the definition first.
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The only thing missing from Gravity is sound effects.


Overall:  onestaronestaronestaronestaronestar grey 
If you just want to create a set of flashcards, Quizlet is a great option because it’s easy and fast to create the cards, and you’ll have many study options. If you’re interested in finding cards that have already been created, Quizlet is pretty good, but the search/browse functionality falls short.

Flashcard Machine

Flashcard Machine is a very flexible flashcard creation tool, but it’s a little old school in terms of interface. It’s not difficult to use, but sometimes you have to click more than once to get to the screen you want to use.

Creating cards: To get started, create a free account, then click Create a Set. You will be prompted for some basic metadata about your new set and be given options for sharing your cards. I appreciate that both subject and education level are controlled vocabulary (with a pop-up list), which ultimately should make sets easier for others to locate.

Once you’ve created a set, creating cards is easy using either the Quick Editor or the Advanced Editor. The Quick Editor is two columns of text boxes, one for each side of the card. Fill them in, and click Save. The Advanced Editor has word processor functionality, and includes options for adding images and audio files. The down side is that you have to create one card at a time.

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The Quick Editor is easy to use. Create as many rows as you want cards.

Flashcard collection: Flashcard Machine contains over 111 million flashcards in its library. I don’t know how many of them are world-class flashcards, but that’s the price you pay for crowd sourcing. The up side is that the flashcards I looked at were accurate and useful.

Search/browse: With 111 million flashcards, thank goodness that the search and browse features in Flashcard Machine are awesome. The browse options include subject, most popular, highest rated, and top authors. Wow! The search functionality is equally impressive and includes keyword searching along with several field search choices.

On the results page, you can sort by relevance, topic, subject, date created, and rating. I’m not sure where the topic option is coming from, since I wasn’t directed to assign one when building my set of flashcards.

Reusing flashcards:  You can add any set of flashcards to a list of favorites or you can save the set, which allows you to edit the cards.

Studying: There are three games that you can use to study with a set of flashcards.

Quiz Me is a multiple choice game. If you get the answer right, you can move onto the next card. If you get it wrong, you have to keep guessing until you get it right.

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My favorite game is Quiz Me, probably because it’s the most like using actual flashcards.

Speed requires you to choose the correct answer from a column of moving cards, which are blank until you click them. It involves a lot of mousing, so it’s not the best game for those of use with repetitive strain injuries, but it’s engaging.

In Pop Quiz, you fill in the letters of your answer on a Jeopardy style screen.

Overall: onestaronestaronestaronestaronestar grey Flashcard Machine is not flashy, but it’s flexible and completely free. I suggest this tool for those who fondly remember using Pine as a text editor for email.

Cerego

Cerego is the flashiest of the three products I reviewed, and it is (so far as I could tell) completely free.

Creating cards: After creating your free account, click the Create button in the left-side navigation bar, choose to make your set public or private, and proceed to name your set. Next you’ll have the opportunity to choose an attractive image to be featured on the set.

Here’s where the magic starts. To add a card to your set, choose one of the seven templates listed on the start page. These are more than just layout templates, they guide you through creating flashcards with different activities. The template options include:

  • Associations, which are basic flashcards.
  • Vocabulary, which are like basic flashcards, but you can include examples of the word in use.
  • Passages allow you to remove important words from a phrase to create fill-in-the-blank questions.
  • Regions let you map words to hot spots on an image.
  • Sequences are used for outlining processes or procedures in the proper order.
  • Patterns are used to teach characteristics, such as for plant identification.

The dashboard for my flashcard set. On the left are templates to choose from. To the right, Cerego adds your items in a visual layout.

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The dashboard for my new Cerego flashcard set. Template choices are on the left. To the right are my cards in a visual layout.

Some of the options, such as patterns, were a bit confusing to set up. That may be the nature of creating this type of content, and therefore not the fault of Cerego’s user interface.

Flashcard collection: Cerego has fewer sets than do the other two products, but they appear to all be high quality. Cerego hosts a Google Group for content creators, and perhaps this more hands-on approach includes curating flashcard sets. In addition, many of the sets are authored by Cerego themselves.

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Browse categories in Cerego.

Search/browse: Cerego offers simple keyword search as well as the option to browse content. The browsing options are organized by broad disciplines, with one layer of subdisciplines.

Reusing flashcards: You can copy any set of flashcards and edit it to be your own.

Studying: In Learn mode, Cerego takes you through a process of reviewing the flashcards followed by quizzes. They promise a patented process designed to maximize learning. I found the process to be both engaging and, in the short term, effective.

Overall: onestaronestaronestaronestarhalf star Cerego is a great tool, and using it to learn is straightforward. Creating flashcards takes some practice. I recommend this product to anybody who likes tinkering and has content that is worth the time investment of building an excellent learning tool.

Other Cool Cards

There are many online flashcard creation tools, and I couldn’t review them all, but I did look them order and rate them, using the same five criteria that I used for the longer reviews. Here are my brief notes and ratings.

  • Cobocards – purplepurplepurple3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free, with paid options. I found some broken links in the site and user interface is awful, but for the most part it appears to function.
  • Course Hero – purplepurplepurplehalf star3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with paid options. Course Hero offers tutoring services and other study resources in addition to flashcards.There’s a lot of good content in there, but you have to hack your way through a thicket of “join now!” messages along the way.
  • Cram – purplepurplepurplepurple3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with a paid option. Appears to be similar to Quizlet in functionality, with some additional free features.
  • Duolingo – purplepurplepurplepurplehalf star Free high quality flashcards for learning languages. I’ve signed up for Welsh.
  • Learn that Wordpurplepurplepurple3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with a paid option. This product specializes in English language vocabulary. It’s kind of ugly, but it seems to work and contains a lot of vocabulary words as well as several ways to study the flashcards.
  • Memrise – purplepurplepurplehalf star3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM Free with paid options for more learning modes. Memrise is focused on language acquisition, though there is plenty of other subject content in the collection.
  • Study Blue – purplepurplehalf star3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM3-22-2016 11-55-20 AM I would have scored this higher if I were reviewing the paid version, as it looks pretty good. However, though you can create flashcards and study them on Study Blue, you’ll have to pay in order to gain access to the collection of flashcard sets.

I didn’t sign up to use the following three products because they require a software download. They may be amazing, who knows? If you give any of them a try, let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Comment below if you have any thoughts on this article or suggestions for the next Tech Tools column. I love hearing from you!

 

Tech Tools – What the Font?

EllieWelcome to (or back to) Tech Tools, a regular column of The Idaho Librarian devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies. As always, I welcome your comments, ideas, and feedback on this post or other technologies you would like featured in this column.

Introduction
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Microsoft Word 2013 includes 67 fonts, which seems like enough for any one person in a lifetime. But that number doesn’t even scratch the surface – in 2012 there were over 90,000 typefaces available for download, and that number is growing daily (Yves). It’s amazing to me that there could possibly be 90 variations of a single, recognizable letter of the alphabet, much less 90,000.

the letter q
14 variations of the letter Q. From L to R: Agency FB, Calibri, Calibri Light, Antique No 14, Arial Rounded, Baskerville Old Face, Bebas Neue Regular, Bernard MT Condensed, Bell MT, Dekar, Californian FB, Century Gothic, Century Schoolbook, Myriad Pro

What is one supposed to do with all of these fonts? How does one pick? Why does it matter? These are the questions that I attempt to address in this column.

Terminology
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There are several terms that mean something different in the typographic world than they do in common use. Below is a brief glossary of the most important. For the sake of brevity, these definitions refer to contemporary use, and do not include historical references.

bullet Font – A collection of symbols (usually letters, numbers, and punctuation) that are used to render type. Technically, a font includes only one style, i.e. Arial Black.

bullet Font family – A package of styles that is available for a given font. For example, the Calibri font family includes 6 styles – light, light italic, regular, italic, bold, and bold italic.

bullet Font Style – A font style refers to a variation such as bold, italic, heavy, or light. Some fonts come in so many styles it makes my head spin, while others may only come in 1 or 2.

swirlywind A font is what you use, and typeface is what you see. – Norbert Florendo, Font or Typeface?

bullet Point size – The size of the characters as well as the space around the characters. If you’ve ever noticed that some fonts appear larger than others at the same point size and wondered (as I have) why, now you know.

bullet Text – The words themselves and the structure of a series of words in order. Sometimes used as shorthand for body text, which is the text of the main body of a work, excluding elements such as the table of contents.

bullet Typeface – The design elements (style and shape) of a collection of symbols that comprise a font. This is an important distinction to typographers.

swirlywind Ty­pog­ra­phy is the vi­sual com­po­nent of the writ­ten word. – Matthew Butterick, Butterick’s Practical Typography

bulletTypography – “The practice of creating, selecting, and arranging or setting type” (Rosendorf).

swirlywind What font is used on the Absolut Vodka bottles? I don’t know. But I can tell you that the name “Absolut” is set in the typeface Futura Extra Bold Condensed. – Allan Haley, They’re Not Fonts!

In common usage, font and type are often used interchangeably, and the word font is used to describe an entire font family. Unless otherwise specified, I’ll use this convention.

Why do Fonts Matter?roundswirl

Make no mistake, your choice of type fonts is as important (if not as meaningful) as the content of your work.

swirlywind At­ten­tion is the reader’s gift to you. That gift is pre­cious. And fi­nite. And should you fail to be a re­spect­ful stew­ard of that gift—most com­monly, by bor­ing or ex­as­per­at­ing your reader—it will be promptly revoked. – Matthew Butterick, Butterick’s Practical Typography

Functional Impact

Font choice impacts your readers ability to focus on your writing in the following ways:

  • Fonts can give (or not give) structural cues about a document. These cues help readers find their place on the page and form a cognitive map of the information (Higgenbotham; Queen).
  • Fonts indicate the relative importance of portions or sections of the content within a document. (Higgenbotham).
  • The shape of the letters themselves (and the white space surrounding them) impact reading speed, comprehension, and attention (Santa Maria).

swirlywind Our ability to recognize words is affected by the shapes they form. All-caps text forms blocky shapes with little distinction, while mixed-case text forms irregular shapes that help us better identify each word. – Jason Santa Maria, How We Read

Aesthetic Impact

On an aesthetic level, your font choices have an immediate visceral impact on viewers. You have about 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression (Levy, 2008), and whether you do or not effects readers’ perceptions of the credibility, value and usability of your content (David).

In addition to this split-second first impression, viewers also experience
emotional responses based on aesthetics. Not only does this matter in terms of how your patrons feel about the library, it can have an impact on reading comprehension. This is because, while a pleasant aesthetic experience increases focus, an unpleasant one splits the readers’ attention between content and the negative emotional experience (Levy).Aside: The jury is still out when it comes to how fonts effect learning comprehension and retention. A 2011 study found that subjects presented with information in more difficult to read fonts were better able to remember the information 15 minutes later. The theory posited by the researchers is that individuals associate ease of reading with mastery, which results in decreased retention. (Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer, and Vaughan) However, other studies have shown that if the amount of information or the level of difficulty exceed the capacity of working memory, cognitive processes may be impaired (Yue, Castel, and Bjork).

Finally, consistent use of good font choices in marketing materials enhances brand recognition and keeps readers from becoming confused by materials that are visually diverse yet related (David; Higgenbotham).

Types of Type
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There are many ways of classifying fonts, but for our purposes, we’ll talk about four broad categories:

bullet Serif (or seriffed) fonts have a small extra stroke at the ends of each letter. Most books use serif fonts because they flow nicely in large blocks of text.

Times New Roman has serifs

 


bullet Sans Serif fonts
don’t include these extra strokes. Though the adage that sans-serif fonts are best for on-screen reading has been called into question (Cousins), many of them are optimized for digital publishing.

Calibri is a sans-serif font

bullet Script fonts are designed to look like calligraphy or handwriting and come in two types: formal and casual.

Edwardian Script is quite formal. This type of font is most appropriate for wedding invitations and the like.

Architects Daughter is one of my favorite casual script fonts. I reserve it for personal projects such as designing daily planner printables, though I might use it for a handout if the situation is informal or the topic is artsy-craftsy in nature.

bullet Decorative (or display) fonts are unique fonts that are most often used in advertising, . Most decorative fonts look best when used for just a few words, and at larger sizes.

Archicoco is a decorative font So is Bauhaus 93 This is Magnifica, another decorative font. As you can see, this category includes a wide variety of font designs!

 

 

 

bullet Sometimes fonts overlap categories, such as in the two examples below:

TrashHand is an informal script font that is also decorative

Brush Serif – Colin is both an informal script and a serif font.

Font Personalitiesroundswirl

Another way to look at font design is to consider personality (also called voice). You may have heard that fonts have personalities and presumed that this was a colorful figure of speech.  Actually, believe it or not, people research this, and it’s

examplestrue – people associate fonts with personality characteristics. For example, one study grouped fonts into several personality categories, including directness,
gentleness, and cheerfulness (Li and Suen). Side note: I find these categories to be really weird, do you?

In addition to correlating fonts to personality traits, researchers in the field of visual rhetoric also try to identify the design features that lend a font its specific personality (Mackiewicz).

While this line of inquiry is interesting, it is probably not necessary to learn how to analyze typeface anatomy in order to choose a font that suits your purpose. If you think about it, these studies focus on perceptions that we already have. Therefore, in many cases, font selection is intuitive.

If you aren’t convinced, try the quick “Spot the Voice” test offered by typography expert Even Sorken in his article The Voices of Type. You’ll have to scroll down just a bit to see the quiz. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

swirlywind  When thinking about a typeface’s voice, its categorization/classification is not important. Instead, we need to know if the type is cheerful or dour. Is it relaxed or in a hurry? Is the type serious or frivolous? Luxurious or downmarket? Young or old? Fragile or robust? – Eben Sorken, The Voices of Type

Done? Great! I’m sure you passed the test with flying colors, but just in case, the next section offers some more concrete font-selection advice.

Font Tips
roundswirl


bullet 
Consider your audience. Older adults will need a more legible font in a larger point size; teenagers may like something a bit flashy, and little kids – I have no idea, you tell me.

bullet 
Save decorative fonts for titles, headers, and similar brief passages of text that you want to draw attention to.

bulletBe consistent – use the same size, font, and style for headers of the same level, for example.

bullet Don’t use all capital letters, as they’re harder to read. Also, I had a colleague once who used all caps to type emails, and IT SEEMED LIKE HE WAS YELLING ALL THE TIME.

bullet When using more than one font, they should be quite different in form. For example, if you choose a sans-serif font for a title, select a serif font for the body text.

bullet Except under extraordinary circumstances, two fonts is enough.

Resourcesroundswirl

This column barely scratched the surface of what there is to know about typography, typefaces, and fonts. If you’re interested in the topic, or would like to explore, below are some resources that you may enjoy.

Finding & installing fonts

So the 67 fonts already installed on your computer aren’t enough, hunh? Me either. You can get free fonts from many sites. Fortunately, Creativebloq has a list of 36 Sites to Download Free Fonts.

Need help? Stephanie Evergreen of Evergreen Data has posted excellent instructions for both PC and Mac in her post titled Finding Fonts & Passing them On.

Tools for font afficionados

Flipping Typical is a website that displays your fonts in a browser window. Type text into the input area at the top of the screen, and you can compare how it looks in various typefaces.

flipping typical
I love Flipping Typical!

My Fontbook

Similar to Flipping Typical, but create a free account and use the Font Viewer to organize and rate your fonts.

Font Viewer

Further reading

Fonts in Use – You know how fonts are on signs, packaging, advertising, billboards, everywhere? This website tells you what they are.

Fontology – A typography workbook with a very nice glossary.

I Love Typography – A great blog with interesting and informative articles.

Professional Web Typography – If you’re composing for Web display, things are a bit different. This free online book has the details.

Typedia – An online encyclopedia of typography.

Typography Deconstructed – A very good reference for type anatomy.

Referencesroundswirl

David, Alicia, and Peyton R. Glore. “The impact of design and aesthetics on usability, credibility, and learning in an online environment.” Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration 13.4 (2010).

Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D., and Vaughan, E. “Fortune Favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of Disfluency on Educational Outcomes.” Cognition, 118.1 (2011): 111-115. Print.

Higgenbotham, Daniel. Clean Up Your Mess: A Guide to Visual Design for Everyone. 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2015.

Li, Y, and C.Y Suen. “Typeface Personality Traits and Their Design Characteristics.”Acm International Conference Proceeding Series. (2010): 231-238. Print.

Mackiewicz, Jo. “How To Use Five Letterforms To Gauge A Typeface’s Personality: A Research-Driven Method.” Journal Of Technical Writing & Communication 35.3 (2005): 291-315. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 15 Nov. 2015.

Queen, Matt. “How Much do Fonts Matter Really? (Hint: A Lot).” Creativelive blog. 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Rosendorf, Theodore. The Typographic Desk Reference: TDR. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 2009. Print.

Santa Maria, Jason. “How We Read.” A List Apart. 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Yue, Carole L., Alan D. Castel, and Robert A. Bjork. “When disfluency is—and is not—a desirable difficulty: The influence of typeface clarity on metacognitive judgments and memory.” Memory & Cognition 41.2 (2013): 229-241. Print.

Yves, Peters. “Bold & Justified: The Typographic Universe in Just One ideographic.” The Font Feed. 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.

Tech Tools: Got to Move it Move it!

Tech TalkEllie smiling

Welcome to (or back to) Tech Tools, a regular column of The Idaho Librarian devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies. As always, I welcome your comments, ideas, and feedback on this post or other technologies you would like featured in this column.

Got to Move it Move it

I’m sure you’ve heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” a turn of phrase coined by Dr. James Levine, head of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative (McVean, 2014).  Many librarians have jobs that are comprised in large part of desk work, and do not have access to sit-stand workstations, much less the treadmill workstations that Dr. Levine recommends. This makes it difficult to incorporate movement into one’s workday, especially when deadlines loom, and when do they not loom? With that in mind, I’ve reviewed several free online tools to help you get moving throughout the day.

belly dancers
(c) Jeannie Fletcher, some rights reserved.

FitBolt – http://www.fitbolt.com

FitBolt is too that reminds one to do a brief exercise or stretch at regular intervals. For $3/month, the premium version will additionally provide nutrition and ergonomics tips. The FitBolt website provides instructions for integrating with FitBit, RunKeeper, and Daily Mile, though I have not tested this feature.

FitBolt is available as a Chrome or Firefox plug-in, as a desktop application, and as a Web app. There is very little difference between the options, except for where the FitBolt window is viewed.

The browser plug-in option displays an icon next to the address bar, as with any other add-on. The desktop app does the same on the toolbar of your OS – in Windows, this is the bar at the bottom of your screen showing what you have open as well as anything you’ve pinned to it. The Web app displays on a Webpage that is left open while using FitBolt. All of these options are easy to install/launch from the FitBolt Dashboard. For this review, I’m using the Chrome plug-in.

This partial view of the FitBolt user dashboard shows the four ways of using FitBolt on the right.  Settings are on the left.
This partial view of the FitBolt user dashboard shows the four ways of using FitBolt on the right. On the left side of the screen several settings options are shown.

Settings include frequency of exercise reminders, a chime on/off toggle, a browser notifications toggle, and the choice of stretches, quick exercises, or both. Once FitBolt is launched, it isn’t necessary to keep the Dashboard open. The dashboard also displays an area titled “last 7 days use,” but I wasn’t able to get this feature to work.

fitbolt app
The FitBolt icon shown on Google Chrome to the left of my Bit.ly, Pomodoro timer, Pinterest, and Pocket icons. Hovering over the app will display a popup box showing how much time is left before a break.

To use FitBolt, click the icon to see a popup window which includes a countdown to the next exercise session; buttons to pause, do an exercise immediately, and view exercise history; and a link to the user dashboard.

When the timer indicates that it’s time for an exercise session, click the FitBolt app icon to see concise instructions with photos. If you don’t like the stretch/exercise on tap, click the little running man on the top right to generate a new one. All of the stretches and exercises can be done in a small space and do not require equipment.

The FitBolt popup window during an exercise session. The portion above the blue arrow near the top right shows what will display in between exercise sessions.
The FitBolt popup window during an exercise session.

I like the flexibility of being able to set the timing for my breaks and I found it easier to take breaks when assigned a quick exercise. I found that I didn’t lose my focus as much as I do when taking free-form breaks. I recommend FitBolt to those who have trouble taking breaks and find that the extra structure is helpful.

Regular Breaks – https://regularbreaks.com/

Regular Breaks is a super-simple Web-based timer system. After registering for a free account, you can set up breaks by intervals or specific times and track your progress by clicking the chart icon.

regular breaks
Regular breaks is an easy, streamlined break timer.

Changing the settings for your break reminder is easy – just click the gear to the right of the reminder window. Setting up a new break works the same way, but start by clicking the “+Add” link near the top of the screen.

The options for a break reminder are simple, but it does what I need.
The options for a break reminder are simple, but thoughtful.

When it’s time for a break a browser notification (and a sound, if chosen) will alert you to this fact. Click in the browser notification window to record the break, which will allow you to track your progress over time by clicking the graph icon displayed to the right of each reminder.

The browser alert popup for Regular Breaks.
The browser alert popup for Regular Breaks.
To validate a break, move your cursor into the area outlined in gold for 10 seconds. No need to click your mouse.
To validate a break, move your cursor into the area outlined in gold for 10 seconds. No need to click your mouse.

I like the simplicity and usability of Regular Breaks, and appreciate the ability to track progress but I did not find that I was as likely to take breaks without the addition of an exercise reminder. However, because it’s easy to set up multiple breaks of any duration, one could certainly create a program with specific activities scheduled throughout the day. Regular Breaks is a great tool for people who are motivated by seeing progress but don’t want to be told what exercises to do and/or for people who want the flexibility of setting up multiple breaks.

PYV (Protect Your Vision) – http://www.protectyourvision.org/

OK, so the “sitting is killing you” thing isn’t about your vision, but eyes do involve muscles, and staring at a computer screen all day causes eye strain. PYV is a Web-based app that reminds you to take a break from looking at the computer screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. There is also an “Eyes Gymnastics” feature, which provides instructions for a series of 4 eye movement exercises.

The PYV screen.
The PYV screen. I’m not sure what the character is supposed to be, but s/he is certainly cute.

No account is required for PYV, just go to the Website and click start. There are three themes to choose from, including Sunny (shown), Space (what it sounds like), and Simple (plain background).

Since PYV is Web-based, your Internet browser must be open while PYV runs. However, it is not necessary that you be using it, since a pleasant alarm reminds you that your eyes need a break. At this point, return to the browser window and choose to take a 20-second break, to have PYV remind you in 3 or 5 minutes, or skip the break. During a break, the computer screen is blacked out, which I found rather soothing.

I like the short breaks (who can’t take a 20 second break, right?) and found it helpful to give my eyes frequent rest. Having more than one app remind me to do do something got to be a bit much, so I would suggest choosing one break reminder, and using it as a reminder to move your body and your eyes.

Tech Tools: To-do List Test Lab

Ellie Dworak

Tech Tools

Welcome back to Tech Tools, and thanks to those of you who read and tool the poll after last issue’s inaugural offering!

Tech tools poll

As you can see, only five people voted, which is not a great response rate, but the five of you who did respond seem to like, or at least sort of like, the column format. So, without further ado, I present to you this month’s column!

 

To-do List Test Lab

Does it ever seem as if managing your to do list (or lists!) takes on a life of its own? It does to me, and I am always on the lookout for ways to stop focusing on what I need to get done and start just getting it done. There’s an app for this, right? I’m kidding. But still, there must be an app that will make it easier, right? Of course, answering this question is a project in itself. A Google search for “time management tools” turns up an overwhelming number of opinions and online tools that that promise to improve my life via improved efficiency. Upon discovering a promising tool, the process of testing is time consuming, and implementing even more so. Knowing that I am not unique in this time and task management conundrum, I have compiled my research observations regarding three to do list products for this issue’s Tech Tools.

desk

I chose to focus on just to-do list tools. While the products below offer bells and whistles of various sorts, I left the heavy duty project management and task tracking systems for another time. These tools are also all freebies. Though a premium version is available for each of the product below, my review will focus on the free version. Finally, all of these bad boys can be used on the Web and both Android and iOS mobile devices (iPhones and iPads) at a minimum.

Todoist – http://todoist.com

Todoist is a great to-do list and task manager with little learning curve and is available on the Web with Android and iOS apps. If you are a tinkerer, Todoist also offers an impressive list of plug-ins and extensions to explore.

Once you’re set up, create tasks and organize them into projects. Assign a time (single or repeating) and a priority level from 1-4 to each task. Project lists can also be created as secondary (or tertiary, and so forth) to other projects.

Todoist login screen
Todoist start page example. This is the Web version, but the apps are very similar. My start page defaults to tasks due in the next 7 days. View only the tasks assigned to a project using the menu on the left side of the screen.
Adding a task in Todoist is super simple - choose the project list that you wish to add to from the left menu (in this case, "not work"). For tasks with dates, type in a date or use the popup menu shown here.
Add a task by choosing the project list from the left menu (in this case, “not work”). For tasks with dates, type in a date or use the popup menu shown here.

 

Network icon.

Clicking on the small network icon (shown enlarged to the left) above the task edit data window will give you the option of sharing or assigning tasks via email. The same is true of projects.

Pros: Todoist has a low learning curve with a well designed, visually pleasing interface. Even the Android and iPad apps don’t require decrypting an elegant but meaningless icon set. Does one thing (organize to do items) very well.

Cons: Adding reminders or notes to a task item are premium features. I cannot blame the developers for this, and at $29/year, the product is not overpriced by any means, but it is a consideration.

Recommended for:  Individuals who want or need to break activities down into their individual components and keep them organized but don’t necessarily need their phone or computer to remind them to do things (unless, of course, you choose to pay for a premium account).

Any.do – http://any.do

Any.do is a beautifully designed task management app that is so streamlined that at first glance it’s hard to believe it does anything, when in fact it is quite busy at work for you.

Though Any.do can be accessed via the Web, I recommend downloading one of the mobile apps first if you wish to try this product. This is not to say that the Web interface is bad, just that the app really shines when used on its home turf.

anydo interface
The Any.do app as displayed on my Android phone. This is the list view.

There are two view options in Any.do, the “list view” (shown to the left) and the “date view.” Both views are very simple, with little detail to clutter the screen. Add a task using the box at the top of the screen or next to the lists themselves (which will auto add the task to that list).

Tasks can be added by typing (or “Swyping”) into the box next to a + sign or choose the microphone icon and talk, presuming that you have a device which will support this option. I didn’t think I would like this way of adding tasks, but I found that it is one of my favorite features.

Any.do detail
Any.do task detail view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After adding a task, select it to see and/or add more detail (see the screenshot above). These are the sort of cryptic icons that I mentioned Todoist not using, and while I enjoy the elegant design, I prefer a bit more context. However, I could identify five of the seven without clicking on them.

Most of the options are useful but not unusual – there are icons to prioritize; set a reminder time and frequency; add sub-tasks; email; and move a task into one of your lists. One feature that is unique to the others in this group is the option to add a note that includes an attachment which will display with the task. This is demonstrated below.

Add a note, an image, and/or another type of file to your task.
Add a note, an image, or a file to your task.

Any’do’s signature is the “Any.do moment,” which is a time each day (selected by you) upon which the app will remind you to “take a moment to plan your day” and displays a screen that shows the tasks that you have asked to be reminded of. Those who use Any.do’s sister calendaring app, Cal, will also see their daily agenda.

Pros: Any.do has created a very efficient way to enter and view to do items when using limited screen space. A free account includes all of the important functionality, while a paid account (currently $27/year) adds some bells and whistles such as location-based reminders (I am imagining “oh look, Albertsons! Pick up pasta!”).

Cons: This app is designed to be a virtual personal assistant, integrating one’s daily agenda into one gently nudging subordinate who knocks quietly to remind you that the boss is coming by at 4:30 and arrives with a martini just as you need one. This is tempting, but just not how I work. I want more control over my boundaries. For example, if I’m at work, I want to see my work to-do list exclusively, and will set an alarm if I have a pressing personal task or engagement to attend to. That said, this is a great tool, and I think that maybe some of you will love it. I hope so, it’s from a good family.

Recommended for: Individuals who want to add an item to their task list and not think about it again until it’s due, or those who always forget to pick up the pasta and really could use that nudge when they are near Albertsons.

Remember the Milk – https://www.rememberthemilk.com/

Remember the Milk (RTM to those in the know) is a handy little to do list app with a solid Web interface and apps for iOS, Android, and Blackberry. It’s been around since 2004, long before our phones thought they were smarter than we are, and is known for solid functionality without the glitz and glam.

RTM's Web interface
The Web interface for RTM isn’t fancy, but it gets the job done.

RTM is based on lists, which display as tabs. After adding a task, select it to add or review the associated information. Enter choices in natural language – for example, to repeat a task daily, type “daily” or “every day.” Other actions can be applied by checking the box next to one or more tasks and choosing “complete,” “postpone,” or one of the many other choices listed in the popup menu.

RTM more options
Detail of the “more actions” popup menu. The priority options are useful when sorting tasks.
RTM task data detail
Detailed view of the task data box. Notable alongside the usual suspects are the time estimate field and information about the number of times a task has been postponed.

Pros: Like Todoist, RTM lets you review your task lists individually or together, but RTM allows one to sort by priority, due date, or title of task within each of these views, which is helpful when managing more than one project or aspect of life.

Cons: Like Todoist, reminder notifications are reserved for paid subscribers (a pro account is currently on offer for $24.99/year). In addition, though the iOS and Android apps are free, synching is limited to once every 24-hours for those with free accounts.

Recommended for: Individuals who prefer to manage tasks on a computer and like to be able to focus on one project at a time while also being able to review due dates in one list. Those who rely heavily on mobile access or would like regular reminders may be better off with a pro account or another tool.

The Reveal

You may be wondering which choice I made. My top choice is Todoist, but in truth, I continue to use Google Tasks, because it integrates with Google Calendar, which is the the chosen calendaring system for Boise State University. Because I can see my tasks in the “all day” are of my daily agenda, I’m able to get a sense of my ability to fit them into a given day or week, and thus to keep most of my balls in the air most of the time.

google tasks
Google tasks displays to do items with dates at the top of each days agenda. On the right side is the popup window that displays when you click in the “All day” portion of that day’s screen and choose “task” (the default is “event”).

However, Google Tasks has some limitations. You can only view one list at a time, which effectively defaults me to using only one list for everything because otherwise I lose the benefit of reviewing all of them synchronously with my calendar. In addition, repeating tasks and prioritization is not supported and Google has not developed an app or fully functional mobile version of Tasks (I find Google Tasks Canvas to be barely useful). However, for those who do not mind the basic simplicity of the Google Tasks model, but require mobile access, there are third party apps which synch with Tasks – I use GTasks, available for Android devices.

But wait, there’s more!

There are, of course, many more options for those in search of the perfect solution. Four that have caught my eye but didn’t make the cut for this column (mainly due to the fact that they are more than to do lists and deserve more attention) are Wunderlist, TickTick, Toodledo, and Evernote. If you’ve used one of these (or something else) and have comments about them, please feel free to comment! I’d love to get a conversation started about how those of us in libraries manage to manage our lives.

Tech Tools – Infographics, Free and Easy

big smile 2 by “Tech Talk” Editor Ellie Dworak

I have always had an affinity for the useful. When we learned origami in grade school, I was the one making little boxes, one of which I believe my father still uses to store paper clips on his desk. I suspect that many in the library profession feel the same way. And so I am happy to announce The Idaho Librarian’s new Tech Tools column, which is devoted to informal discussion of practical technologies and their application to a library setting. I hope that you’ll join the conversation by adding your own ideas, questions, tips, and experiences as comments; by letting me know what you want to know more about (and what you don’t); and perhaps even by guest authoring.

And so, without further ado, welcome!

Infographics: Free and Easy

Whether it’s a budget report, results of a survey, or trends in reference desk statistics, data is often better received when it’s presented in graphical form. Numbers come to life, trends can be clearly visualized, and survey results are shown with context. Even processes and ideas sometimes lend themselves to pictures, and of course no librarian is complete without the ability to generate an occasional Venn diagram! [nb. I’m totally kidding – most of us would survive].

The term “infographic” is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “a visual image such as a chart or diagram used to represent information or data in an easily understandable form.”1 That definition encompasses a number of everyday objects such as maps and the instructions that come with Ikea furniture. To me, though, the word implies a certain amount of flair – more than a lone graph sitting on a spreadsheet or a diagram showing which screw to put in which hole.

There are a lot of options for creating graphs, charts, and other visuals. Microsoft ™ products such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all have tools built into them, for example, and of course there are pro tools for those who have the skills and the budget. All of those options have their place, but for those of us who want to create awesome visuals on the fly, there are a number of free online products designed specifically for the purpose of making it easy to present information graphically – and to do so with panache. Rather than writing “a number of online products,” should write “an overwhelming number.” Some of them are specialized, such as vizualize.me, which will generate an infographic based on your resumé and timeline JS, which specializes in graphical timelines (big surprise, I know). Others tools focus more on the “info” than the “graphics.”

Since I can’t cover them all, I’ve chosen two of my favorite general purpose, online infographics tools (which is to say, no download is required), both of which are easy to use, so that you can get in, get out, and get on with your job! Both of these tools allow you to sign up for a free account or you can sign in with Facebook or Google account.

Ease.lly – http://www.easel.ly/

Easel.ly has one of those silly names with a dot in it, but I’ll forgive that because this is a great tool for creating infographics. In fact, it’s so great that it won an American Association of School Librarians Best Websites for Teaching and Learning award in 2013. Easel.ly is completely free, and is not just a toolkit, but also a site where creator’s infographic are posted. These examples be used for inspiration or as templates (aka vhemes). Just a few of these are shown in the screenshot below.

easelly

I recently used one of these templates to create a quick flowchart to guide staff from another library unit who help cover our email and text message reference services. I pulled this together in approximately 20 minutes (shown, slightly modified to protect the innocent, below) and it would have been quicker were I not a little OCD about the color and placement of every “yes” and “no.”

flowchart

Though it’s fastest to use a vheme, you can also start from scratch. Menu choices are selected by dragging and dropping an item on to your work area. The screenshot (above) shows the menu options for background colors and patterns. Below you’ll see the lovely beige reptilian print that I’ve chosen for my new infographic, along with menu options for objects in the “music” category. On the left side of the screenshot a popup menu lists the other object menus. In addition to a plethora of background, object, shape, and text choices, images can be uploaded and used as objects.
vheme2

Once completed, save your Infographic project, then click the ‘share’ link to get a custom URL or download your project as a jpeg file. In addition, your projects can be set to private or public.

As with any software, it’s important to review the Terms of Service (you all do that for every iTunes update, right?). I saw nothing particularly alarming about Easel.ly’s legalese, but sent them an email to clarify the legality of my use of screenshots in this article as well as any copyright restrictions on graphics created using the software. I received a response within the hour which read:

So you can use your creations in anyway that you please, we don’t restrict you in anyway. We do always like our users spread the word about our tool so that we can continue to grow.
Thanks for the opportunity!

After a few minutes of fumbling around, I found Easel.ly to be both intuitive and feature-rich enough to be fun and functional. The main limitation is that it’s not set up to manage data sets, so any charts or other representations of data have to be added in as graphical elements. This is no problem for static data that is relatively simple to demonstrate. In addition, the canvas size cannot be increased, so larger infographics will best be managed elsewhere.

Ellie’s almost scientific learning curve ranking for Easel.ly

easelly use scale

Ellie’s very nearly precision creativity ranking for Easel.ly

easelly creativity

Piktochart – https://magic.piktochart.com/

Piktochart is, like many free online tools, also available in a pro version for a fee ($39.99 a year for students and educators). I’ll cover the free version, with a few notes about the pro version.

Like Easel.ly, Piktochart’s main page displays a pleasing array of themes, which are templates to use as starting points. However, unlike Easel.ly, most of the awesome themes in Piktochart are only available to pro users. Still, there are a few themes available to free users, and they’re helpful for beginners. In the image below, I’ve used a theme called “Minimalist Presentation” as a starting point. It is also possible to begin with a blank slate, but I recommend trying out a template first unless you’ve used similar tools.

piktochart template

Piktochart is based on “chunks,” each of which represents a content area. Upon clicking on a “chunk,” a popup window offers canvas size and placement options, shown above in the center left. In addition, chunks can be resized and moved using your mouse to drag them. In this regard, Piktochart offers some creative flexibility over Easel.ly, since not only can chunks be resized or added, they can vary in background color or image.

Other elements such as text, graphics, charts, and maps are added to chunks by selecting them from menus. Like Easel.ly, each menu provides a number of options (and another invitation to “go pro” and retrieve more). In addition, a separate menu across the top of the screen offers file choices such as “undo,” “redo,” and “delete.” Below, the menus are shown along with some of the options for background.

piktochart yay

Where Piktograph really shines is in the ability to add data and have it display within your graphic. To do this, select “tools” from the menu and either add data to the spreadsheet that pops up or import data from a file on your computer. In addition, Piktochart offers a dynamic data option, but I am not that into data, so if you need to use this option, you’ll need to look elsewhere for insight. Below I’ve created a simple spreadsheet with a doughnut chart.
awesomesauce

Along the left side of the chart area you will see other chart types, which you can click on to see how your data looks in a variety of representations. Additionally, colors and other look and feel options are available in the “settings” menu. Below is the same data represented in an icon matrix made of hearts. You’re welcome.
chart5

When you’re done with your customizations, save and choose a sharing method (image download, web, or email) and you’re on your way! Below you can see the Infographic that I created for this demo in whole.
Ellie's Infographic Fun House

Though I had not (at the time of this writing), hear back from Piktograph asking for clarification of any copyright restrictions that they place on work produced using their software, note that the free version of Piktograph does insert a small attribution at the bottom. It is my assumption that the company would like the attribution to remain in place for the free version of their software – in my view, a small price to pay for free. At any rate, I once again recommend reviewing the Terms and Conditions information.

While Piktochart has some additional features which add a level of complexity, I found the menus to be very usable. I prefer selecting items by clicking instead rather than dragging and found the prominent edit icons along the top to be a handy feature. In terms of creative flexibility, Piktograph offers some features that Easel.ly does not, but the free version does not come with the range of built in themes or objects.

Ellie’s almost scientific learning curve ranking for Piktograph
usability ranking piktochart

Ellie’s very nearly precision creativity ranking for Piktograph
creativity ranking piktochart

Summary

I love Easel.ly and Piktograph equally, and for different reasons.

Easel.ly is free, robust, and super easy, plus they have great support. There are hundreds (thousands?) of themes that can be used as starting points, and it comes with a full set of icons and other objects. Overall, it’s a great tool if you’re seeking an quick and easy way to demonstrate fairly straightforward information visually.

I recommend Piktograph for tech-comfy users who want the added flexibility of a chunked canvas and/or who prefer to add data in a spreadsheet format – and who aren’t put off by the attribution. For those who have reason to create infographics regularly, the pro version appears to be well worth $40/year.

So . . . what did you think?

 


1. “info-, comb. form.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, March 2014. Web. 6 May 2014.