Online Tutorials and Libraries

Academic libraries and teaching are interchangeable. The role of the academic librarian is not only to help students find information, but to provide instruction on the best methods to access it; the ways to accomplish this is in a perpetual state of change. Recently, students have proven reluctant to seek out a librarian for help. Students at universities prefer independence and finding information for themselves, even if this might mean they do not fully access all the information available within the library. Befus (2011) explains, “The internet has bolstered student confidence levels in their research abilities, increasing the demand for point-of-need instruction.” This self-serve mentality can have dubious effects, especially if students do not know what it is that they need to be learning. However, “Students are accustomed to online learning,” Befus continues, “not only because of the shift in higher education to online coursework, but also because they have been learning online at home through YouTube, social networking, and other websites” (Befus 2011).

As this shift is becoming more prevalent to a wider student base, librarians find themselves in the never-ending process of providing a means to keep students informed via online methods, namely, tutorials. Scholars articulate that, “Because many of these primarily online users may use the Web site and a library’s resources physically removed from in-person assistance, we have a responsibility through the web site to offer a way of obtaining online reference help or instruction” (Arnold et al., 2004). A primary means for librarians to continue instructing students who are unwilling or unable to physically set foot in the library is through designing and streaming tutorials online. According to a study recorded in the Internet Reference Service Quarterly, “Web based tutorials are a burgeoning area of online assistance. The LOEX site registers over 60 examples.” A decade ago, online tutorials were “one of three current topics in library instruction literature” (Arnold et al., 2004), and the trend continues on a more fully assessed, carefully researched level.

The way online tutorials in academic libraries are designed have changed as technology continues to transform how students see and understand their learning environment. Befus (2011) explains, “Online information literacy tutorials have become a standard component of academic library systems across the country. These tutorials have gone through many format changes over the past two decades” (Befus 2011). Despite the growing trend of online tutorials, there has been controversy over the effectiveness of this online teaching method. Bailin (2007) articulates the challenges of reading online eBooks versus printed materials, and how these challenges can translate into online tutorials as well. He explains:

In perusing sequential text online, it is impossible to jump back and forth in a nonsequential manner in order to jog one’s memory as one can with a paper booklet. Going sequentially through previous pages in order to check for information means that a user will have to peruse irrelevant material to get to the desired information. In other words, the linear page-turning approach to tutorials increases the depth if one is searching for material in a nonsequential manner. There is no reason to think that the issue of feeling lost that may result from greater depth cannot occur in the context of an online tutorial just as it can with other online genres. (Bailin 2007)

In other words, it is difficult to track progress in an online setting and experience a sense of moving forward as the student clicks from one screen to the next. To a certain extent, a book provides a sense of location and distance from one section of the book to another, whereas online formats do not. However, “Unlike books, where there are a set of normative design characteristics,” Bailin explains, “Web page design, at least at this point in time, is malleable and offers us the opportunity to explore what structural design features may lead to more effective tutorials” (Bailin 2007). His study argued that a sense of progress is a key component to the online tutorial. A student that is able to measure his or her progress in a way that is as tangible as possible will improve memory retention and learning comprehension.

There are multiple software platforms available for creating online tutorials. As an academic librarian, acquiring the skills necessary to create a comprehensive, clearly articulated online tutorial is a beneficial means to help students access information. Here is a list of ways to create the multimedia presentation:

  • Flash
  • MovieMaker
  • iMovie
  • Windows Media Encoder
  • Producer – screen capture with audio, integrated PowerPoint, movie capture
  • Cam Studio – screen capture with audio, movie capture
  • Jing or Camtasia Studio for screen capture


Arnold, J. M., Csir, F., Sias, J. N., & Zhang, J. (2004). Does Anyone Need Help Out There? Lessons from Designing Online Help. Internet Reference Service Quarterly, 9:3-4, 115-135.

Bailin, Alan (01/01/2007). Online Library Tutorials, Narratives, and Scripts. The Journal of academic librarianship (0099-1333), 33 (1), 106.

Befus, R., Byrne, K. (2011). Redesigned with them in mind: Evaluating an online library information literacy tutorial. Urban Library Journal, 17(1).

Li, Bin. (2014). Collaboration, Media, New Technologies. Blackboard Learn.


2 thoughts on “Online Tutorials and Libraries

  1. This article brings up a lot of points I wondered about e-books and online learning. I find it interesting that the non sequential manner of online reading is one of the main factors that people cannot process e-book reading as well as print. It makes sense in a way, but I also suspect that it is so much more than that.


  2. For years I did my own research and never asked a librarian for help. I did use the library on a regular basis but mostly just for the free wifi and the books. It was not until years later that someone taught me the proper way to search a database. I could have saved so much time if there had been online tutorials on my libraries website. I think this is something that is just a low priority for some libraries. Especially if they are not getting complaints about the use of the site.


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