Creating effective videos for libraries

One of Internet Librarian International's most popular speakers, Ned Potter, looks at the different types of videos that librarians can create and shares his tips for making library videos. It's not as hard as you might think, as his examples illustrate.

Interest in library videos is up over the past couple of years. I speak to a lot of librarians from a lot of organisations and one thing we all agree on is that there is a much greater demand from our users for informative and entertaining videos than there was before the pandemic.

It makes sense. Video can be personal and even conversational at a time when we’re so much more isolated. It’s a direct connection between the library and the user. On a purely logistical level, it’s easier to watch video whilst stuck at home—the sound isn’t going to disturb your co-workers in an open plan office or your fellow students in the library itself. 

Libraries can fulfil this user need. We can make videos for free, without appearing on camera if we don’t wish to, without buying expensive equipment or acquiring extensive expertise. We can explain things, introduce things, update things and promote things. Let’s explore some of the options open to us, with reference to some library video archetypes.

The Big Production

In my opinion, the greatest library video of all time is Brigham Young University Library’s Study like a scholar, scholar. Loosely parodying a series of Old Spice commercials that were popular at the time, this genius film has amassed over 3.5 million views in the decade since its release. In 55 seconds it dazzles, entertains and, most impressively, effectively communicates the benefits of the academic library to the students, rather than just lists the features. However, it was made by a production crew of 12, with a budget in the thousands, so for most of us this kind of video is out of reach. What can we more realistically aspire to?

The Pastiche

A close relation of The Big Production is The Pastiche. Usually based on popular songs, this category of library video is one of the most heavily populated and—I must confess—one of my least favourite. You can find Librarians doing Gaga, librarians doing Queen, and a particularly good example from Topeka of librarians doing Taylor Swift. For me the most important criteria for the pastiche is not actually how accurate a spoof it is, but does the song say anything about the library?  Does it tell the user something they don’t know? Does it convert someone from a non-user to a user?

For this reason my favourite example of this genre is Texas A&M’s pastiche of Pharrell’s Happy. The original Happy has many different people dancing to the song, and Texas A&M take the same approach—but all the dancing takes place in their different libraries. The idea was to make something that stood out from all the other orientation materials students would be receiving at that time, and take them on a tour that wouldn’t otherwise be physically viable. And the key thing is, it worked: They had a record breaking attendance at their Library Open House.

Although this video achieved some global popularity, the most important thing is it was a hit with its intended audience, the library users. So if you’re making a Pastiche, ask yourself: what meaningful messages can you smuggle in through the Trojan horse of a silly music video?

The Virtual Tour

The traditional tour video still has a useful place, especially if face-to-face tours aren’t possible for one reason or another. The downside with that kind of video is the huge amount of planning involved, and the equipment required. You can film a tour on your phone—the picture quality is easily good enough—but you need to film very close to the presenter for the sound quality to be good enough, unless you have a good mic you can plug into the phone. It may be worth shooting without sound and adding narration afterwards.

In recent years I’ve leaned towards using tools like PowToon to do make Tour videos. It’s easy enough to use, and can mix live-action footage with graphics and animations. We have the Edu package at my own institution but it can be used entirely for free. Here’s a Virtual Tour made in PowToon.

Tangentially related to the Virtual Tour is the ‘Study With Me’. Videos of students studying are incredibly popular, so we recorded our own at my Library, for those who couldn’t get to campus and were missing the concentration-enhancing properties of library sounds. It has way more Likes and view-time than our videos usually get. We’ve had feedback that it has helped lead to breakthroughs with writer’s block. We even received a message from someone who was in another library, listening to our library on their headphones while they worked. If you fancy recording a video like this, I’d highly recommend it—it’s a strange experience but your audience will thank you.

The Explainer

The Explainer video normally instructs the audience on how something works or introduces a new service. It involves animations or a series of still images—accompanied by narration or sometimes just with text on screen—rather than live footage. PowToon can be used for explainer videos, as can Videoscribe (annual subscription required) which I used for semi-regular updates during the pandemic. Adobe Spark is another simple to use platform which can be used for free and is well worth checking out.

Get out there and make videos

You don’t actually need a specialist video tool like the ones discussed here: This guide to the library catalogue was made entirely in PowerPoint. Just text, screenshots, and animations, with narration also recorded in PowerPoint. The whole thing is exported as an MP4 file, ready to upload to YouTube. PowerPoint is an incredibly versatile tool!

However you choose to do it, video can play a really useful role in your library’s communication. Choose a subject, find a tool, upload your video to YouTube and then really go for it on the promotion. Learn what your audience responds best to, and then do more.

Editor’s note: ILI365 would love to know about videos you’ve created at your library. Show off your mad creative skills by sending a link to your video and maybe a brief explanation of it to Thanks!