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Aiming to go viral with library science

Submitted on Tuesday, September 14, 2021

When the pandemic struck, prompting Professor Jenna Hartel to seek out high-quality multimedia  resources in the library and information sciences field, she was disappointed by what she found.  

There were a couple of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and many YouTube channels started by librarians, but while the latter were worthy, they had largely faded away over time. The most recent and most viewed videos in the field often came from students including Hartel’s former students, who had racked up some 20,000 views in one case.  

As much as Hartel applauds the student initiatives and content, she felt the fact that it was dominating online rankings indicated there was a hole to be filled, and last spring, she committed herself to trying to do just that. Since then, she has posted 14 entertaining and high-quality videos on four separate playlists to her YouTube account. 

The longest playlist so far is What makes this paper great? which focuses on landmark papers in Library and Information Science, and was inspired by musician and educator Rick Beato’s hit YouTube series, What Makes This Song Great? After a paper is introduced, Hartel present its origins, context, structure, highlights and ultimate impacts.  

Other playlists are devoted to Information and Leisure, one of Hartel’s research interests, the intellectual history of library and information science, and miscellaneous fun videos.  

“I haven’t gone viral yet but within a month I had over 500 visits and views,” says Hartel, who had a respectable 150 subscribers before classes began and whose “Pictorial Metaphors for Information” video came to the attention of a Harvard Librarian, who passed it on to colleagues. She hopes her audience will grow once students and more educators start to spread the word. 

While Hartel doesn’t describe herself as a highly technical person, she was known for her skills with PowerPoint, which she says she had “pushed to its limits as an animation technology.” When she decided to move on to real video-making platforms and technologies, she began using Camtasia. At first she was overwhelmed, but “after six weeks of struggling [Hartel] started to feel like she had a handle on the technology.” Later, she hired an online coach to help her with technique. She’s now producing a new video every 10 days to two weeks. 

“I really tried to make the videos fun. I know students are busy and have many demands,” says Hartel. “I think I’ve developed my own personality and style.” The videos feature visually engaging animations, eclectic music and humour. A dove called BIBBLE (his name and origin story is explained in its own video) comments and offers feedback.  

“Video of this kind allows me to have a larger audience. I want to share my passion for library and information science with the world,” says Hartel, who sees the medium as a way to act on librarian principles of equal access to information and free flow of information. “To be working in a genre that is now available to almost everyone is a big motivation.” 

As much as Hartel loves the classroom and being close to students, for whom she regularly baked her famous banana and zucchini breads, she says she learned from the pandemic that you can have a class successfully online. “Stay tuned,” says Hartel, who is considering new playlists for baking, doves and, another one of her interests, balloon animals.