Need to provide quick, task-based instruction? Do it with GIFs!

We know that our library users greatly appreciate the Library’s video tutorials. Tutorials allow users to learn research skills on demand, independent of time or geography. These tutorials can also be used to shorten a librarian’s instruction time in the classroom, leaving time for more active learning activities. However, designing, creating, and publishing tutorials can be very time-and-labor intensive. GIFs are an easy-to-create, low-maintenance alternative to video tutorials while still providing visually dynamic instructional content.

What is a GIF?

“GIF” stands for “graphics interchange format.” Released 29 years ago, the GIF provided a way for content developers to share compressed color animations that slow modems could load easily. Early website developers used GIFs to break up content-heavy websites or illustrate that their site was still in progress.

Early GIFs letting users know websites were still being developed

As the internet evolved, so did GIFs. Now, GIFs permeate many forms of digital communication. From text messages to email to social media, GIFs provide a (mostly humorous) way for people to express themselves.

Trudeau awkward handshake GIF
When everyone wants to shake your hand at once

GIFs as Library Instruction

Librarians have started to explore how GIFs might be an alternative instructional media. Using GIFs to display short, task-based activities can communicate step-based instruction more succinctly than images or text. Additionally GIFs can loop repeatedly, allowing users to continuously reference instruction.

Take for example, Sarah’s library guide for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. She wanted a way to communicate how scholars can limit their searches by region in Factiva. Narrowing by region is a seemingly quick process for librarians, but explaining the multiple steps and Factiva’s interface to first-time users can be difficult and confusing. Using a GIF, Sarah could show to process of limiting newspaper searches by region while keeping her LibGuide clean.

Factiva GIF
Limit by region in Factiva

Creating GIFs

GIF creators often fall into two categories: software and web apps. For high-quality GIF options, using software will be the most effective solution. Sarah’s GIF was created by making a screencast in Screenflow, and then producing the GIF in Adobe Photoshop.

However, if you don’t have this software and still want to make a quick GIF, try recording your screen with Screencast-o-Matic and uploading/editing the GIF in GIPHY. This is how I made the GIF embedded in the library news story “Unrequired Reading at the Library.”

FInding Class of 2000 Books GIF
Searching for leisure reading in the library

Notice that Screencast-o-matic automatically highlights your mouse cursor, which can be hard to find in smaller images.

Other GIF maker options are a Chrome extension or

If you have any questions or need help making GIFs, please ask Julie or Kaitlin.


Aleman, Karla and Porter, Toccara (2016, April 21). 10-Second Demos: Boiling Asynchronous Online Instruction Down to the Essentials with GIF Graphics. Retrieved from:

Suhr, K. (2014, October 22). Using animated GIF images for library instruction. Retrieved from: