Designing with minimal design skills: our #CILIPConf19 bursary winner recommends Canva

MmIT is delighted to announce that the bursary to #CILIPConf19 has been won by  Claire Back, Development Manager with Plymouth Libraries. Her role includes responsibility for marketing, communications and outreach. We asked entrants to draft a blog post about their favourite technology, and below we publish Claire’s blog post on her favourite tech tool: Canva.

Designing with little or no design skills using Canva

I’m not a designer, yet every day I have to provide content for the various websites, social media channels and newsletters that make up the digital marketing tools for my organisation. That used to mean struggling with Photoshop or speaking nicely to the corporate design team, but all that has changed since I discovered Canva.

Canva is an online graphic design tool that lets you create professional looking designs even if you have little or no design skills. In this post I’ll just be looking at what’s available for free as so far that’s been enough for my needs, but there are paid options available.

Once you’ve logged in, you can choose to search, or create a design. Canva has pre-set templates for almost everything you might want to design. I only use it for online content, but it is also possible to get print ready files.

Canva is useful when creating content for social media. As people scroll through everything so quickly now, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to grab someone’s attention and a well-placed image can make people take notice. Canva has templates for all the main social media channels and not just posts, it includes headers, event pages, covers and more allowing you to quickly create an image that will work across sites.

Once you’ve decided on a template you can start designing. If you’re happy using the pre-set templates, it’s easy to replace what’s there with your own images and text, download the image and you’re done. However if you have a bit more time, you can spend time exploring all the features. There are hundreds of elements including photos, graphics and backgrounds. Just use the search box to find what you want and add to your design. Adding text is easy and there are lots of different fonts to choose from. You have complete control over colours and placement and the drag and drop format makes it easy to move things around and try things out. Being able to add text and backgrounds using our brand colours is really useful. 

Canva will also let you upload your own images to use in designs and once uploaded they are always there, so you can go back and reuse whenever you like. I like this feature as I try to use our own images when I can.

Once you’re happy with your design you can download in PNG, JPEG, standard and print PDF. Canva also saves your designs so they are always available.

Another feature I like is the ability to create a design with custom dimensions, useful for our website, blogs and email newsletter.

There’s also a Canva app, and although it doesn’t have the full functionality of the website its useful if I’m out and about or don’t want to turn on my laptop. I can quickly make images the right size and post from my phone. I can also access all my previous designs.

Canva will never replace the talent and skills of a real graphic designer, but because of the ease with which I can quickly create professional looking content, it’s become one of my most used tools.


How Libraries can support Digital Humanities: reflections on #GaleDHDay

By Antony Groves (Learning and Teaching Librarian at the University of Sussex) @AntonyGroves

At the beginning of May, Gale organised their first Digital Humanities Day at the British Library. The event brought together a diverse range of speakers from around the world who spoke about different aspects of Digital Humanities (DH) scholarship; from infrastructure through to research and teaching. This post will draw out three themes from the day in an effort to better understand how we can support this growing area of work:

  1. Collaboration in DH research is key and libraries can play a role within these collaborations. 
  2. There are many different datasets, techniques and tools being used yet a common approach we can take to developing training.
  3. We should work on our own data projects if we wish to really understand what is needed to support the academic community.

Collaboration in DH research is key and libraries can play a role within these collaborations.

In the afternoon session, Dr Sarah Ketchley stressed that “Digital Humanities projects are inherently a collaborative undertaking” and the earlier presentations of Professors Mark Algee-Hewitt and Joris Van Eijnatten highlighted this. The work done by Prof Algee-Hewitt and others at the Stanford Literary Lab has involved a number of ‘distant reading’ projects where participants have used a variety of computational techniques to analyse large collections of digital texts. Looking at grammar and language respectively, Prof Algee-Hewitt’s research involved digital novels whereas Prof Van Eijnatten focused on newspapers using The Times Digital Archive; both resources that libraries can provide.

Throughout the day, flags such as these indicated potential roles for libraries in DH collaborations. For example, Dr Julianne Nyhan reflected on infrastructure and the challenges to researchers of obtaining data in a format that can be ‘mined’ – in one case having to obtain a hard drive from a provider. This is somewhere librarians can help and Lisa Mcintosh, Director of Access Services at the University of Sydney Library, shared an impressive list of services offered by their library in support of digital research:

  • Provide content for text and data mining
  • License permission and copyright support
  • Recommending tools and TDM (Text and Data Mining) resources
  • Integrating text mining into Information Literacy classes in the Humanities
  • Assisting humanities teaching staff to integrate text mining in the classroom
  • Getting started with data visualisation training • Data analysis and visualisation guide

There are many different datasets, techniques and tools being used yet a common approach we can take to developing training.

For those wondering which students this area of scholarship might appeal to; the answer is all of them. In an inspiring talk about introducing DH in the Undergraduate Classroom, Dr Sarah Ketchley showed that her 2018 ‘Introduction to Digital Humanities’ module was full, with 35 students from 21 different departments across campus. Not only is this type of scholarship appealing to students but it is also invaluable to them. For one reason, as explained by Dr Melodee Beals, “evidence is merely data with a direction”. If we want students to critically engage with evidence-based research, helping them to analyse the underlying data is of great importance.

The tools that students use in Dr Ketchley’s class have included OpenRefine, Voyant Tools and more recently the Gale Digital Scholar Lab – a cloud based platform containing a range of software that can be used with Gale databases to which the institution subscribes. This cloud based approach avoided issues encountered by previous cohorts where a whole lesson had to be dedicated to downloading and installing the required programs. Dr. Tomoji Tabata also introduced an open source tool called Stylo to be used for ‘rolling stylometry’, a technique to detect stylistic changes in passages of text.

Throughout the day, reference was made to many different techniques (e.g. topic modelling, named entity recognition, sentiment analysis); tools (e.g. Gephi, Google Fusion Tables, MALLET); and data sources (e.g. TROVE, Hathitrust, Gale Historical Newspapers). With so much out there, it can be hard to know how best to start providing support. Thankfully, Associate Professor Ryan Cordell brought clarity to this undertaking by proposing four steps to teaching humanities data analysis:

  • Start with creativity 
  • Teach using domain specific data 
  • Foreground corpus over method
  • Foreground mind-set over method (‘programmatic’ thinking more important that programming’)

We take a similar approach to developing our Information Literacy training sessions and find that it works well. In the short amount of time that we often get to see students in workshop, making the content of the session as relevant to a given cohort as possible increases engagement. In addition, focusing on how to approach searching (as opposed to how to use a particular tool) means that they can apply this learning to a range of tools that they may encounter not just the one or two included in the session.

“Work on your own data projects to understand what is really needed to support your academic community”.

This is a direct quote from the final presentation by Lisa Mcintosh, which was the perfect way to finish the day. While listening to the research presented throughout the day was fascinating and certainly highlighted areas where we can support this scholarship, managing our own data projects and facing the same barriers that our researchers encounter is what will really help us to understand the support that is most needed.

This may sound daunting but hopefully this post has shared at least a few resources that can be explored further, and take encouragement from Prof Van Eijnatten who asserted that “if I can write a few lines of code anyone can”.

Art library problems, tech solutions

We are delighted to introduce another guest post, this time from one of the MmIT committee. Rowan Williamson is Learning Resources Manager at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

I have worked in Art libraries for many years and I always think nothing else our students do will surprise me…and then it does.

That’s what makes it so interesting. ‘Studio’ and workshop activities often creep into the library, and whilst they are often fascinating and are being done hand in hand with more traditional research, they can present a whole range of challenges in terms of health and safety, mess and damage to furniture and environment. Some are a straightforward headache to keep up with the cleaning but it struck me recently that as art librarians we have to be just as creative as our creative students in dealing with the after effects of these activities.

Some Universities are introducing full blown ‘maker spaces’ but that’s not always an option, so if you are stuck with a library moonlighting as an art studio think about the following tips:

  1. Dress makers dolls in the library, bit of stitching and sewing? Unusual but Mannequin, desks and shares in a pop-up maker space in a librarywhere’s the harm? It’s in the dropped tin of pins that are strewn across half the floor. Top tip for an efficient clear up? Get your magnetic DVD unlockers and wave them over to suck them all up!
  2. Hot glue spilt on your tables? You need an iron. Every library should have one! Just add a tea towel and you have a dried glue removal kit.
  3. Spray booths. Spray painting in the library is not what you want because of the toxicity, and it’s fairly likely the smell will alert staff to what’s going on so you can prevent it. However some sprays are only problematic because of the mess, and you may only find out they are being used when you find spray mount all over your tables (yes, glue again!) So a cheap solution you might want to consider, is buying a spray booth. They don’t take up much space (a table top) and can be placed somewhere visible for monitoring, and they might just discourage those secret sprayers from hiding in the back destroying your carpets!
  4. Light tables – Light boxes and tables are very popular with students. Some use it for drawing and tracing as you would expect but I have seen a whole load of activities on there, building models, stringing beads, painting and even using scalpels. Use acetates and clear plastic coatings to prevent the worst. Failing that, take the bulbs out and ‘issue; them to their library account for accountability! (Note; not always that easy depending on the make, your staff time and expertise!
  5. Flip top tables. A simple, flexible space saving solution you would think. But potentially a major health hazard in an art library where I found our fashion students parading up and down on them doing ‘catwalk’ practice! Avoid trouble, don’t buy them. If you need flexible space go for the study chairs with flip side tables, or keep unattached table tops to lay on the floor for them to spread out work!
  6. Are your massive Art books damaging the photocopiers? Are they suffering broken spines from being crammed down on to the glass multiple times daily? Try investing in a professional book scanner that scans from above. Zetech offer a range. They are not cheap but you might save the difference in binding costs!
  7. It may seem obvious but a really powerful little hand held hoover is a must Scraps of paper scattered around a photocopier with the paper drawers openif you have regular wood shavings on your floor. No wood shavings? Bet you have bits of cut up paper. Look out for powerful suction, wall mounted and rechargeable with different nozzles for those art materials you never even heard of before that are littering your floors and getting inside the printers!
  8. Shelfmark challenges. Got someone good with tech/programming/apps? How about you try an Augmented Reality App to create a virtual map of your library shelf locations. Art students browse, and many struggle with classification systems. Dyslexia rates are higher in art school populations, and many students are visual learners. Ditch the classmarks and create an app that pops up images of the subject areas as you point them at the shelves. For a lower tech solution you can use QR codes.
  9. Buy a good camera and get on Instagram. It’s the perennial problem for librarians, which social media platform are the students on, and will they still be there by the time we catch up? Well maybe will always be behind the curve but we prioritise Instagram and a well-chosen image over the pithy 140 characters!
  10. Have a good supply of noise cancelling headphones. And earplugs! Artists are digital too.

Got any more tips? Share them in the comments below!

Rowan Williamson

Setting up a tweet archive with IFTTT

We welcome a guest post from Claire Sewell, Research Support Skills Coordinator in the the Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge University Library.  

Reading tweets from a conference or other event is a great way to keep up with what is happening in your area, especially as the number of events you can attend in person is likely to be limited. If you are lucky enough to attend something then using Twitter to share your insights is a great way to both take notes and raise your individual profile within the community. However, Twitter is very fast moving and it can be easy to lose content that you would like to keep or refer back to.

Setting up a tweet archive is one way to keep track of tweets – either just your own or those across the whole event hashtag. The much-missed Storify used to do this but with its demise, we have had to find new methods. One solution is to use IFTTT (If This Then That), an online platform which lets users connect different websites to automate a number of tasks – known as applets. I’ve used this to connect Twitter and Google Sheets to create both personal and public tweet archives for different events.

The instructions below will guide you through setting up a tweet archive using Google Sheets but you can use any of the apps available on IFTTT to create something suited to your preferred workflow. IFTTT is an intuitive website that guides you through any complicated parts quickly and easily.

Setting up a tweet archive:

  1. Create an IFTTT account (this is free).
  2. Connect your Twitter and Google Drive accounts to IFTTT. You will only need to do this the first time you connect any third party site to use it in multiple applets.
  3. Select My applets New applet.
  4. The following message will appear:


Select this and then select Twitter.

  1. Select the appropriate option depending on whether you want to set up an archive of all tweets from an event (New tweet from search) or just the ones you send (New tweet by you with hashtag).
  2. Specify the hashtag that you want to collect when prompted and then select Create trigger. The following message will appear:


  1. Select that and then Google Sheets (or whichever tool you are using).
  2. Select Add row to spreadsheet. At this point you will be prompted to specify a spreadsheet – either an existing one in your library or a new one created for this applet. You can also alter the format that the tweet is collected in at this stage (IFTT will guide you through this process).
  3. Select create action and you are ready to go. The applet will run automatically once it has been created although you can run it manually if desired.

When creating the archive with Google Sheets you can either share it or keep it private depending on what you intend to use it for. It’s worth pointing out that this system is not fool proof – it may miss some tweets, particularly if the hashtag is fast moving and IFTTT will only work with certain sites. However it is a good alternative to trawling through pages of tweets searching for the one you meant to save. I would recommend experimenting with the different tools available on IFTTT to create an archive which works for your purposes – you never know what you might discover!

Note: sections of this post were originally posted on Claire’s blog Librarian In Training.

‘Library social media – how do you do it?’ [guest post]

We welcome a guest post from Tom Kistell, Systems Support Adviser at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU).


Library social media – how do you do it?’  That was the subject line of the email I sent to two email lists (LIS-LINK and LIS-ARLG) back in June. To give some context, we had just formed a new library social media group to co-ordinate our Instagram and Twitter presence, and wondered how it was being done in other UK universities.

I put five (strictly speaking six) questions to the lists, and six UK HE libraries responded – seven including SHU – with a treasure trove of information. Thank you! The questions and summaries of responses are given below:

Q: Which social media platforms do you use? Why did you choose those?

A: Twitter, Instagram and Facebook were the most popular social media platforms for our libraries, with most using two or all of them. The common rationale was to maximise coverage across staff and students.

Q: How do you decide which staff are involved? E.g. members of particular teams, working groups, individuals with an interest.

A: Library social media was managed by a single team in some cases and in others by a working group made up of staff from several areas. Where the group approach had been taken, responses mentioned involvement out of interest and also an effort to represent different staff areas and levels.

Q: Do you use rotas or are involved on a more informal basis?

A: Five of our seven libraries reported using a rota of some kind, some for everything social media-related and others just for responding to enquiries. One library though had rejected the ideas of rotas because ‘it is hard to be spontaneously amusing and informative in the style needed for social media when forced to by a rota.’

Q: Are enquiries received through social media and scheduled posts dealt with by the same or different staff?

A: Several libraries had the same staff posting and responding to enquiries, a couple didn’t, and the others didn’t specify. A common theme was that the people on the rota usually dealt with enquiries, only referring on to senior or specialist colleagues in more complex cases.

Q: How actively do students engage with your library on social media?

A: Trends were difficult to identify for this one because libraries each used a different combination of social media, but some interesting points came through. One library noted that more engagement with students happened through Twitter than Instagram, for another it was the other way around. Facebook seemed to be less popular with students than Twitter and Instagram, generally speaking. There was correlation as well between activity and engagement, with regular posts generating more interest.

Library social media clearly varies a lot from place to place, but there are commonalities of seeking a real dialogue with our users, a willingness to be innovative, and drawing on knowledge from across different specialisms to do both. knowledge from across different specialisms to do both.

Follow Sheffield Hallam University Library at hallamlibrary on Instagram and @hallamlibrary on Twitter.

Many thanks to Tom for sharing the results of his survey with us.  If you are interested in learning more about using Social & New Media to transform teaching & learning in your Library/LRC, MmIT and ARLG-SW are running a hands-on, collaboration and networking session in Exeter on Thu 18 October 2018.