A picture can say a thousand words. A reference interview that involves a remote researcher trying to use a database can involve word pictures. One thing I’ve seen in public (personal) and law library (professional) experiences is that a word picture may not be enough. Nor is a screenshot. So I was delighted to see how easy it is to create a quick screencast video with the built-in Windows 10 Game bar app.

You probably know that you can do a quick screen grab using the keyboard. PRTSCRN (top right of most keyboards) will grab your entire screen (or multiple screens, if you have more than one monitor) to your clipboard. ALT-PRTSCRN will capture the selected (or focused) window. Once your screenshot capture is on the clipboard, you can paste it anywhere.

Video can be harder. In the past, I’ve tried tools like Techsmith’s Camtasia and CamStudio and the outdated Microsoft Expression encoder. I’ve even looked at them from the perspective of evidence capture on a device. But never for day to day reference support.

They are all nice but they tended to be something that only one person on staff would know how to use. In particular, a screencast application often required a license. The friction created by expertise, cost, and deployment (especially in an environment where IT has standardized a locked down environment) could make it prohibitive for wide use.

This is surprisingly common in law libraries I’ve worked in and with. We often have that one person who does that one application or skill set. While cross-training is aspirational, it can be easier to just let the person who is most expert handle the function. When the expertise bar is lowered, however, it makes a case for everyone knowing how to do it.

Enter the Windows 10 XBox Game Bar app.

It’s apparently been around for about a year. I’d certainly never noticed it on my Windows 10 machine but I rarely do video capture. When I did, I used the app from the list above that I’d used the most recently. Expertise mattered.

But what happens when you make the app available to everyone in Windows 10 and the expertise needed is mostly eliminated?

I first tumbled to it when, appropriately enough, I wanted to record part of a game I was playing. Rather than use one of my fallback video capture apps, I wondered what gamers were using. Game streaming is still well beyond my interest but I knew it was happening and that meant there must be some easy to use, lightweight apps.

To use the Game Bar, just hit your Windows key and the letter G. You can also hit your Windows key and type Game bar to see if it’s installed.

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Here’s a quick video I made with the Game Bar to show you how to find the Game Bar under Windows 10 settings! Meta.

That’s the thing. It’s now so easy to do, I can choose to create a video to explain what I think a researcher should do, rather than just a screenshot. It’s a few step process:

  • think about what I’m trying to show
  • hit WIN-ALT-R to start recording my current screen
  • hit WIN-ALT-R to stop recording when I’ve completed the demonstration
  • go to my captures folder (VideosCaptures) and find the file.

I’ve told the story about doing tech support with an Alaskan law firm before. The software user was getting weird results when right clicking. It was because she had the mouse upside down (with the “tail” coming out under her wrist). A video can help to show the person what you are seeing, in case you are making assumptions about what they are seeing or trying to do.

For various reasons, usually complexity in a courthouse law library, I have not used screen sharing (possible with Google Chrome, Skype, etc.). It requires a greater level of certainty about what the researcher has or can see. In a corporate or law firm environment, you can also find your options are limited due to the approved software load.

You can add audio to the video, to walk the person through the steps with more than just a video. I haven’t tried that yet but the audio track can also be sound from the computer, in case the resource you’re displaying also has sound.

It’s not as fully functional as some of the other video screencast tools I’ve used. For example,

  • you can make toggle off the ability to capture the mouse movement but you can’t do any mouse pointer highlighting
  • It only captures the current window, which I had train by hitting WIN-G and then clicking the Record button. That shows a prompt asking you to allow recording of that window. The next time you want to record that program, you can use WIN-ALT-R.
  • You have to use the XBox app (also installed on Windows 10 but sometimes blocked by corporate IT) to trim and edit videos

Many of the more advanced screen capture video tools offer some editing options and they allow you to capture portions of the screen, rather than just the active window. The Game Bar isn’t a replacement for screencasts that require more nuance or that are longer and more likely to need some editing. But it may be something that you start to introduce into your reference interactions, particularly when you are not working with the person face to face.