Free Friday: Creating visual diagrams with LucidChart

Lucidchart is a web-based diagramming software, compatible with most web browsers (Google Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc.) that allows users to collaborate in real-time to create flow charts, organizational charts, mind maps, floor plans, Venn diagrams and many other diagram types.

flow_chart       floor_plans        org_chart

venn_diagram       mind_map

For all educational users (both K-12 and higher education), Lucidchart provides free premium accounts. Students and faculty can sign up individually for accounts with their .edu email address. 

Users are able to create documents from a template or create custom diagrams from scratch.  To begin, users just need to click on the “+ document” button:


In order to draw objects and lines; the user just needs to “select a shape” from the shape toolbox and drag it onto the page.  To draw a line, “click on the line connection of the shape” and drag the line to another shape.

To format a line, select a line and choose a line formatting option, such as line type, style and arrow type.


There is also an option to insert an image, if you would like.

LucidChart also lets you import (to Visio, Gliffy, OmniGraffley, adn AWS files) and export your diagrams easily as PDF, PNG, JPEG, VDX, or SVG files. Alternatively, you can also share files and folders for real-time collaboration.

Even if I came across this tool by accident, I’m so glad that I did – as it has come in handy for several projects.  I’ve used LucidChart to create flow charts when planning online tutorials with multiple modules.  As it allows you to lay out the module step-by-step with goals, objectives, and activities. Additionally, I imagine that the flow chart would be useful in describing the project to other team members, such as programmers should you need their assistance in building the online module.  Next, I plan to use LucidChart to create a Gnatt chart to visually diagram a project timeline.

Free Friday: Canva: Online Graphic Design Platform

If you find yourself needing to create a visually appealing presentation, social media graphic, or infographic; try using Canva.  It is a free online platform that offers a wide assortment of design tools and options, as well as premium options for paying customers.

To get started, you just need to create an account using your email account.  You also have the option to log-in with your Facebook or Google Plus account; if you don’t want to create a new account.


Once you are logged in – Canva offers many (free & fee-based) templates for you to canva_project_typesget started with your project.  Just select your project type: presentation, infographic, social media, banner, resume, and more. Canva provides the layout, and you just use the drag & drop feature to add images, shapes, text, etc. or even upload your own images/photos to customize the graphic to fit your marketing needs.


Canva also includes photo editing features, as well as other cool tools:

  • Photo straightener: Keep your photos in line with our photo straightener tool
  • Image cropper: Crop your photos for great framing and masterful composition
  • Add text to photos: Create a narrative for any photo
  •  Speech bubble maker: Give your photos a voice with speech bubbles!
  • Give your photos a delicate fade with our transparency tool
  • Photo enhancer: Enhance your photos to save any “off” shots
  • Photo blur: Add artistry to your images with the blur slider
  • Photo vignette: Grant your pictures vintage flair with our photo vignette tool
  • Design grids: Looking for layout inspiration? Try a design grid
  • Free icons: Complement your designs with the crisp lines of our icons
  • Photo frames: Add photo frames to adorn your memories
  • Web wireframe: Begin with the basics and create a web wireframe
  • Stickers: Amp up your images with some surprise stickers
  • Badges: Build a better badge with Canva
  • Add texture: Give your designs texture and feeling from our image library

To learn more about these features, visit their web site:

I like this tool, as it allows you to create professional looking graphics, without any prior experience.  Once you have completed your design project, you will have the option to save, email, or upload your graphic to your web site.  Canva also has a shared option, which allows you to be able to collaboratively work projects with your team members.

Free Friday: Getting Organized with Zotero

I’m teaching an undergraduate IS course for this first time this semester that essentially boils down to a semester long version of a library one-shot course. It’s a librarian’s dream come true!

In amongst the information literacy skills that I’m trying to impart to these growing minds, I’ve included a class focused on managing all of this information that they’ll soon be finding through the library’s website. Cut to Zotero, a free citation management tool that also happens to be open source.

Example of Zotero Standalone on a Mac

The first step to setup Zotero is twofold: download the Standalone client and install the browser extension. Visit the download page for all of the pertinent links and information about getting started. The Zotero site even adjusts the download buttons to your specific operating system and browser for ease of use.

Once you’ve installed the Zotero Standalone and the browser extension, you can begin importing citations right away. Using the browser extension, you can save websites, articles, videos, and more. The image below shows what the Zotero icon looks like when saving a web page. It changes depending on the content that it finds in your browser.

Example of the Zotero browser extension button

Importing content from the web will include PDF files and other related information as available. Free accounts have up to 300MB of storage, but there are premium options available if you need more that are quite affordable.

Zotero purchase storage prices

You have a few options regarding how to organize your Zotero library: collections (read: folders), tags, and saved searches. Any item can be added to as many collections as you like. It will also remain in your main Zotero library, in case need to remove it from a specific collection.

Zotero will automatically be added to Microsoft Word, if you use it as your word processor, making citing a breeze. It also integrates with other word processors like OpenOffice. Since it’s an open source tool, many different citation styles have been added including MLA’s 8th version.

In addition to these standard citation manager abilities, Zotero also works well for collaborative projects. You can set up groups and sync items to the Zotero servers. For more details and information about Zotero’s features, check out the Quick Start guide.

-Sarah Arnold, Director, TNT Roundtable

Come back Friday, September 16 for our next installment of Free Fridays!

Interactive learning with Pear Deck

Our tool this week is coming a bit late (apologies, I kind of forgot about Labor Day when I decided to write last week’s post!), but I hope to make up for it with how excellent Pear Deck is!

Pear Deck is, at its heart, a slide ware program, like Power Point or Google Slides.  It is much simpler in layout and has fewer design templates that something like Power Point, but it is clean and effective.  However, what Pear Deck offers that Power Point and Google Slides do not is audience interactivity.  Think of it as a more powerful and more intuitive poll anywhere.  I began using it in my classes last semester and had numerous professors  decide to try it out in their own classes.  I also felt that it increased the participation of students who might not want to raise their hand, but were willing to submit a short answer or check a box on a multiple choice question.

So, why does this work so well and what can it do?

Pear Deck sign in pag e

This is the page you first access when you go to Pear Deck.  It uses a gmail sign in to login and completely integrates with Google Drive.  To get started, you just need to choose a google account and log in.  You will then be taken to the Teacher page, where you can design new presentations.


This is the main teacher page.  Here you can create a new deck or open up any of the decks you previously have used.  Slides can do a lot of different things.  Basic options include embedding an image, YouTube video, or simply writing text.  However, as shown below, there are a lot more options available:


Note that the options with stars are only available to paying customers, but freely available types include your basic multiple choice slide but also free response text and number questions, which allow students to answer a question and then have their answers appear anonymously on the projected slide.  You can also embed a website in the deck so that it opens up within the slide.  This is great because if students have Pear Deck open on their phone or computer,  projecting a website slide will automatically direct students to the chosen website.  This lets students directly follow along on their computers without worrying about navigating to the right spot.

Once you have completed your deck, it is time to share it with students in your class.   This is done through selecting the start presenting button (seen above).  Once you start presenting, this screen should appear:


To join, students go to the website listed, log in with their Gmail accounts, and then enter the displayed code to make sure they are getting into the right session.  As a google school, where all students have Gmail accounts, I have found this an extremely easy way for students to get into an interactive presentation.  Students understood it quickly and it proved a much cleaner and more full featured process than other interactive slide wear tools I have used.  The one downside is that this does require a google account.  If you work for a library where you can’t assume this of your students, this might be a less attractive option.  But if you do, I would highly recommend checking it out and reading reviews of it here or here.

Kate Hill, Secretary/Treasure, TNT.

Come back this Friday, September 9th for our next installment of Free Fridays!


Free Friday: DIY Coloring Pages with Pixlr

IMG_1774I absolutely love Pixlr, a completely web-based image editing program that you can use anywhere that has many of the functions of Photoshop and other high-end editors. Recently, I used Pixlr to create coloring book style versions of historical images from UNCG’s Digital Collections, like this one. Students are back at UNCG this week, and apparently they love coloring! Luckily for me, fabulous staff members from UNCG’s Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives had already created coloring book versions of historical images, but I also wanted to figure out how to do it on my own.

After much Googling and testing out of different options, I came up with a good workflow using Pixlr. In the spirit of using Pixlr, get ready for lots of pictures below!

  1. Visit and choose Pixlr Editor.
  2. Select Open image from computer.
  3. If you’ve used Photoshop or other similar products, the workspace will look familiar to you.
  4. Once you’ve opened the image you want to work with, click on the adjustment menu and select “desaturate.”
  5. Now, in your layers menu on the right side of the page, right click and duplicate this background layer.
  6. Next, go back to the adjustments menu and select “invert.” Your image should now look like a photo negative.
  7. We’re in the home stretch now! Back on the layers menu, select the icon in the bottom left (it should say “Toggle layer settings” when you hover over it). Once you’ve clicked that, change the mode from “Normal” to “Add.”
  8. Your picture now looks like a blank white canvas. Don’t worry! It’s supposed to!
  9. Now, click on the Filter menu and select “Gaussian Blur.” Adjust the slider so that you get the level of detail you want.
  10. And now, you’re done! You should have an image that looks something like:

For our coloring station, we provided a table, a chair, some crayons, colored pencils, and markers, and we printed the images on 11×17 paper. It’s been a hit!


They like it! They really like it!

-Jenny Dale, Chair, TNT RoundTable

Come back next Friday, September 2nd, for our next installment of Free Fridays!


Free Friday: Leveling up and staying organized!

At  University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the new semester is upon us.  For many academic librarians, this means running here and there, teaching classes, holding consultations, fixing electronic resources when they break, and just trying to keep one’s head above water.  In honor of this crazy time of the year, and also of our upcoming webinar on the 29th of August on the organizational tools of Trello and Evernote, I am going to use this post to tell you about a to-do list and habit reinforcement site that I have found to be highly useful.

The tool I am talking about is called Habitica.  Available both in browser and also as an App for iPhone and Android systems, this tool is at its heart a way to reinforce positive habits and keep track of to-dos.  What is really genius about it is the way it keeps you motivated to stay on track.  It takes completing tasks and turns them into a simple role playing/ questing game.

This is my avatar, a level 38 rogue (look at my adorable panda mount!):


You level up, gain more equipment, and collect new pets and mounts by completing the tasks you have put in your lists.  You can make as many to-do lists or habits as you want.  The most important list though is the list of “Dailies”, which are simply enough tasks that you want to perform every day.  Not performing them all hurts your health and can eventually kill your character (don’t worry, you can come back easily but you lose some levels!).  This is a fantastic way to build a daily routine.  I use it to try and make myself remember to organize my email inbox, check UNCG’s electronic resource problems email, and write for one hour.  The main interface looks like this:


For both habits and to-dos, the longer you ignore them, the brighter red they turn.  When you complete a to-do, it vanishes, but when you complete a habit, it turns from red to green.  Dailies turn gray once they are done for the day.  To-Dos can also be given due dates or have their own mini checklists of steps attached to them.  The more steps a task has, the more experience it is worth when finally completed.

Finally, on top of all the rewards and getting to make your avatar look cool and ride pandas, you can also join a party of friends and go on quests together.  When you are questing, every time you complete a habit, to-do or daily, you deal damage to the big monster you are all fighting.  But every time you miss a daily, the monster hurts everyone in your party.  The extra peer pressure of not wanting to hurt your friends has really motivated me to complete my dailies and being able to help your friends has pushed me to complete my to-dos.

Habitica is free to use, though you can get extra equipment and prettier backgrounds if you subscribe on a monthly basis.  While I have tried many other to-do list programs before, this tool, with is combination of working as a group and getting rewards for progress, is the first that has really clicked for me.  As you enter into a new semester, I would encourage anyone interested in a better way to keep organized to try it out.






Free Friday: Engaging Library Users with Pokémon Go!

I’m sure you knew it was coming! Pokémon Go has exploded this month, and many libraries are getting in on the game. Whether or not you play, you can take advantage of this fad as a way to bring new people into your library  and to engage with current users!

If you’re not familiar with it, Pokémon Go is a free app-based augmented reality game that has people of all ages out and exploring their environments this summer as they capture and train Pokémon. Chances are, you’ve seen patrons with smartphones exploring your library spaces in new ways while they search for digital creatures.

School Library Journal recently published a rundown of the game, how it works, the privacy and safety implications, and ways that libraries are getting in on the trend. There are easy and free ways for libraries to get involved, including posting about the game on social media. Academic and public libraries across North Carolina are using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to post about the game while also promoting their collections, spaces, events, and services.


Libraries are also creating digital content about Pokémon Go, like the PokéGuide: Pokémon GO @ FIULibraries, as well as physical displays of collections, like the San Jose Library PokéStop featured below that showcases Pokémon themed media from the collection.


Vineland PokeStop by San Jose Library on [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Are you using Pokémon Go for fun, at work, or both? Tell us about it!

-Jenny Dale, Chair, TNT RoundTable

Come back next Friday, July 29 for our next installment of Free Fridays!

Free Friday: Visual Readers Advisory Tool

As a public librarian, we are asked all the time for recommendations for books, movies, even music sometimes.

Here’s a free tool to use for this that’s very visual in nature (and fun, too).

If you don’t know about it already, check out GNOD: the global network of discovery ( Today’s libraries are all about discovery, so this site will fit right into that aspect of library service!

This site is unique because it uses a mapping tool that allows you to see visually how similar books, music,  movies, and even artists are with each other. There are ads on the pages that are only slightly distracting, but you can turn them off.

For books (gnooks) and movies (gnovies), you type in the name of an author and film, respectively, and the site produces a visual map of author names/movie titles with your selection in the center and a wide variety of options that are similar spaced around it. The names move around on the screen until they reach their final similarity map. The closer the options are to each other, the more similar they are. For this example, I chose JoJo Moyes. If you click on another author (or movie), the map shuffles the names to place that new choice in the center and adds in similar options around that one.

gnod for TNT blog

For the music (gnusic) and art (gnod art), you type in 3 groups/musicians or artists.

gnusic1 for TNT blog

From that it displays options (“predictions”) and allows the viewer to “filter” their options based on their preferences (like, don’t like, or i don’t know). Not quite as visual, but definitely interactive.

gnusic2 for TNT blog

I don’t know what criteria they use to make their recommendations, but the mapping and “predicitons” approaches are both very serendipitous (also desirable for discovery).

So the next time you’re faced with a patron wanting some quick recommendations, why not give gnod a try. They will be impressed by your access to such a unique tool and they’ll leave with some good suggestions. A win-win!

Julie Raynor, Vice-Chair, TNT RoundTable

Come back next Friday, July 22 for our next installment of Free Fridays!


Free Friday: Improving your Website with Optimal Workshop

Nowadays users are demanding more and more out of their online experiences. They develop certain expectations of what they can be d̶o̶ online based on their use of commercial websites and search engines. These experiences and expectations from users are a driving force behind library’s assessing and improving their websites and online tools. Users are our bread and butter in library land. Even if your library hasn’t dipped its toe in the user experience (UX) waters yet, you should be thinking about it.

But how do you get started?

Collecting input directly from your users whether through in-person interviews, online surveys, or usability testing is the best option for getting started. While the first method for interviewing users in-person can be difficult to organize when you’re first getting started, the next 2 methods are easily accomplished using Optimal Workshop.

While not 100% free, this suite of tools is too good to pass up when it comes to quick and easy online usability testing. There is a free plan available that provides access to the tools with some limitations. You are limited to 10 responses per study, which still provides you with enough feedback from users to be able to tell where their pain points are and why.

Optimal Workshop provides “a suite of usability tools that help improve your website navigation, define information architecture, understand first-clicks, and more” according to their website. There are 3 main tools that I want to highlight: Treejack, OptimalSort, and Chalkmark.

Treejack will help you identify where your users are getting lost on your site and why using tree testing. Tree testing helps assess the findability of content on your site by removing all visual queues. After using this tool, you will easily improve the information architecture of your site, which will allow users to navigate your content much easier.

The next tool is one of my personal favorites because it saves so much time and effort. OptimalSort is an online card sorting tool that shows you how your users would group different types of content on your website. Results can be reported in a similarity matrix providing a visual look into how users grouped your content.

Chalkmark provides insight into where your users are looking on a particular webpage using first click testing. Using a screenshot of the page, you can ask users where they would click to perform a specific task. This tool generates heat maps and density grids to illustrate how many users clicked on certain areas of the screenshot.

In addition to using these robust tools, you are able to create short surveys before and after that allow you to gather demographic and related information from your users. These results give you greater insight into what different sections of your users are doing on your site and what they think about it.

At UNC-Chapel Hill, we have been using Optimal Workshop’s premium version for a couple of years now and have no complaints. We’re able to quickly assess different parts of our site and even used these tools to update our top navigation and assess it after going live. Overall, the reports and information gathered from Optimal Workshop allow you to create a fuller picture of how users interact with your website, which can aid you when meeting with stakeholders or making decisions on updates to your site.

-Sarah Arnold, Director, TNT Roundtable

Come back Friday, July 15 for our next installment of Free Fridays!

Free Friday: Highlight and Annotate the Web with Hypothesis

Welcome to a new series here on the NCLA Technology and Trends blog: Free Fridays! For July and August of 2016 (and maybe beyond – let us know what you think!), Technology and Trends Board Members will share free tools that we use and love each and every Friday. Subscribe or add us to your feed to keep up with the series!

For our inaugural Free Friday, let’s take a look at Hypothesis! According to their About us page, Hypothesis “leverages annotation to enable sentence-level critique or note-taking on top of news, blogs, scientific articles, books, terms of service, ballot initiatives, legislation and more.” Here’s a screenshot of an annotation that a Hypothesis user added to their About Us page. Meta!


I started using this tool last summer when I was taking an online professional development course that involved lots of reading on the web – blogs posts, webpages, online articles, PDF documents, Word documents, etc. With Hypothesis, you can highlight and annotate all of these formats directly in your web browser.

I’m primarily a Google Chrome user, and Hypothesis is extra easy with Chrome – you can download a Chrome extension to launch anytime you want to annotate. In the image below, you can see the logo for the extension in the Chrome toolbar as well as the icons for annotation on the right, near the scroll bar.


Since it’s a web tool, Hypothesis works with other browsers as well – you can simply get a “bookmarklet” from their website and add it to your browser’s toolbar, then click it to launch the tool whenever you want to use it. If you have your own website and want to get feedback, you can also add Hypothesis to encourage people to highlight and annotate your site. Maybe something fun for all you usability testers out there to try!

Hypothesis does require an account, but it’s free and lets you keep track of your past annotations. You can see my annotation stream below:


The first two entries in my stream are simply highlights, while the third, from August 15, 2015, includes a highlight and my own personal note. You might notice the lock icon and the “Only me” designation. With Hypothesis, you can designate your highlights and annotations to be public or private. Public annotations are great for starting a conversation, but I often use the private setting so that I can easily keep track of my own notes.

Highlighting or annotating is a two-step process.

Step one: Select the text on the screen that you want to either highlight or annotate.


Step two: Choose either annotate or highlight. When you choose annotate, you get the option to add your notes and choose whether you want them to be public or private.


Hypothesis has been a great tool for me to use to keep track of professional reading. If you’ve tried it, share how you use it below!

-Jenny Dale, Chair, TNT RoundTable

Come back next Friday, July 8 for our next installment of Free Fridays!