SILS student and alumna lead GIFABLE UNC project

November 27, 2017

What story can you tell in 10 seconds or less? UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) master's student Kelsey Hammer and alumna Jennie Goforth (MSLS ’10) were confident UNC students could share the Carolina story in creative ways using the popular and rapidly evolving GIF format. 

They received a UNC Library Incubator Award to launch GIFABLE UNC, the University’s first GIF competition, and to organize events where students learned how to conceptualize and create their own original GIFs. The process encourages students to develop design, composition, and storytelling skills that can be used throughout their academic careers and beyond.

“Sometimes it can be daunting for students who want to learn a new software to immediately start to work on a class project,” Hammer said. “It can be a little easier if you have a stepping stone project, something smaller, less important, and more personal.”

Though GIFs may not require a huge investment of time, Hammer said that each small decision, from font to colors to whitespace, helps strengthen basic design skills that will make later projects more appealing and successful. 

Hammer and Goforth’s collaboration started at the UNC Undergraduate Library (UL), where Goforth is the Research and Design Services Librarian and Hammer is the first Digital Literacy CALA (Carolina Academic Library Associate). The GIFABLE project is part of a larger University and Library push to help students develop digital literacy skills, said Goforth, who manages the UL’s design lab as well as its research services support. Another important component of this drive has been the SkillfUL workshops, which offer tutorials using Adobe and other design software for a wide variety of digital projects, including posters, resumes, logos, podcasts, and data visualizations.

“We’ve had great success with the SkillfUL workshops,” Goforth said. “People are really looking for these skills, but the workshops are also just fun. And that’s the thing about GIFs, too, they’re really fun and entertaining, and accessible.”

Hammer’s interest in GIFs (which she pronounces GHIFs) began during her undergraduate years at UNC, when she conducted some research on GIF fan communities. Watching the technology for creating the animated images evolve has been fascinating, Hammer said, and GIFs will be the focus of her master’s paper at SILS. She gave an Ignite Talk at the 2017 Digital Media & Learning Conference, October 4-6, at the University of California, Irvine, where she discussed the GIFABLE UNC project and the larger role of this developing medium.

GIFs are effective because they convey their messages through images and motion. “It’s the difference between a smile and smiling,” Hammer said in her Ignite talk. And unlike some new forms of communication, such as emojis, GIFs can easily be made and shared by individuals.

“We get to create our own digital language with GIFs,” Hammer said. “In a social, digital, and visual world, we are creating this language together. We can make this language equitable, diverse, fun, and engaging because we have the power to choose how we communicate and what that looks like.”

Learn more about GIFABLE UNC at and check out all of the entries and winners of the competition at #GIFUNC. Watch Kelsey Hammer’s Ignite Talk at