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Digital Storytelling Sampler

Peruse a sampling of digital storytelling tools, discussed and reviewed by Libraries staff

What is Scalar?

"Scalar is a free, open source publishing platform that’s designed to make it easy for authors to write long-form, born-digital scholarship online. Scalar enables users to assemble media from multiple sources and juxtapose them with their own writing in a variety of ways, with minimal technical expertise required. Scalar also gives authors tools to structure essay- and book-length works in ways that take advantage of the unique capabilities of digital writing, including nested, recursive, and non-linear formats. The platform also supports collaborative authoring and reader commentary."

-From the Scalar User Guide

Before you begin


Ideally suited for long-form, even book length work

Can also accommodate shorter prose and exhibit text

Availability of templates and layouts should accommodate most needs, but may be a limitation


Integrates media as part of the structure of the project (see below)

Allows for embeddable media from third parties, or remote hosting for media

Consider copyright before you embed

Media can be annotated natively


Structure of the project can be manipulated using indexing and metadata

Widgets and plugins can make use of metadata, but it's not necessary outside of mapping and timeline functions



Choose a book-like linear structure, a chaptered structure, or go completely rhizomatic

Remain aware of Scalar's native interface and user experience for more complex structures

Possibility for customization for design and structure


Scalar key features

One of Scalar's foremost characteristics is the ability it grants users to create projects with a range of structures, including more traditional linear structures, multichapter works, more rhizomatic structures, or some combination. In order to understand how this works, let's consider whole-whole relationships. We'll discuss some whole-part relationships in the next tab.

Type of whole-whole relationships:

  • Paths: These are linear strings of content (content here can include text based pages or multimedia). Think of these like you would chapters in a book.
  • Tags: These are non-linear groupings, which can work "identify commonalities amongst heterogeneous items" (Scalar User Guide). Think of these like hashtags that bring together content from multiple places online.

You can have construct paths which guide the user to pages with textual content, multimedia, or to yet another path. Tags can bring together content from multiple paths, cutting across the linear content of a project. Paths can follow a basic table of contents from the homepage, leading into each other in a sequential order, or bring users back to the homepage to select the next path of their choosing, suggesting that they can interact with paths in any order.

charts depicting common structures of paths in Scalar

Tagged content, on the other hand, will display their tag relationships at the bottom of the page. Tagged pages can be left as they are, can link to each other, or you can create a path for users to interact with all or some tagged relationships.

set of diagrams depicting common tag relationships in Scalar


From University of Southern California's Ahmanson Lab: "When I Think of Home: Images from LA Archives"

Note how the homepage paths guide the user through a topical overview of the contents (focused on the idea of home), with a secondary structure of tags that allow users to view images according to the contributing archive.

Scalar is a unique digital storytelling tool in part because of the way that multimedia functions in the structure of a project. Rather than being an accessory or static entity, multimedia is integrated into the structure of the project itself, through the whole-whole relationships discussed in the previous tabs, and the whole-part relationships described below.

  • Annotations: annotations are the "parts" that are linked to a "whole"--in this case, an annotation is content that is linked to a particular part of a media file. Annotations can be pages, other media files, and textual description.
  • Media links: these allow authors to link from the text to a specific media file, which can be embedded into the project itself, rather than redirecting to another website or page. Instead, media links allow readers to interact with linked media while remaining on the same page.

Aside from these special relationships, Scalar also allows for media to be used in the following ways:

  • Various import methods: you can easily import media from affiliated archives (such as the Internet Archive), non-affiliated archives (such as Youtube), your own media hosted elsewhere with a URL (such as Flickr), and media on your local drive (up to 2 MB). 
  • IIIF images: you can use IIIF image viewer Mirador to deliver rich images with comparison, manipulation, and annotation capabilities.
  • Gallery page layouts: Scalar has several page layout options that are well suited to displaying media galleries.

Read more about working with media in the Scalar User Guide.


USC Libraries' "Japanese Book History: A View from USC Libraries"

Note the ways that book structures, binding styles, underpaintings etc. are discussed using image annotations. This page includes several images that are annotated in order to direct the user's attentions to these visual details.

Another of Scalar's most unique functionalities are visualizations, which can be used globally in any project or deployed locally as a layout template or a widget. Visualizations allow you to see the contents (and structure) of a Scalar project in a variety of ways, and let your user discover content outside of your table of content or paths.

Global visualizations

Every project has a set of global visualizations that can be accessed using the compass icon on the top left hand corner (next to the table of contents).

screenshot from scalar showing global visualization menu

Each type of visualization can be further customized using the drop downs.

screenshot from scalar showing a drop down menu in a global visualization

Types of visualizations (click the links to read more and see an example of the visualization):

  • Current: shows related items to the current page, where each item is a node that can be selected and interacted with.
  • Contents: shows the project's table of contents in a different way than the homepage, displaying it in a tree format.
  • Connections: shows all the contents of the project and all their connections (paths, tags, annotations, etc), and where all the contents are color coded by type. [this is our favorite visualization for looking at the structure of a project beyond the table of contents!]
  • Grid: shows all the contents in grid format, color coded by type of content. Items with more connections are shaded darker, and lines show the connections between the contents, also color coded by type of connection. 
  • Map: all geo-tagged contents are visualized on a map and color coded by type of content.
  • Radial: content is organized into two rings with arcs connecting related content. The inner ring displays each item individually, and the outer ring groups items by content type.
  • Path: displays all paths in the project hierarchically, with all content color coded.
  • Media: displays all media in project with links to content that along with annotations and references. 
  • Tag: displays all tags in the project, as well as graphs of all tagged content.
  • Word cloud: creates a word cloud from all the pages in the book.

Visualization layouts

Visualization layouts are page templates that allow you to include a large visualization at the top of a page, and typically visualizes contents related to the page. Most the layouts follow the general description for their global visualization counterparts listed above. Click the link to read more about the layout and see an example.

Visualization widgets

Like other widgets (see the next table), visualization widgets allow you to embed visualizations in a more modular format, as an element on a page. You can select what type of visualization you would like to embed, then customize what content, connections, and format that the widget will display.

Unlike Scalar's more structural capacities, widgets and plugins allow you to embed modular content on individual pages, such as visualizations, maps, media displays, and more. Widgets can be added either as linked content or an inline element in the structure of the page using the widget button in the editor.

screenshot of scalar editor with widget tools circled in red

Here's a list of Scalar's widgets, with links to read more and see examples.

  • Timeline: display contents chronologically using an interactive timeline. In order to display, contents must have chronological metadata added. Timelines are also offered as a page layout, with the timeline appearing at the top of the page.
  • Visualizations: see the earlier tab on visualizations to learn more.
  • Lens: displays a visualization for a selected lens (read more about lenses, which are basically highly customizable and query-able visualizations).
  • Map: plots items with spatial metadata on a Google map.
  • Carousel: displays a gallery of media using a responsive flip-through format.
  • Card: display captions, thumbnails, and links to other pages in the "margins" of your page.
  • Summary: like cards, but larger, can display rows of captions, thumbnails, descriptions, etc. in the margins of a page.

Plugins, on the other hand, are third party tools that can be used to supplement Scalar's out-of-the-box capabilities. Scalar has a few specific plugin types that they recommend: