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Research & Scholarship

Searching for Streaming Media, Part 2: Films and Documentaries

November 30th, 2016 by Rachel Fox Von Swearingen

Demand for access to streaming media has been increasing on campus for both classroom and research needs. In response, SU Libraries has been working to add more streaming services, and better content, to our streaming collections.

Together with Searching for Streaming Media, Part 1: Music, this is the second in a short series of blog posts dedicated to addressing what types of streaming media are available, what is unique about different collections, and some tips on the best way to access them. For this post, the focus is on films and documentaries.


Kanopy is the newest and largest streaming video provider for SU Libraries, featuring films from all disciplines, including classic feature films, foreign language films, documentaries, and technical training videos. Content providers include Criterion, New Day Films, First Run Features, Media Education Foundation, PBS, BBC, California Newsreel, and Documentary Educational Resources. New titles are added daily, and all titles are fully ADA compliant with most providing both closed captioning and transcripts.


The platform is very user-friendly, combining a Netflix-like visual browsing interface and a video playback window with features and tools similar to YouTube. Browsing categories include both traditional subject and topical areas like performing arts, anthropology, or physics, but there are additional general-interest categories that rotate out monthly, such as black history month or presidential elections. The video playback window has tools for creating clips and playlists, embedding and sharing options, a citation generator, and a side panel suggesting related videos.

One of the best access features in Kanopy is its compatibility with Apple TV and Chromecast for Android/Google devices, enabling users to stream videos to their television. All users (television or computer) can create a personal account to save clips and playlists, save their viewing history, create watch lists, and receive video suggestions tailored to their searching and viewing history.

Alexander Street Press

Alexander Street Press has been a substantial provider of streaming video as well as primary source and reference texts, focused on curating both subject-specific collections as well as larger interdisciplinary collections. Some packages contain video only, like the documentary collection Filmakers Library Online, but others incorporate text documents or images, like Disability in the Modern World: History of a Social Movement. In all, SU Libraries subscribes to twenty-two different collections, containing video, text, music, and image content. Other highlights for video content include American History in Video with newsreels and primary-source news footage and Counseling and Therapy in Video with counseling sessions and lectures.


All Alexander Street Press collections feature substantial metadata for enhanced browsing either on the home page for each collection or in the unified search interface. Users can browse or search by people, organizations, cultural groups, places, historical events, subject terms, and several other facets across the full platform of video content. These browsing options are the most granular when accessed through one of the disciplinary community portals, such as environmental studies, history, or performing arts, which enable browsing of videos from disparate collections all in one place. Alexander Street Press video content is also searchable in SU Libraries’ homepage search box, Summon. Just limit the content type on the search results to “streaming video.”

Most Alexander Street Press video collections have full-text searchable transcripts, improving both discoverability and access within each video. Users can also create clips and playlists to curate their own collection of relevant documents, share the links in Blackboard or for watching later on a mobile device, and generate citations.

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