Reviewed April 2014
Kathleen Lonbom, Art, Arts Technology, Theatre & Dance Librarian
Illinois State University
Open Culture was founded in 2006 with a mission to “bring together high-quality cultural and educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community.” Founder and lead editor, Dan Colman, also serves as the Director and Associate Dean of Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program. Although the website is not affiliated with Stanford University, the content and focus on continued learning reflects Dr. Colman’s vested enthusiasm and interest in reaching a wide audience of learners by providing a gateway for content that is—for the most part—freely available.
The daily featured multi-media posts on Open Culture’s homepage serve as an engaging front door to the website drawing from a broad spectrum of humanities, science, and social science related subjects featuring timely pieces on film, education, history, music, literature, philosophy, design, technology and more. Text, film clips, audio, and links to additional materials and content are included. A recent post captioned, “Louis Armstrong Plays Historic Cold War Concerts in East Berlin & Budapest (1965)” highlights the interdisciplinary connections between music and history and the role musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, have played crossing barriers imposed by politics, governments, geography and other boundaries. A second post on the same day discusses the University of Oxford’s course “A Romp Through Ethics for Complete Beginners.” Summary information about the freely available survey course (seven lectures) offered through Oxfords’ Department of Continuing Education, links to the podcast series, audio, and presentation PowerPoints are available. Each new entry is accompanied by links to topic headings directing the user to previously posted related pieces in the website’s archive. Open Culture maintains a vibrant look and feel as content is refreshed with new and inviting entries posted throughout each day.
New content from readers is welcomed by Open Culture’s editorial review team with a focus on material that holds appeal to a “broad intelligent audience.” The editors actively feature and seek content available in a variety of formats such as text, audio, images, and video which are typically free with no cost to the user. The editorial team is deliberate in their declared purpose to support and provide access to information pieces that have multi-modal access and emphasize resources released in free format.
Similar to the expansive approach to the homepage entries Open Culture has categorized resource areas broadly in a tabbed navigation bar: Audio Books, Online Courses, Certificate Courses/MOOCs, Movies, Languages, K-12 Resources and eBooks. The Movies tab lists over 600 films by genre including documentaries, silent films, animation, and film noir. Art librarians and information professionals seeking Open Culture’s art related content may search more specific categories including Animation, Art, Architecture, Creativity, Design, Film, Photography, and Technology. Additionally, a keyword search box appears on each page. Search the word “art” and more than 6,000 results return including entries such as “The Art of Data Visualization: How to Tell Complex Stories Through Smart Design” and “John Baldessari’s “I will Not Make Any More Boring Art” : A 1971 Conceptual Art Piece/DIY Art Course.” Video clips, images, links, and thoughtful, brief text accompany each entry.
Commercial advertising on Open Culture is apparent but contained and not overwhelming. Content is generally and intentionally accessible to a wide audience. Open Culture is free and does not require a user to establish an account to access the resources. No specific software is needed and the website is easily navigated and those who are interested can follow it on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, or have email notifications sent.