Reviewed October 2014
Lyndsay Bratton, Digital Scholarship and Visual Resources Librarian
Charles E. Shain Library, Connecticut College
Kanopy Streaming is a video-licensing database with over 26,000 documentary and feature-film titles drawn together for educators and their institutions. 6,000 of these titles are geared towards the arts and humanities and include such classics as "The March of Time" vintage theatre newsreels and more current productions, such as Exero Film's "The Kiss of Art" collection of interviews with contemporary artists and the suite of the Checkerboard Film Foundation's documentaries about architects and their recent building projects. The layout is visually compelling through its use of beautiful stills spotlighting feature films, as well as its visual browsing below, which features pop-up synopses.
Not to be confused with other educational video platforms, such as Ensemble Video and Kaltura Video Platform, which host institutionally-owned video content, Kanopy provides commercially-licensed streaming content in addition to video-hosting services. Unlike the commercial giant Netflix, Kanopy offers access options geared towards educational institutions —à la carte (licensing for individual titles), curated collections (selected thematic collections), and patron-driven acquisition (automatic licensing of titles triggered by a certain number of institutional viewings). Moreover, Kanopy provides institutions with MARC records for all titles licensed and boasts compatibility with learning management systems. To guide purchasing decisions, institutional administrators can access usage statistics for Kanopy collections and titles, including when and on what types of devices the resource was accessed. Kanopy will also attempt to secure digital rights for requested content not currently offered in the catalog.
After creating a personal account through one's institutional subscription, individual users can create their own clips and playlists and embed them into Moodle or Blackboard course pages. Serial Solutions and Kanopy have collaborated to index the Kanopy catalog in the Summon discovery platform, offering Summon subscribers improved discoverability of Kanopy holdings within their institution's integrated library system. Extra features for each film in the database vary by producer. Some collections, such as the Criterion Collection, for example, offer links to film essays and further readings on producers' external sites. Users with individual accounts can add reviews for all films licensed by their institution.
One of Kanopy's shortcomings lies in its limited discoverability, especially when compared with its commercial peers and with other academic databases. Organization of the database rigidly follows producer collections with browsing as the primary means to find content. Searches are limited to keywords and exact titles, with no advanced search option. It is surprising how little emphasis directors receive—not only are their names usually relegated to the bottom of the full-description page for each film, but users cannot search the database specifically by name, be it director, actor or screenwriter. This level of enhanced discoverability is desirable in an ever-expanding film database, especially when a significant amount of Kanopy's content appeals to film studies programs. A further drawback of Kanopy is the inconsistent relevance of films available from different producers within each subject. Few instructors would, for example, show students The Roland Collection, films from the 1950s and 60s, to introduce art historical movements (at least in an unironic way), while films from First Run Features and Kino Lorber Edu represent some of the most acclaimed arts documentaries of the last ten years.
Kanopy Streaming is a strong candidate to address the increasing demand on campuses for streaming content, and it provides a one-stop solution for the need for a product combining commercially-licensed titles with hosting for institutionally-owned content. Flexible licensing models allow selectors to curate their own most institutionally-relevant streaming collections. With similar layout and functionality to other streaming websites already familiar to students and faculty, Kanopy is a well-rounded resource for academic libraries, with considerable appeal to arts institutions.