Professor to students: Have you ever seen this? You really need to see this! There’s a scene where… What did you think about…

Nothing speaks to students like film. Everyone has opinions about movies, what constitutes a true classic of a favorite genre, the moment in a film when a famous scene brings a social issue to life, an opinion to bear on history, a storyline that makes an impression. Films, even those assigned through coursework, also drive student conversation. We live in the Age of the Watchlist. There’s so much video on demand that, for some people, it requires a plan.  We compare notes about films with friends, family, roommates, and students hold their own movie nights.

Then, it’s no surprise to find that in teaching, instructors are working films into a syllabus for the semester, and sometimes not just one film, but a range of films for a single course each semester. Film assignments energize classroom discussions and encourage student participation. Strategically timed film viewings and the conversations and research that result from them can be a great part of a course.

Will the library help with this?  Of course! The Penn Libraries do all the time. We want to make sure instructors and students have the access to any and all the films they need. There are so many ways that student learning and the overall course experience can be enriched by watching compelling or provocative films.

This post covers how an instructor can request streaming films for class. If the film is a required part of class, sometimes students also reach out to the library to do the whole class a favor and make access easier. 

There are a few ways to request streaming films for class. The Penn Libraries have online collections of streaming films that are vast and which provide access to tens of thousands of films. The service with the most films would be Academic Video Online, also known as AVON. Academic Video Online includes documentary films, theater and arts performances, historical news programming, and short films. There are films from major distributors like Sony Pictures, PBS, BBC, and even segments from CBS’s 60 Minutes, all with searchable transcripts.

If you would like to check to see if the library has streaming access or owns a copy of the film or video you’d like to show, here’s how: 

  • Go to Franklin, the Penn Libraries catalog,
  • In the upper right-hand corner, log in to your library account with your PennKey and password, if you aren’t already logged in
  • Search the title of the film. If there are many results that have the same title, on the left, select Format: Video, to see only video results
  • If you see multiple results – Example: Citizen Kane,  — then look for a record that has a link “Connect to streaming video”
  • Click on the title of the film in the list of results, and scroll to the bottom of the record. Here there is a link, inside a frame, for Additional Services: Place on Course Reserve. Select this and choose the courseYou can do this for the streaming video as well as for the film in a physical format (DVD). 

Didn’t find what you were looking for in Franklin? Suggest a purchase! If you do not see a record for the film you want, or you see only the DVD, not a streaming version, you can also use the “Suggest a Purchase” form:

You are more than welcome to contact library staff directly with requests for films for class as well:

The Penn Libraries have several streaming video databases besides Academic Video Online, mentioned above. One of services that many on campus know about is Kanopy, but there are other streaming platforms that give access to films. Here is a list of streaming platforms and streaming video collections with more details about each:

Unfortunately, not all of the films in AVON have individual records in Franklin, so it can be useful to search AVON separately. Both AVON and Kanopy offer links and “embed code” to put into your course home page, if you’re an instructor who likes to design your Canvas course page, or online course home page elsewhere, on your own.  Our Reserves Staff can work with the Canvas Courseware Team to help update your course page.

To fulfill new requests for streaming films, the library often has to purchase a term-limited license to gain the rights to stream a film, usually for a period of one year. This can more expensive than buying a DVD, but we do our best to accommodate instructor requests and reduce costs for students.

There are still occasions when we find we cannot arrange the rights to stream films, because there is no option for an institutional purchase.  This is more likely to be the case with lesser common foreign films. In these cases, we have to rely on using what physical media we have, or we will follow up with instructors to let them know that they can direct their students to commercial streaming services that provide access, if any.  A lot of students maintain personal subscriptions to streaming services, but it’s clear that it’s not always the case. Not everyone can afford to maintain accounts for every single streaming service or premium channel, and with all that’s out there to watch, it’s practical to be selective in which streaming services or sites you use.

As streaming services increase the amount of “exclusive” content that they make available only via a single platform, this is growing more complex.

Here at Van Pelt there is a staff of professionals who are experts in tracking down sometimes even the most obscure films to help build a film collection that meets the needs of a research campus. Even so, the costs of purchasing streaming licenses are usually much higher than buying a copy of a DVD that you may find in the bargain bin at a retail store, and for the library, one of the collection goals at the Penn Libraries is to grow our permanent holdings of films at the same time as we stream films that classes are watching. The media that Penn purchases that then goes into the Van Pelt Video Collection (or other video collections on campus, at Annenberg School for Communication Library, the Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library, the Penn Museum Library at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, or off-site into storage at LIBRA, among other locations) is something that the Libraries can continue to own and provide access to for years to come, whereas, when a streaming license expires, it vanishes, if even temporarily. That’s why the Penn Libraries prefer to purchase physical media when responding to requests from individual students or researchers who need longer-term access to a particular film, or instructors who are recommending films for optional viewing. The library gives priority to streaming requests that are required viewing for courses. To prevent lapses in streaming film availability, if you are an instructor and know that you are going to need streaming access to a particular film for a course taught every semester, that’s also something that is helpful for Reserves staff to know.

As you can see, the landscape for streaming media is always growing in complexity, with differences in levels of access for consumers, for library users, and for instructors using films for class. If you have questions for us and we can of help in arranging streaming or looking into what options there are, please let us know!   

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