Spotlight: Open Culture

The Open Culture logo.

The Internet is the world’s hub for culture. You can find anything and everything from high-definition scans of sixteenth-century art to pixel drawings created yesterday. However, actually finding that content — and knowing which content you are free to use and peruse — can prove a difficult task to many. That’s why Open Culture has made it its mission to “bring together high-quality cultural & entertainment media for the worldwide lifelong learning community.”

Run by Lead Editor Dan Colman, director & associate dean of Stanford’s Continuing Studies Program, Open Culture finds cultural resources that include online courses, taped lectures, movies, language lessons, recordings, book lists, syllabi, eBooks, audio books, text books, K-12 resources, art and art images, music and writing tips, among many other resources. The website itself does not host any of the content; rather, Colman and his team scour the Internet looking for these resources, some of which may seem obvious, but also including many resources that are obscure. Posting daily, the Open Culture team writes articles ranging from “Stevie Nicks “Shows Us How to Kick Ass in High-Heeled Boots” in a 1983 Women’s Self Defense Manual” to “John F. Kennedy Explains Why Artists & Poets Are Indispensable to American Democracy (October 26th, 1963”. Open Culture finds content that is useful, whimsical, timely, or all three.

The Open Culture website itself can be a little difficult to navigate. Links to content can seem hidden in the article format of Open Culture, and the various lists on the right side of the screen are clunky and require too much scrolling. However, the content that you find on the site more than makes up for the website design.

Have you used Open Culture before? Do you have other ways to find cultural resources on the web? Let us know in the comments!

Juan Pablo Alperin: Does Our Research Serve the Public, or Only Ourselves?

Juan Pablo Alperin.

Mark your calendars: Juan Pablo Alperin is coming to campus on March 9th to give a lecture titled, “Does Our Research Serve the Public, or Only Ourselves?” The Talk will place in Illini Union 407 at 4:00 pm.

Here is the official abstract for the talk:

Traditionally, scholarly efforts have focused on making research available and discoverable among scholars, scientists, and related professionals. However, with the onset of the digital era and the electronic circulation of research and scholarship, a new model of “open access” to this body of work has taken hold, one which is committed to making research freely and universally available online. The same digital era has given us the possibility of capturing and measuring how knowledge is produced, disseminated, and used, both within and beyond this traditional group of professional researchers. In his talk, Dr. Alperin will present research findings, gathered through novel strategies and tools, that the public is already taking advantage of the growing body of freely available research. However, despite the growing evidence and a stated interest that our work have societal impact, many of our scholarly publishing practices continue to keep the research out of the public’s hands. As it becomes easier to provide evidence of public interest even in the most obscure and esoteric topics, academics of all stripes will be increasingly challenged to ask ourselves if our scholarly publishing system is serving the public’s best interests, or simply our own.

And here is Juan Pablo Alperin’s bio:

Juan Pablo Alperin is an Assistant Professor at the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing and the Associate Director of Research with the Public Knowledge Project at Simon Fraser University. He is a multi-disciplinary scholar, with training in computer science (BMath, University of Waterloo), social science (MA Geography, University of Waterloo), and education (PhD, Stanford University), who believes that research, especially when it is made freely available (as so much of today’s work is), has the potential to make meaningful and direct contributions to society, and that it is our responsibility as the creators of this research to ensure we understand the mechanisms, networks, and mediums through which our work is discussed and used.


A list of his publications and presentations can be found at, and he can be found on Twitter at @juancommander.

For more information on the event, see our Scholarly Commons Speaker Series page and the Facebook page for this event! Hope to see you there!

Scholarly Smackdown: Scalar vs. Omeka

Scholarly Smackdown is the Scholarly Commons’ new review series comparing popular online research tools and resources. This week we’ll be taking a look at Scalar and Omeka, resources for presenting research digitally.

No scholars were harmed in the making of this column.


Scalar is a content management system for creating digital books of media scholarship from The Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, based out of University of Southern California. It features a WYSISWYG editor that allows you to edit different types of pages within a digital book. You choose how and in what way these pages connect. It’s free and you can create as many Scalar books as you want. It makes it easy to incorporate content from partner archives such as the Internet Archive and Critical Commons. The biggest selling point to Scalar, especially for media scholars, is that it lets you present media without having to host the media yourself, which is especially relevant for those analyzing media that is still under copyright. However, please do not let all of this potential power go to your head, and instead check out our copyright resources and feel free to contact the Copyright Librarian, Sara Benson with questions you may have.
In my opinion, Scalar is not as easy or intuitive to use as the people who created it seem to think it is, though USC provides some instructions for Scalar 2. The latest update has been buggy, and while ANVC/Scalar GitHub is very helpful, Scalar is clearly still a work in progress. If you do have any experience with web development, there is very limited customization, and I was not able to find specific instructions for CSS styling for Scalar 2. Finally, you cannot import  your own files larger than 2 MB, which can be frustrating if you want to use your own very high quality scans of items.

Omeka is a content management system designed for creating online exhibits from the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and Corporation for Digital Scholarship, the people behind  Zotero and THAT Camp.
Omeka basic features a WYSIWYG Editor and 500MB of file storage. The biggest advantage of Omeka is that it makes it very easy to add a lot of metadata about items that you want to display in an exhibit and create and arrange collections of these items. It also features lots of plugins (such as a CSS editor and a PDF embedded documents viewer), and the website provides very clear and thorough instructions. However, you can create only one Omeka site per account on the free version. If you contact the Scholarly Commons we can set up an Omeka site for you through the library institutional account, and you can learn more information and request an Omeka site here. 
One major difference between Omeka and Scalar is that with more storage, comes more responsibility; specifically, making sure that you have the permission to use items so that your research does not get taken down. Once again — please check out our copyright resources. Other notable drawbacks include the fact that customization is limited and is not great at creating things that aren’t online exhibits or exhibit-like sites.

Omeka and Scalar are two options of many for creating digital humanities projects. For specific questions and to learn more about Scalar and Omeka and other digital humanities resources at Scholarly Commons email us, and don’t forget to join us for a Savvy Research workshop about Scalar October 17 from 1-2 pm.

Let us know in the comments about your Scalar and Omeka experiences! Which do you prefer and why?

Further Reading:
Omeka Libguide:
Scalar Libguide:


“Alliance for Networking Visual Culture » Overview.” Accessed October 12, 2016.
Marcotte, Alison and Alex Villanueva. “Red Cross Work on Mutilés, At Paris (1918).” SourceLab Prototype Series 1, no. 1 (2015).
“Image of Research” Accessed October 12, 2016.

Introducing Sara Benson, Copyright Librarian & Assistant Professor, Scholarly Communications and Publishing Unit


Today we’re welcoming Sara Benson as a Scholarly Commons affiliate. While Sara has been at the University of Illinois for over ten years, she joined the library staff this August as our Copyright Librarian & Assistant Professor in the Scholarly Communications and Publishing Unit. Keep reading to get to know Sara.

What is your background education and work experience?

I am a lawyer with ten years of experience teaching at the law school level at the University of Illinois College of Law. Prior to joining the College of Law, I worked both in a large international law firm and a small boutique non-profit law firm.

What led you to this field?

When people turn forty, they examine their life and their career goals. The same was true for me. I decided to add to my existing legal knowledge by joining the MLIS program at the iSchool part-time.Through the iSchool, I learned that I could combine my passion for the law with my new love of librarianship by working as a Copyright Librarian—and here I am!

What is your research agenda?
Right now I am working on a large-scale project to study the effectiveness of fair use training on librarians. I believe that fair use can and should be taught to librarians and, despite the fact that it is a complicated area of the law, I think librarians can digest and apply the information in their everyday jobs. Thus, I am currently working on a study to test the outcome of a fair use training session for librarians.
Do you have any favorite work-related duties?
Yes. I already love helping to provide guidance to researchers, students, and scholars about copyright related information. I helped secure the right to film an Indian film at the Tagore Festival and the patron I assisted invited me to take part in the festivities. So, already I am receiving such positive results and feedback, which makes my job a pure joy.
What are some of your favorite underutilized resources that you would recommend to researchers?
I think fair use is not utilized enough in research and teaching as a whole to justify transformative aspects of our jobs as professors and scholars. I think we (as a University) should take advantage of the fair use defense to the full extent of the law.
If you could recommend only one book to beginning researchers in your field, what would you recommend?

I would recommend Kevin L. Smith’s book titled: “Owning and Using Scholarship: An IP Handbook for Teachers and Researchers.” I just read it over the summer prior to beginning my position and it is invaluable.

Fair Use and Music

Thinking back to Fair Use Week, it might be interesting to discuss how fair use applies to something that most people enjoy—music. Music can be pretty tricky when it comes to copyright law because there are layers and divisions of rights.

First, it’s important to cover some of the basics regarding music and copyright. For example, in a popular song, both the author of the musical work and the author of the lyrics written to accompany it can have joint ownership of the copyrighted work. While either individual can grant someone else the rights to use the song, exclusive rights (the right to reproduce, distribute, create a derivative, or publicly perform or display a work) can only be given with the consent of both copyright holders. A sound recording of this same popular song has an additional division of rights. This division exists between the underlying musical work that is recorded (the popular song) and the sound recording itself.

If the recording is of an orphan work, then the problem gets even trickier because this means that either one or both of the copyright holders are unknown. This is unfortunately the case for many historic sound recordings. In regard to sound recordings and public domain (works not subject to copyright), this might be confusing—anything recorded before 1972 is under state copyright law until February 15, 2067. This essentially means that no sound recordings will enter the public domain until the year 2067. Although all of these layers are important to keep in mind, this tricky situation becomes much simpler if the use of the music is considered to be fair use.

When considering the fair use of music materials, it’s important to remember that context is critical. Despite popular belief, there is no set amount of music that is guaranteed to be considered fair use (not even two bars of a musical work or 10 seconds of a sound recording). For a use to be considered fair use then it must be transformative with value added to the work. The amount used must also be appropriate to fulfill the transformative use. This appropriate amount of copyrighted music used must play a key role in adding value to the new work being created.

This is exactly why Gregg Gillis, also known as Girl Talk, and several other artists like him have not been sued for sampling other artists’ music. Due to decisions in cases such as the 1991 Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc. and the 2005 Bridgeport Music, Inc. v. Dimension Films, it has become common practice to seek permission and pay to use a sample in order to avoid copyright infringement. This process is expensive and takes time, and only the larger records companies can afford to spend their time and money this way. These artists and smaller record labels continue to sample music under the argument that the use falls under fair use. Whether or not sampling is legally considered to be fair use has yet to be tested in court since neither the 1991 nor 2005 cases utilized fair use as their defense. It may continue to stay out of court though, considering that if a court were to rule in favor of artists who sample under fair use, there would no longer be any reason to pay for the permission to sample.

Also, check out the many music copyright resources in the library catalog!

Special thanks to Kate Lambaria for this guest post!

Fair Use Week 2015: Celebrating the “Safety Valve” of U.S. Copyright Law

Here at the Scholarly Commons we care about copyright and related issues, and we do our best to ensure that students, faculty, and staff at the University of Illinois understand how copyright relates to their day-to-day work. Today marks the beginning of Fair Use Week (February 23-27, 2015), and we hope you’ll take advantage of our resources to understand this important exception to U.S. Copyright Law. A list of copyright-related guides from the library can be found at the end of this post.

Copyright is given a specific purpose in the United States Constitution: “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” Fair use is one of a set of exceptions built into U.S. copyright law meant to ensure that copyright does not become so restrictive as to prevent you from using protected works in ways central to this purpose. (Some other countries have a similar concept called “fair dealing.”) It’s what might allow an artist to create some parodies of other works, enable a scholar to include reasonable portions of another work in an article or book if for an appropriate purpose, or a search engine to produce thumbnail images of photographs from search results.

Words above like “might,” “some,” “reasonable,” and “appropriate” suggest why some people hesitate to make fair use decisions, even when there may be a clear fair use case protecting their actions. Fair use is governed by four factors: the purpose of the use, the nature of the work being used, the amount and substance of the work being used, and the effect on the market for the original work or its value. These factors have to be considered together, on a case-by-case basis. While previous case law can provide guidance, there are no hard rules about what you can or cannot do. For example, some people think all educational uses are fair use. While educational purposes do help under the “purpose” criteria, they are not decisive. On the other hand, some people worry that any negative impact on the market or value of the work rules out fair use. This would probably hurt your fair use case, but it again wouldn’t be decisive. Some of the most well-known fair use cases are well-documented, and they reveal how the final decision for or against fair use can be shaped by specific situations.

Luckily many everyday fair use decisions are pretty straightforward. A student or scholar may have to work out the details on how to appropriately cite another essay for intellectual integrity purposes, but except in extreme cases they don’t worry about needing permission from the copyright holder to quote in the first place. A good thing to do if you are worried whether a use may or may not be fair use is to fill out a “Fair Use Checklist” and then consider whether the overall balance of factors favor your situation. Some scholarly and professional organizations have also released guides to best practices on fair use that you may find helpful: a new example is the College Art Association’s “Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts.” You can also contact us at the Scholarly Commons with copyright-related questions of all types if you need further assistance. We can’t give you legal advice, but we can point to appropriate resources and ask questions that may help you work out a decision for yourself, whatever that may be.

This week, you can also learn more about fair use from many sources online. Search for the #fairuseweek2015 hashtag on social media sites, or follow @fairuseweek on Twitter. On Tumblr, Fair Use Week 2015 is highlighting fair use success stories to inspire us all. We’ll also be participating through the Scholarly Commons Twitter feed: follow us for fair use related tweets in addition to updates on our wide array of resources to assist your teaching and scholarship.

Copyright Resources from the Scholarly Commons and Other Library Units

Special thanks to Dan Tracy for this guest post.

FASTR: A New Open Access Bill Before Congress

As of Feb. 14, a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act. The bill’s purpose is to make the results of publicly funded research publicly available online. FASTR is a retooling of a past open access bill, the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), which has been considered several times since 2006, but has yet to reach the floor of either house (see this wiki page from the Harvard Open Access Project for a comparison of the two bills and other important information on FASTR).
A number of factors make FASTR more likely to reach the floor in the house or senate than past iterations of FRPAA. For one, Open Access to publicly-funded research has recently gained visible support from the public, as evidenced by the more the 64,000 signatures on this petition. This popularity is likely driven by the already-successful National Institutes of Health policy mandating that any research done with NIH funding be made publicly available online through the PubMed database, as well as the increase in public awareness of open access issues following last year’s high-profile boycott of Elsevier and opposition to the Research Works Act. There seems to be a wave of support building behind open access policies, and that support holds exciting possibilities for both advocates and researchers around the globe.

To consult with one of the Scholarly Commons experts on issues surrounding publishing, copyright, or making your publications in IDEALS (the University of Illinois’s open access repository) drop us a line at or stop by the Scholarly Commons, Main Library 306 during our open hours.

New Tool Ranks Cost Effectiveness of Open Access Journals

Typically, the model for open access publishing has been one of  “pay to be published” wherein scholars pay to have their work published after a peer review  process. This model has had some notable successes, producing high impact journals such as PLoS One. Predictably, the success of this  model has quickly been exploited by predatory publishers who publish articles, for a fee, but with little-to-no peer-review, poor editing, and zero impact. There are myriad journals that occupy the space between these extremes, and scholars, who may find the idea of open access appealing, are often left to wonder what the value of publishing in one of these journals might be. University of Colorado-Denver Librarian Jeffrey Beall has led an effort to publicize the existence of predatory publishers and has ferreted out some of the worst offenders on his blog, Scholarly Open Access, but, so far, the quality control efforts have focused on the scammers and spammers and has devoted relatively little effort to the evaluation or comparison of legitimate open access journals.

For these reasons, we wanted to share this data visualization tool that Wired Magazine recently publicized. The tool, which cross references the cost to publish with the relative impact of articles in OA journals, was created by developers at the scholarly publishing data engine “Eigenfactor.” Points in the plot can be highlighted to show the journals name and exact cost and impact. The journals are also listed further down on the page, ranked by their estimated cost-effectiveness. While it’s still in beta, the tool holds possibilities both for scholars seeking reliable information on open access journals and open access journals seeking greater exposure.

Interested in learning more about open access publishing? Set up an appointment by email at or drop in during our open hours Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 1-5 and Tuesday and Thursday from 10-5.

Possible Sale of Mendeley to Elsevier Raises Questions about Future Commitment to Openness

According to this tech-crunch article, there are strong suggestions that the citation manager, Mendeley (which we’ve blogged about here), could soon be sold to Elsevier. Given Elsevier’s reputation as a leading opponent of open access (as is evident, for example, from this past year’s boycott), the deal raises major questions about the future of Mendeley’s position at the cutting edge of academic software. Much of what made Mendeley such a great tool was its ability to transcend the intellectual property issues that constrain traditional databases by crowd-sourcing information about resources from a large, self-organized body of scholars. This, in part, has led the open access community to embrace Mendeley, a fact that will make Mendeley and Elsevier, at the very least, strange bedfellows. This article, also from tech-crunch, suggests the sale could be a boon for Mendeley users since Elsevier has made a public attempt to embrace open access and has the resources to keep Mendeley afloat. If Elsevier is successful in its acquisition of Mendeley, and is serious about adopting its values, that would signify a shift in the status quo of the scholarly publishing industry. Otherwise, there may be significant changes in store for Mendeley.

We’ll be following the story as it develops, so stay tuned…