eReviews: Pop Culture | October 15, 2011

MAYBE THE THING that really makes us human is not the ability to use tools, to think abstractly, or to love, but the ability to take things like sports, fashion, and celebrity seriously even though we know they are completely unimportant. Here, we look at popular culture resources, and in all honesty, it’s hard to decide which is cooler‚ the content of these resources or the ways in which that content is delivered.

Swank’s Digital Campus enables libraries to make educational and feature films available for viewing anywhere and anytime. Alexander Street Press not only lets libraries assemble the world’s hippest record collections, but it also allows everyone on campus to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want. If that weren’t enough, the publisher wants to persuade us that comics don’t belong under the bed but should be read unashamedly‚ proudly!‚ in public areas of the library and anywhere else that the campus computer network extends.

Even the most conventional product in this group, ABC-CLIO’s Pop Culture Universe, represents a departure from the norm in the way it bundles previously published reference material culled from a variety of titles and presents it within a newly created scholarly superstructure.

Pop Culture Universe: Icons Idols Ideas
ABC-CLIO; product.aspx?id=2147488617

CONTENT ABC-CLIO’s Pop Culture Universe: Icons Idols Ideas collects more than 3000 entries on the broad subject of popular culture, adapted and updated from hundreds of Greenwood Press, Praeger, and ABC-CLIO reference titles. It is cross-searchable with the other ABC-CLIO databases to which a library subscribes.

Coverage proceeds decade by decade, from the start of the 1900s (The Age of Innocence) to the 2000s (Networked Nation). Entries are regularly updated, and new content is routinely added as well. Each decade file opens with an essay that revisits the salient historical and cultural events of the period and is followed by several essays on pop culture phenomena then.

In all, there are nearly 40 signed topical pieces on subjects ranging from Levittown and the Rise of the Suburb to Social Media and Youth Culture. Nearly all of the signed 750- to 1500-word essays are the work of Bob Batchelor, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Kent State University.

The academic credibility of Pop Culture Universe is further bolstered by its Idea Exchange area, which is geared toward community college and undergraduate students. Here, one of the academics on the advisory board poses a provocative question (e.g., Is the book dying? Do celebrities have responsibilities as role models? Can a video game be regarded as art?). Several rigorously argued responses‚ complete with footnotes‚ follow. According to the website, this feature has two goals: to publish informative, thesis-driven, peer-reviewed essays that offer multiple perspectives on the sort of open-ended Enduring Questions that are frequently assigned to college students; and to model effective essay-writing practices.

More than 2300 color and black-and-white images illustrate the scholarly essays and other entries. The resource also includes about 100 video clips, including one of Muhammad Ali getting increasingly worked up as he talks about his upcoming rematch with Henry Cooper, a Three Stooges commercial for Instant Simoniz car wax, and a clip of Andy Warhol discussing his 15 Minutes of Fame vision of the future.

USABILITY The straightforward Pop Culture Universe provides several routes into its extensive content. Users may enter the Decades or Idea Exchange areas of the resource or opt to conduct a quick or advanced search. They are also invited to Explore a Decade, as the various periods take turns being featured on the main page with each successive login. Links to the Enduring Questions are on display there, too.

Quick search reaches the top-level essays that any casual user of Pop Culture Universe sees as well as the thousands of other entries that form its much deeper foundation. Terms occurring within each entry are links, and this makes it easy to branch out in new directions. Exploration is further encouraged by the display of related entries along the left-hand frame.
Advanced-search mode permits students to limit a keyword search by category, decade, and/or subject via a series of checkboxes. Categories include articles, media and visuals, documents, facts and figures, glossary terms, time lines, and Idea Exchange.

Other Resources comprise articles from the Decades section of the resource and associated Feature Stories. Several categories open up to reveal more specific subheadings, which allows users to craft a fairly specific search. The broad subject limiters include such areas as food and drink, technology and media, and music. It is possible to search using just a limiter‚ sports, for example, or video‚ without entering an actual search term to produce a list of entries to browse. Take a search for glossary terms for the 1970s: Me Generation in the subject area of Clothing, Fashion, and Appearance‚ it produced a charming list of five hits, including Cultural Icon, Liberty Spikes, Mohawk, Poseur, and Post-Punk.

Users may tailor their search strategies by using Boolean operators to narrow or expand a search or by employing quotation marks to find exact phrases. Keywords are automatically truncated, and adding title: or credit: before a search term restricts the searching to that field.

Entries may be easily printed or emailed; cited using APA, Chicago, or MLA style; and exported to EasyBib or RefWorks. In fact, our only disappointment was that none of the 16 clips from the 1969Bob Hope Christmas Special was viewable.

PRICING The cost of Pop Culture varies depending on the institution type. A one-year subscription starts at $749 and is based on the size of the population served. Trials are available.

END USERS Although the name may suggest something with a little more dazzle, Pop Culture Universe is, in fact, all about substance. From one perspective, it is an exceptionally clever way to repurpose existing reference content. More significantly, it also includes dozens of lengthy, original essays that are geared toward an academic audience and were written exclusively for this product. This feature makes for a resource that students and researchers of popular culture will happily explore at length.

Digital Campus
Swank Motion Pictures, Inc.;

CONTENT Growing demand for streaming media in all sectors (certainly for the consumer market and possibly more so on college campuses) has led to numerous technology developments within the industry. Presumably, end-user expectations will only continue to increase as students own mobile devices with even greater frequency.

Enter Digital Campus, by way of Swank Motion Pictures, Inc., a service created for faculty who wish to supplement curriculum with streaming access to course-related films. Founded in 1937, Swank is the world’s largest non-theatrical [markets outside of theaters] distributor, providing both public performance licensing rights and licensed movies to colleges and universities.

Enjoying exclusive partnerships with all the big Hollywood names, including Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers, Walt Disney Pictures, Sony Pictures, NBC Universal, DreamWorks Pictures, New Line Cinema, MGM, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax, Columbia Pictures, and United Artists, Swank is also a distribution partner for many independent movie studios. With a growing library of more than 16,000 big box office, independent, foreign, and documentary films, the service is thriving as institutions select and pay only for films that are needed.

Digital Campus is suitable for all disciplines, providing subject content related to languages and literature, music, film studies, visual arts, psychology, the environment, history, science, and more. Institutions select from the catalog by title, director, actor, genre, or full list. Under genre are such choices as Academy Award‚ winning, blockbuster, Bollywood, historical, mathematic, silent, and even zombie movies.

Obvious advantages to the streaming service include the ability to deliver movies and documentaries directly to students’ desktops, with access anytime and anywhere; not having to assign films via course reserve and worry about lack of viewing space or shortages of copies for large classes; not having to take valuable class time to view a film; and, quite important, freeing libraries from having to keep up with new media formats and technologies.

Once films are added to an institution’s account, they can be accessed either through a URL or a link that is embedded in a web page or CMS. Digital Campus works with virtually any learning management system that offers a password-protected environment, such as Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai, etc.

USABILITY Movies are delivered through a dedicated server using Silverlight software, which is available through a free download and is compatible with both Macs and PCs. There are two parts to the service: the interactive, administrative side of the platform and the viewer side. On the end-user side, students can fast-forward, rewind, pause, and save progress for a later date, as well as take notes online and export them to Word.

The interactive side allows faculty to create lesson and time line objectives and attach documents. Lesson objectives identify specific themes or issues that faculty want students to look for while watching; questions can be embedded for further discussion or response papers. Time line objectives specify a certain segment or scene that should be examined, and the objective is highlighted as the film gets to the specific timestamp, alerting viewers that they should pay special attention to the scene.

Multiple lesson and time line objectives can be created, shared among faculty, and saved for use or adaptation in future semesters. Once a lesson is created, it will display under the list of available movie titles on the end-user side of the service.

We initially had some buffering/pausing problems when using Digital Campus with students. Swank reviewed our activity logs, and although these were inconclusive, they proactively (and quickly) moved the traffic over to a connection with twice the total bandwidth. This allowed for a greater number of concurrent users, and there have been no complaints from our students since.

PRICING [The pricing has been removed from the online version of this review per the vendor’s request.] Institutions can purchase titles for a session, a semester, or a full year, and discounts are available according to the number of titles purchased, the number of years agreed to, and through consortia arrangements.

END USERS This service gives students the ability to view a film anywhere at their convenience and to take notes easily and directly within the interface while watching. Faculty can enhance their course material by assigning film content, as they have typically done in the past, but through the use of Digital Campus offer more viewing options to students and also allow for questions, talking points, and deeper analysis of a character or specific detail in a scene. With the seamless integration of lesson and time line objectives in addition to supplemental course documents, Digital Campus is a win-win for faculty and students, as well as libraries faced with the challenge of obsolete formats and equipment.

Underground & Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels
Alexander Street Press;

CONTENT In a league of its own, Underground & Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels is the first-ever scholarly online collection of adult comic books and graphic novels. The current release (an August update added 9,113 pages) contains a remarkable 248 comic series and 1,409 comic books. More than 25,000 pages of interviews, books, journal articles, commentary, criticism, and theory supplement the core content.

Users will find the full text of Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, the 1954 book that described comic books as a negative form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency and which ultimately led to one of the largest censorship programs in U.S. history; the complete transcripts of the 1954 Senate subcommittee hearings on the comic book industry; more than 32 years’ worth of the Comics Journal, the first publication to feature regular criticism and news coverage of the comics industry; and Kitchen Sink Press: The First 25 Years, a profile of one of the first publishers of underground comics.

The database aims to provide a comprehensive view of alternative comics and graphic novels from the 1950s to today, particularly those from North America, although other places are represented. Included are influential works of the writers and artists long associated with the genre, such as Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb (the acknowledged father of underground comics), Harvey Pekar, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robins (who established the first all-woman comic book, It Ain’t Me, Babe Comix ), and Vaughn Bode.

Also featured are contemporary creators such as Peter Bagge, Dan Clowes (winner of the 2011 PEN Literary Prize for Graphic Literature), Kim Deitch, Jaime Hernandez, Alison Bechdel, and Dave Sim.

USABILITY Although Schaffer Library has subscribed to this resource for nearly a year, and we regularly promote it to a Graphic Novels class, we had never examined the secondary sources and had limited knowledge of the comics. It was time for us to get better acquainted.

Browsing the 1956 report Comic Books and Juvenile Delinquency, we read the sections A Brief History of the Development of the Comic Book Industry and Other Questionable Aspects of Comic Books to familiarize ourselves with the history of the movement and what made comics go underground.

Accustomed to the semantic indexing available with other Alexander Street Press (ASP) databases, we were extremely impressed with the retrieval of original content and the quality of the images previewed. Everything we looked at was clearly readable, which is not always the case with scanned primary-source material. As with all ASP products, a top-level navigation bar is available throughout the database, with links to Home, Browse, Advanced Search, Playlists, What’s New, and Help.

A quick search box offers a drop-down menu to search all material, full text, keywords, subjects, or title. Browse options on the left-side navigation bar grant access to characters, genres (adult, autobiography, crime, drama, educational, fantasy, history and biography, horror, humor, political, satire, and sci-fi), people, publisher, series and titles, subjects, and the Comics Journal. The featured content on the opening screen includes several Playlists, another good introduction to the primary sources. As mentioned in other ASP reviews, Playlists are themed collections of materials that can be created by any user and, upon sign-in, may be saved as lists of personal favorites. Classic Comix Characters, created by ASP editor Greg Urquhart, highlights 11 works featuring notable characters originating in underground comix, including Zippy, God Nose (considered by many to be the first underground comic), and Skip Williamson’s installment, Snappy Sammy Smoot Goes to a Rock Festival, from Dan Clyne’s Hungry Chuck Biscuits Comics and Stories, Vol. 1, No. 1.

Each item has additional hard-to-find details in the citation, e.g., comics subject, comic series note, copyright message, story, start and end year, document type, language of edition, person subject, genre, and publisher.

There are three basic settings in the image viewer once an item has been selected: thumbnails; sidebar view, which allows users to see one page in detail while providing thumbnail images of the other pages in the work to the side; and full view. Navigation within a title or series worked well once we got used to the next/previous page and item controls that skip between installments or chapters in a book or issue. Users can zoom in and rotate using the controls directly above the image, which is helpful when reading fine print or credits and when analyzing specific artwork details.

Advanced search is the most powerful. Nineteen fields are indexed, including art credits, artist gender, story nationality, material type, gender, subjects, and keyword. Several fields have an authority index that can be browsed for query term(s), and results can be limited to primary or secondary materials or include all sources.

PRICING Underground & Independent Comics, Comix, and Graphic Novels is available through annual subscription or as a onetime purchase of perpetual rights. Prices for either option are scaled to library size, type, and budget. Subscriptions start at $808 for the smallest libraries and purchase at $12,500 plus a $125 annual access fee. Free 30-day trials are available.

END USERS Before this database, it was nearly impossible to not only discover but to gain full-text access to such a large collection of material that truly reflects a socially, culturally, and politically charged period in America’s history. This unique resource is a definite yes for libraries supporting a comic books or graphic novels curriculum. The availability of rare primary sources, in combination with secondary material for context and analysis in one collection, is a researcher’s dream. [Cheryl LaGuardia reviewed the first iteration of this database in LJ 3/1/11, rating it a ten for content [that] stands out by a mile.‚ Ed.]

American Song
Alexander Street Press;

Contemporary world music
Alexander Street Press;

CONTENT Alexander Street Press has a knack for delivering resources that no one else has had the imagination to market, and two of its most appealing offerings are the streamed music databases American Song and Contemporary World Music. While both have deep roots and offer an expansive range of musical styles, they most definitely qualify as popular music sources.

American Song includes labels representing a range of approaches‚ historic (Document, Testament), preservationist (Arhoolie, Smithsonian Folkways), rootsy (Rounder), and just plain rocking (Motown, Daptone). Everyone’s story gets told‚ Native Americans and immigrants, farmers and miners, Colonial revolutionaries, slaves, cowboys, 1950s rockabillies, and 21st-century urbanites‚ in their own words and with their own rhythms.

Contemporary World Music presents a dizzying array of musical genres‚ Afro pop, bhangra, rai, Bollywood, fado, klezmer, zydeco, and more than 100 others. Labels include world music classics such as Playasound and Lyrichord as well as hipper new ones like Six Degrees, and titles showcase contemporary releases along with very substantial collections like the 25 volumes of the long-running √âthiopiques series and the 16 volumes from Celestial Harmonies’ Music of Islam set.

Alexander Street has upgraded the sound quality of the streamed files to 128 kbps, with an option to listen at the High rate of 320 kbps for at least some tracks. Both resources, however, include vintage studio tracks along with field recordings made under less than ideal conditions. That means that if the original source material is presentable, the listening experience should be satisfactory. It’s important to note, though, that there are still many files that stream at 64 kbps. Listeners will likely encounter less than audiophile-level fidelity for at least some of the material.

Both resources were last updated in April 2011, bringing American Song up to 6,875 albums and 116,219 tracks and Contemporary World Music to nearly 16,000 albums and almost 200,000 tracks. Both contain recordings released as recently as 2010, which should assuage any concerns that this is a dump for back-catalog titles that no longer sell.

USABILITY Searchers visiting either homepage are met with an eye-catching display of featured titles as well as a number of options for exploring each resource. Featured across the top of the page are links to the Browse, Advanced Search, and Playlists features, along with access to notes on the latest updates and a help button. Also residing there is a powerful quick-search box accompanied by a pull-down menu that permits searching the full contents or limiting searches to Album Title, Cultural Groups, Ensembles, Genres, Historical Events, Instruments, People, Places, or Track Title fields.

Searchers reluctant to dive directly into the site’s treasures via quick search can take advantage of a variety of well-developed browsing options, especially useful in the case of Contemporary World Music where some 125 subgenres have been indexed for exploration.

Someone needs to take a red pencil to the interface design, however, because Alexander Street employs inconsistent and redundant labeling. Browse is used as a link to the various indexes and as both a heading and a subheading in the same frame. Genres appears as a link to the full, hierarchically organized listing of musical styles, while Genre is employed just below it as a heading to a nonhierarchical list of a handful of those styles. The option for searching for individual names is labeled as People and All People depending on where you look.

The Browse capabilities themselves are good. Clicking on Instrument reveals a screen displaying seven categories of instruments. In Contemporary World Music, for example, clicking on Accordion displays the list of the 13 types of accordions played on 4,368 tracks within the resource. Clicking fearlessly on Bagpipes produced a listing of 22 instrument types on 945 tracks. This selection takes searchers to a results page displaying basic discographic information for 20 full-length recordings. A succession of menus enables narrowing by any of the remaining indexes‚ Artist or Cultural Group, for example. Where liner notes exist, they may be viewed as PDFs.

Artists appear in the database under their full given names. An All People search in American Song on wolf produced 22 hits for Burnet, Chester Arthur as well as a handful for Wolf, Howlin’ and Wolf, Howling. In this instance, at least, the authority list worked well but not perfectly in finding all the recordings by the legendary bluesman.

Results lists include a utility for creating a Playlist or adding tracks to an existing one. This is a feature we’ve used extensively to introduce a different perspective in the research process.

Advanced Search permits the use of keywords of the searcher’s choosing or the use of controlled vocabulary terms imported from the appropriate list. Both collections are accessible (and cross-searchable) via the Music Online interface.

PRICING Pricing depends on library size, type, and budget. Annual subscriptions for American Song and Contemporary World Music start at $995 each. A purchase option is also available. Free 30-day trials are available to librarians and faculty members.

END USERS One way to sum up these resources would be to list as many artists, recordings, labels, and genres as we can fit into our allotted space. American Song educates us with The Ballads of the Revolution from Folkways, stirs us with Sam Cooke’s gospel music, blows our minds with Little Richard’s classic tracks for the Specialty label, haunts us with the Buddy Holly Apartment Tapes, transports us with Stevie Wonder, and hauls us out of our chairs with the high-energy neosoul of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings.

Contemporary World Music graces us with recordings from the 1920s and 1930s by the iconic Egyptian singer Oum Kalthoum, Ravi Shankar’s culturally eye-opening 1960s ragas for Angel Records, cult classics such as Café Oran by Jewish Algerian pianist Maurice El Médioni, and contemporary Latin music luminaries like Spanish Harlem Orchestra.

Both American Song and Contemporary World Music are well suited to academic settings where the opportunity to explore the sounds and cultures of people from all over this country and the world contributes to the educational experience‚ whether as a part of the coursework or a personal journey. Additionally, the Playlist feature permits educators to construct course-related resources that meet the specific needs of their students.

We have some quibbles about aspects of these resources, but the truth is that both are treasures that will make important and joyous contributions to the educational mission and that no other resources come close to matching.

E-Short Takes

American Film Scripts Online
Alexander Street Press;
The current edition of this film lover’s delight houses 1,009 authorized, original-format scripts by 1,062 writers, together with detailed information on related scenes, characters, and moviemakers. The database also includes in excess of 500 previously unpublished screenplays. With more than 100,000 scenes of life as portrayed in the movies, American Film Scripts Online (AFSO) will support researchers in sociology, psychology, popular culture, writing, film studies, and history. Each script is indexed and organized to allow searching by scene, character, or director, affording users the ability to identify all aspects of a film, from character development to specific scenes.

Factors for inclusion are major awards won, critical acclaim garnered, and historical or sociological significance earned. A variety of well-known figures such as Gus Van Sant, Martin Scorsese, Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Parker, and John Sayles are featured; documents range from the instructions the 1903 Great Train Robbery actors studied to the continuity script of 2006’s The Lake House. AFSO is available for onetime purchase or as an annual subscription.

Rock’s Backpages
Rock’s Backpages;
Featuring more than 17,000 articles and audio and video content from multiple sources on artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Eminem, from the Rolling Stones to the Stone Roses, and from Amy Winehouse to the White Stripes, Rock’s Backpages (RBP) is the largest database of rock journalism online. Recent additions include an account of Dave Godin’s audience with James Brown ( Record Mirror, 1966), Jacoba Atlas’s interview with Steppenwolf’s John Kay ( Hullabaloo, 1969), and Paul Lester’s one-on-one with Snoop Doggy Dogg ( Melody Maker, 1994). Current Writer’s Blogs offer a Tribute to REM and Top 10 Birmingham and Midlands songs.

Although free content is available for all to browse, the majority of the site is restricted to subscriber access only; individual or institutional subscription options are available, as detailed online.

Another service available through the site is the Rock’s Backpages Magazine Archive, a collection of thousands of original volumes of U.S. and UK music magazines from the 1960s to the present. Titles include

Rolling Stone, Creem, New Musical Express, and Melody Maker. This archived material is not available to read online; rather, photocopies of articles may be ordered for an extra fee. [ LJ Music columnist Matthew Moyer interviewed RBP’s editor, Barney Hoskyns, in LJ 9/1/11.‚ Ed.]

Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text
Film & Television Literature Index with Full Text ( FTLI) is a comprehensive bibliographic and full-text database covering film theory, preservation and restoration, screenwriting, production, cinematography, technical aspects of film, and reviews. The resource provides cover-to-cover indexing and abstracts for more than 380 publications, selections from 300 publications, and the full-text of more than 120 journals and 100 books. Publication dates are mainly between 1990 and the present, but some material is as much as 50 years old.Titles include

Film Journal International, Journal of British Cinema & Television, Film Criticism, Post Script, Cahiers du Cinéma, Cinema in India, Cinemaya, Filmkultura, Segnocinema, and Kinetoscopio. Other valuable highlights include Variety movie reviews from 1914 to the present, 36,300 images from the Motion Picture and Television Photo Archive, and technical standards published by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers.Indexing from the original print version of this material (

Film Literature Index ) has been integrated with EBSCO’s holdings, and the database is cross-searchable with other subscribed EBSCOhost databases and ebook collections. FTLI is appropriate for libraries supporting film, television, visual arts, and cultural studies programs.

Film Indexes Online
Film Indexes Online is a portal that allows subscribers to access, together or separately, Film Index International (FII), the American Film Institute Catalog (AFI Catalog), and FIAF International Index to Film Periodicals. Developed by the British Film Institute, FII profiles films and film personalities from more than 180 countries up to the present day.

All eras of production are covered, from early silent movies to recent box-office hits, with biannual updates. AFI Catalog, infused with new content biannually, is compiled by film experts and researchers at the American Film Institute and presents a detailed view of American feature films produced between 1893 and 1973. Encompassing nearly 60,000 film records and content such as AFI’s Top 10 Films of 2010, the resource offers a comprehensive view, with full production and cast information, extensive plot summaries, and in-depth production notes.

Created by film organizations worldwide and edited by experts in Belgium, FIAF, which is updated quarterly, is an international index of scholarly film periodicals from 1972 to today (FIAF Plus offers the full text of many of the titles, with monthly updates). Access includes Treasures from Film Archives; credits and holdings information about international archives of silent-era material; and Documentation Collections, detailing published and unpublished materials, visual and sound collections, and special collections held by institutions around the globe.

InfoTrac Pop Culture Collection
Gale Cengage Learning;
This InfoTrac file boasts more than 3.5 million articles from 150-plus subject-appropriate, full-text periodicals including Advertising Age, American Theatre, Billboard, Cosmopolitan, Daily Variety, Esquire, Film Criticism, Hollywood Reporter, Maclean’s, Newsweek, and Vogue.

The bulk of the publications‚ book reviews, newspaper content, and multimedia‚ are nonacademic sources, with coverage extending from the mid-1970s to the present. Images are culled from a variety of sources, e.g., United Press International and video files from Bloomberg Television Video Content. Users have the standard InfoTrac search options: basic, advanced, subject guide, and publication.

Recommended Gale ebooks that complement this collection and that are available for additional purchase are Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990; Bowling, Beatniks, and Bell-Bottoms: Pop Culture of 20th-Century America; Contemporary Fashion; International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers; St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture; U.X.L. American Decades; and VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever, 2006 and 2007 editions.

About Bruce Connolly & Gail Golderman

Gail Golderman ( is Electronic Resources Librarian and Bruce Connolly ( is Reference & Bibliographic Instruction Librarian, Schaffer Library, Union College, Schenectady, NY