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YouTube is not just a popular website. It is a matrix of global culture, a digital place in which people from all over the world can upload and view videos. The Economist estimates that more than 2 billion people visit YouTube monthly. Users upload some 500 hours of video to the website each minute.

YouTube is not just for entertainment. This video giant offers much more than music videos and comedy sketches. YouTube provides countless videos in every genre and taste imaginable. Each academic subject has an opportunity to broadcast information to the billions of people viewing YouTube. Even the most serious and technical topics are addressed on the platform. For instance, an increasing number of surgeons refer to YouTube to review surgical procedures.

The panoply of scholarly resources available on YouTube makes this platform relevant to librarians. It provides access to lectures, discussions, and interviews with some of the leading scholars and researchers of our age. Videos include college-level lectures from some of the most prestigious learning institutions on the planet.

This free database provides a unique opportunity for libraries. They can curate its video material and develop video catalogs in a similar manner to catalogs of print material. Librarians can dive into YouTube, navigating beyond the surface to find real treasures in the depths.

Finding Treasure

As with the internet in general, the key advantage of YouTube can also be its weakness. The sheer amount of content--and the ease with which it can be uploaded--can make the quality of the site's content murky. So how does one begin sorting through YouTube to find high-quality educational content? In an analysis of the quality of surgical videos on YouTube, a study published in the World Journal of Emergency Surgery found that the unregulated nature of the platform allowed for lesser-quality videos to appear more readily than higher-quality ones. Thus, simple keyword searching often won't suffice to find the best learning content on YouTube. There's so much competition that videos with high view counts can bury more informational content.

A search for information-rich content on YouTube is different than a search for popular content. While there is a race among entertainment and business interests to gain view counts in the millions or even billions, high-quality learning content often has much lower view counts. Videos meant to entertain have higher search positions, because they are, well, entertaining. This reality can make it harder to discover high-quality informational content that is not meant to solely entertain.

Let's do target searching. Instead of asking YouTube what it has on psychology, tell it to list its results on psychology from Yale University. Yes, we want to see if Yale (or Harvard) has information on psychology. There is so much content from so many different outlets that librarians have the power to be very picky--so be picky. Don't settle for gimmicky, amateur content. Real scientists and scholars are on YouTube, and a targeted search will find them.

YouTube search strategies follow what librarians have done for generations, just in a digital environment. A librarian is searching not just for any answer but a good answer. Good answers can be found at good institutions. Just as Yale University Press provides high-quality print resources, Yale provides high-quality video resources on YouTube. The evaluation of the institution that publishes the content is a useful way to filter through the abundance of results.

Similar to books, YouTube videos have publishers. As with print resources, the publisher of video content can be a good indication of the quality of the content. Publishers are denoted on YouTube's service as channels. A way to approach YouTube is to identify an institution that is authoritative in the subject of inquiry. Let's use astronomy as an example. What institution has the best grasp on astronomy? Check NASA's official YouTube channel.

YouTube's collection is so big that we can cut through the amateur videos and go right to the most authoritative institutions in the world. Answers to health questions really need to come from an authoritative source. Check the Mayo Clinic's YouTube channel. A check mark on the channel profile page indicates that YouTube has verified that it is actually operated by the stated organization. For instance, the YouTube channel FRONTLINE PBS I Official has a check mark on its channel page, indicating it is an official PBS outlet and not a user masquerading as PBS. A detailed About page provides source information about the channel.

YouTube presents librarians with a new frontier and a new opportunity. Let's navigate through the wide ocean and find the route to treasure.

Curating YouTube

Finding, mapping, and organizing YouTube's scholarly resources can seem overwhelming, given the volume of matter available on the platform. However, it helps to focus on the familiar--familiar universities, government agencies, media outlets, scientific organizations, and research institutions. These are excellent places to start.

In addition to examining the channel's authority, a second limiter that a librarian can set is to filter out channels that tend to produce short snippet videos. Lectures, interviews, and discussions that really have meat to them are longer than 2 minutes or even 10 minutes. Again, there is so much material on YouTube that we can be picky. Get the good fruit.

Table 1 shows that even a short list of high-quality resources can spider outward, leading into a substantial amount of information from the top authorities. The aim here is to dig through the quantity in order to get to the quality. In most cases, the YouTube channel matches the name of the organization. However, there are certain exceptions. For instance, one of Google's channels is called Talks at Google, and Yale's channel is YaleCourses. Table 1 is essentially a publisher (or channel) index.

Table 2 (on the next page) details a specific playlist in each channel. A playlist in YouTube is a group of videos that a user or institution has collated together, as they follow a common theme. For instance, the channel BBC Documentary has a playlist of videos titled The World of Stonehenge. Most channels have multiple playlists, so Table 2 can easily be expanded by simply adding more playlists from the provided channels.

The playlists selected here, in general, contain videos with a large amount of content. And because playlists have multiple videos, each thus offers several hours of informational content. For example, Human Origins (CARTA), produced by the University of California Television (UCTV) channel, has hundreds of hours of lectures and discussions from eminent scientists in anthropology and archaeology, meaning that this YouTube channel harbors a great treasury of anthropological information.

Librarians can also index YouTube videos by subject. Table 3 (on page 8) arranges the same playlists alphabetically by subject. In many ways, a subject index may be the most helpful type of index to develop for patrons, as the searcher can quickly find a relevant subject and then identify the relevant playlist and channel. Another possible way to index YouTube videos is by the name of the presenter, essentially the video equivalent of an author index.

YouTube Learning Gems

YouTube indexes lead patrons to scholarly treasure, including the totality of the cosmos and the microscopic world of cells. Few things are more ambitious than the attempt to understand the physical mechanics of the universe. Nine lectures from Leonard Susskind at Stanford University provide a physics-based understanding of modern cosmology.

Similarly, NASA's MSL Curiosity playlist allows viewers to listen to hour-long discussions on the Mars rover from NASA's engineers. There are lectures on environmental topics from the oldest extent scientific institution in the world, The Royal Society.

The Earth is filled with great mysteries. The American Museum of Natural History's SciCafe playlist includes lectures by scientists on a diverse range of topics, such as oceanography, the Ice Age, and dinosaurs. Moving to the human realm, PBS offers full-length documentaries from its popular FRONTLINE series, which examines current events and world affairs. Similarly, the playlist Technology at Google on the Talks at Google channel provides more than 100 discussions on AI, machine learning, and the role of technology in society.


YouTube is an exciting platform that has emerged as a global network of audiovisual matter. With the right search strategy, librarians can cut through the dense layer of whimsical entertainment content and discover a treasure trove of scholarly resources. They can then bring these treasures--many from the most prestigious and influential research institutions in the world--to the surface. YouTube represents a new frontier--to index and catalog the world's scholarly audiovisual information--and librarians have the skills to navigate through the murky waters and find YouTube's highest-quality material for patrons.


de'Angelis, Nicola, et al. "Educational Value of Surgical Videos on YouTube: Quality Assessment of Laparoscopic Appendectomy Videos by Senior Surgeons vs. Novice Trainees." World Journal of Emergency Surgery 14, no. 22 (2019): 1-11.

"Now Playing, Everywhere: The Tricky Task of Policing YouTube." The Economist 431, no. 9141 (2019): 17-19.

Jeffrey Meyer ( received an M.L.S. from the University of Pittsburgh and holds a CompTIA A+ computer certification. He is the director of the Mount Pleasant Public Library in Iowa.

Caption: Official channels are check marked; this one is from PBS.

Caption: Playlists feature topic-related content; this one is from the University of California.

Caption: Stanford University offers a cosmology playlist.

Caption: The NASA channel offers live events and archived lectures.
Table 1: Official Channels

Organization                YouTube Channel

American Museum             American Museum
of Natural History          of Natural History

BBC                         BBC Documentary

British Museum              The British Museum

Deutsche Welle (DW)         DW Documentary

Google                      Talks at Google

Harvard University          Harvard University

Library of Congress         Library of Congress

Mayo Clinic                 Mayo Clinic

NASA                        NASA

PBS                         FRONTLINE PBS | Official

Royal Society               The Royal Society

Scripps Research            Scripps Research

Stanford University         Stanford

University of California    University of California
                            Television (UCTV)

University of Oxford        Oxford Mathematics

Yale University             YaleCourses

Table 2: Playlists

YouTube Playlist                       YouTube Channel

American Folklife: Oral Histories      Library of Congress
 with Musicians
Atmosphere, Ocean and Environmental    YaleCourses
 Change With Ron Smith
Authors at Google                      Talks at Google
Curator's Corner | British Museum      The British Museum
Early Middle Ages, 284-1000 With       YaleCourses
 Paul Freedman
Economics at Google                    Talks at Google
Environment & Nature                   DW Documentary
Feature | Center for Teaching          Stanford
 and Learning
FRONTLINE: Full Films                  FRONTLINE PBS | Official
Health and Medicine                    University of California
                                       Television (UCTV)
Health Matters 2018                    Stanford
History                                DW Documentary
Human Origins (CARTA)                  University of California
                                       Television (UCTV)
Introduction to Psychology             YaleCourses
 With Paul Bloom
Lecture Collection | Cosmology         Stanford
Mahindra Humanities Center             Harvard University
Mayo Clinic Minutes                    Mayo Clinic
MSL Curiosity                          NASA
NASA Explorers: Season 2               NASA
Oxford Mathematics Public              Oxford Mathematics
 Lectures 2019
SciCafe                                American Museum of Natural
The Spectrum Symposium                 Scripps Research
Statistics 110: Probability            Harvard University
Talks and Lectures                     The Royal Society
Technology and the Future of Work:     The Royal Society
 Is This Time Different?
Technology at Google                   Talks at Google
The World of Stonehenge: Season 1      BBC Documentary

Table 3: Subject-Indexed Channels and Playlists

Subject                        YouTube Playlist

Anthropology                   Human Origins (CARTA)
Astronomy                      NASA Explorers: Season 2
Astronomy                      MSL Curiosity
Current Events
 FRONTLINE: Full Films
Current Events Technology
 and the Future of Work: Is
 This Time Different?
Economics                      Economics at Google
Education                      Feature | Center for
                               Teaching and Learning
Engineering                    Technology at Google
General                        Authors at Google
General                        Talks and Lectures
History                        American Folklife: Oral
                                Histories With Musicians
History                        Curator's Corner | British
History                        Early Middle Ages, 284-1000
                                With Paul Freedman
History                        History
History                        The World of Stonehenge:
                                Season 1
Humanities                     Mahindra Humanities Center
Medicine                       Health and Medicine
Medicine                       Health Matters 2018
Medicine                       Mayo Clinic Minutes
Medicine                       The Spectrum Symposium
Mathematics                    Oxford Mathematics Public
                                Lectures 2019
Mathematics                    Statistics 110: Probability
Nature                         Atmosphere, Ocean and
                                Environmental Change With
                                Ron Smith
Nature                         Environment & Nature
Nature                         Lecture Collection |
Nature                         SciCafe
Psychology                     Introduction to Psychology
                                With Paul Bloom

Subject                        YouTube Channel

Anthropology                   University of California
                                Television (UCTV)
Astronomy                      NASA
Astronomy                      NASA
Current Events
 FRONTLINE: Full Films         FRONTLINE PBS | Official
Current Events Technology      The Royal Society
 and the Future of Work: Is
 This Time Different?
Economics                      Talks at Google
Education                      Stanford
Engineering                    Talks at Google
General                        Talks at Google
General                        The Royal Society
History                        Library of Congress
History                        The British Museum
History                        YaleCourses
History                        DW Documentary
History                        BBC Documentary
Humanities                     Harvard University
Medicine                       University of California
                                Television (UCTV)
Medicine                       Stanford
Medicine                       Mayo Clinic
Medicine                       Scripps Research
Mathematics                    Oxford Mathematics
Mathematics                    Harvard University
Nature                         YaleCourses
Nature                         DW Documentary
Nature                         Stanford
Nature                         American Museum of Natural
Psychology                     YaleCourses
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Author:Meyer, Jeffrey
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Date:Apr 1, 2020
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