Veronica With Four Eyes

Watching Free Documentaries With Kanopy

During my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to take one of my favorite classes of all time- a course called Software Usability Analysis and Design. The class focused on teaching elements of good and bad design through the lens of technology, and inspired me to dive deeper into the world of design and usability. One of my favorite resources for learning more about these and other topics has been Kanopy, a service that is available through both my college and local public libraries. Here are my tips for watching free documentaries with Kanopy and my review of the Kanopy service.

What is Kanopy?

Kanopy is an on-demand streaming video platform for public libraries and universities that offers films and documentaries for registered cardholders as well as professors and students. There are over 30,000 different films available ranging from classic films in the Criterion Collection to documentaries from all around the world. Kanopy is free for cardholders, students, and professors at participating libraries and universities.

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Kanopy Kids

Kanopy Kids is part of the Kanopy streaming service. Within the kids section, users can stream an unlimited amount of popular children’s shows, movies, narrated books, language learning resources, and educational resources. Users can access the Kanopy Kids section by clicking on the “browse” tab at their participating institution.

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How to access Kanopy

There are a few different options for accessing Kanopy and streaming videos. These include:

  • Kanopy app for iOS and Android
  • Streaming on Chromecast, Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon FireTV
  • Through the Kanopy website

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Streaming limits

Some libraries and universities may restrict what types of content are available, or how many different films can be streamed in a given period. Thankfully, my institutions do not have these restrictions so I can stream as much as I want.

Kanopy also allows users to link multiple institutions to their Kanopy accounts so that they can have access to more credits. I have accounts for my local libraries and university linked so that if I need to find content that another institution may not have, I can.

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Setting up an account

In order to access Kanopy, users have to login with their library or university credentials. When first accessing the website, users are prompted to select whether they are using a university or library account. Next, they are taken to a screen to find the institution name, then prompted to sign in with their credentials, which can be a library card or university portal information. After information is verified, users are prompted to create a free account with their first and last name, email address, and password.

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Examples of content

There are so many different types of content available on Kanopy that it is hard to list them all. Some of the most popular types include:

  • Documentaries across all genres
  • Classic films
  • Criterion Collection films
  • The Great Courses videos
  • World cinema
  • Short films
  • HBO documentaries
  • PBS documentaries
  • Curated playlists and topic categories

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Kanopy’s interface reminds me a lot of other video streaming services. The home page is filled with rows of different movies and documentaries, each divided by categories such as “new releases” or “Oscar winners and nominees.” Users can also browse by category by clicking the browse button and then choosing a topic or category. Once a video is selected, users can read a synopsis, check ratings, and view related videos, or just press the “play” button in the center of the video.


Whenever I use the Kanopy app, I activate the Zoom magnifier so that I can enlarge titles and images, and this method works well for me. Unfortunately, Kanopy does not appear to have any titles with audio description at this time (though there are captions), and the iPad app is not compatible with VoiceOver. However, I was able to use the Kanopy website on my computer with NVDA and was able to successfully choose a film to watch without much difficulty, so I’m hoping VoiceOver support will be added soon.

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What I use it for

Some of the different ways I have used Kanopy include:

  • Watching a documentary for my capstone class on my own screen so I didn’t have to strain my eyes to look at the projector
  • Streaming documentaries about design to my Chromecast
  • Watching a popular documentary on life with a traumatic brain injury with a faraway friend using our library cards
  • Seeing popular accessibility and disability related films I wouldn’t have found otherwise
  • Researching topics that I can apply to my data science coursework, such as social science concepts

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Final thoughts

Kanopy is an awesome service, and I’m grateful that my university and local libraries make the service available for their patrons. I’ve been able to learn lots of interesting things through Kanopy media and even use some of the documentaries to help me with my homework and research for projects. I highly recommend trying out the Kanopy service, as it is a great way to find educational media and films.

Watching Free Documentaries With Kanopy. How I use the free Kanopy service from my local library and university to watch documentaries, films, educational videos, and more