19 Jul 2021

Manual labour: Creating best practice guidelines for captioning DCU Library’s YouTube videos

Post by Eilís O'Neill (@mise_eilis) is a senior library assistant working in DCU Library as a member of the research and teaching team.

DCU Library’s Captioning Best Practices and Subtitle guidelines were born from a request by a DCU student for the transcript of a recorded online training session, hosted on YouTube. When a member of the library’s research and teaching team viewed the automated subtitles and transcript provided by YouTube, they realised how inadequate they were.

The team decided to manually edit the automated subtitles for all our existing YouTube videos but quickly realised that we needed a procedural manual. This would ensure that our captions were standardised and followed best practice guidelines – and who doesn’t love a good procedural manual?  You’ll notice that I refer to both subtitles and captions here; these terms are often used interchangeably. However, captions are generally designed for viewers who can’t hear the audio in a video while subtitles are designed for viewers who can hear but who don’t understand the language in the audio.
The Benefits and Importance of Video Captioning
Making our videos more usable and accessible would have huge benefits for all our viewers, whether they were deaf, hard of hearing or hearing. Many people use subtitles: as much as 20% of the population in the US or UK and 80% of them are hearing, increasing to 35% for some online content (BBC, 2018, para. 2; Datta et al., 2020, p. 195). Studies have found that students given manually captioned instructional videos are more engaged, more responsive to questions, understand and retain the information better and achieve higher grades than students whose videos aren’t captioned (Chazen, 2020; Erler & Automatic Sync Technologies, 2012).

Add to this the fact that the students registered with disability support services in 2018 made up more than 6% of the total student population in higher education in Ireland. (Ahead, 2020, para. 1). Providing accurate captions for our educational video content supports those with different learning needs and styles; viewers can both see and hear the contents of the video simultaneously. Learners have been shown to process information more effectively when it’s presented in more than one sensory mode (Minnesota State captioning committee, 2017).

Accurate captions are essential for viewers who need to access videos in environments where the audio is difficult to hear or is intentionally muted. Online video content is frequently accessed without audio; 85% of Facebook’s videos are watched on mute (Lemonlight, 2020, para. 9). Captions help second language learners understand video content and verbatim captions can also improve reading skills. They help viewers understand complex terminology and decipher unfamiliar accents (Debevc et al., 2014).
Inaccurate captions or subtitles that don’t match the dialogue can negatively affect the viewer’s experience to the point that they stop watching the content (Szarkowska et al., 2020). When captions are less than 97% accurate readers find it difficult to understand the content being presented. At 90% the text can barely be understood at all (Erler & Automatic Sync Technologies, 2012, p. 6). This is significant because the accuracy rates of automatic captioning technologies including YouTube’s have been shown to vary from between 60-90% depending on the speaker’s accent (Minnesota State captioning committee, 2017, p. 13). See in the image below how YouTube’s automated subtitles interpret how easily plagiarism can be spotted by “a trained eye.” YouTube’s automatically generated captions don’t have punctuation or capitalisation; subtitles without punctuation make it harder for viewers to understand grammar, sentence structure and make it harder for them to identify speakers (Datta et al., 2020).

Screenshot from 'Is it easy to spot plagiarism?' 2013 DCU Library
Screenshot from 'Is it easy to spot plagiarism?' 2013 DCU Library

Worthwhile Time and Effort
Manually captioning videos can be time-consuming; it can take anything from 5-10 times the duration of the video to caption it (Enamorado, 2018, para. 2). Editing the automated captions provided by YouTube speeds up the process, as captions don’t have to be created from scratch. It’s worth taking the time to do it, not only because it’s of huge benefit to viewers but also because viewers are 80% more likely to view a video until the end if captions are included (Lemonlight, 2020, para. 9). Manually edited captions also help with search engine optimisation (SEO) because Google indexes captions that you’ve added to videos (Albright, 2018).

An interesting David and Goliath story with potential international repercussions took place in 2020. The National Association of the Deaf in the U.S. A. won a law suit brought against Harvard University and MIT for violating US accessibility laws. The suit focused on their failure to provide high-quality captions for their online programming to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. The auto-captions provided on platforms like YouTube were deemed inaccurate and of poor quality. A precedent has now been set which holds universities in the U.S.A. accountable for providing high-quality captioning for their online video content (Leduc, 2020). It’s worth noting that Ireland’s Disability Act 2005 mandates that public services, including those provided by publicly-funded Irish Universities, be made accessible and inclusive for all people regardless of disability (Lewis, 2017). Compiling this manual and committing to the creation of high-quality captions for our video content is a proactive rather than a reactive step that anticipates the needs of our users and supports their learning.
Re-Use, Re-Purpose
We’ve made the manual available as an Open Educational Resource on the Zenodo platform under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 licence. It draws on current best practices recommended by deaf and hard of hearing advocacy organisations, broadcasting guidelines, academic journal articles, principles of universal design and World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards. It shows users how to improve the readability of captions through the application of punctuation, capitalisation, line breaks and sentence layout, numbering and date and time. It also goes through the pros and cons of using YouTube’s subtitles and gives instructions on how to edit these to produce high-quality captions. We hope that these guidelines will be used and adapted by other organisations who wish to make their educational online content more accessible to their users.


Ahead. (2020, July 24). Launch of Students with Disabilities Engaged with Support Services in Higher Education in Ireland 2018/19 Report. Ahead.ie; AHEAD. https://ahead.ie/Launch-of-New-Report-on-Numbers-of-Students-with-Disabilites-in-Higher-Education

Albright, D. (2018, March 7). 7 Reasons Your Videos Need Subtitles [Infographic]. Uscreen. https://www.uscreen.tv/blog/7-reasons-videos-need-subtitles-infographic/

BBC. (2018). BBC Subtitle Guidelines. BBC. https://bbc.github.io/subtitle-guidelines/

Chazen, D. (2020, June 22). Closed Captioning Best Practices & Subtitle Guidelines. Verbit. https://verbit.ai/closed-captioning-best-practices-subtitle-guidelines/

Datta, P., Jakubowicz, P., Vogler, C., & Kushalnagar, R. (2020). Readability of Punctuation in Automatic Subtitles. In K. Miesenberger, R. Manduchi, M. Covarrubias Rodriguez, & P. Peňáz (Eds.), Computers Helping People with Special Needs (pp. 195–201). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-58805-2_23

Debevc, M., Stjepanovič, Z., & Holzinger, A. (2014). Development and evaluation of an e-learning course for deaf and hard of hearing based on the advanced Adapted Pedagogical Index method. Interactive Learning Environments, 22(1), 35–50. Academic Search Complete.

Enamorado, S. (2018, December 20). How Long Does It Take To Manually Caption YouTube Videos? 3Play Media. https://www.3playmedia.com/blog/long-take-manually-caption-videos/

Erler, K., & Automatic Sync Technologies. (2012). The essential Higher Ed closed captioning guide. https://secfac.wisc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/50/2017/09/The-Essential-Higher-Ed-Closed-Captioning-Guide.pdf

Leduc, J. (2020, March 25). Overview of NAD v. Harvard and NAD v. MIT Lawsuits. 3Play Media. https://www.3playmedia.com/blog/harvard-mit-sued-captioning-violation-ada-rehabilitation-act/

Lemonlight. (2020, February 12). How Video Captions Help Attract and Engage More Users. Lemonlight – High-Quality, Affordable Video Production. https://www.lemonlight.com/blog/how-video-captions-help-attract-and-engage-more-users/

Lewis, E. (2017, March 14). Accessibility Laws in the Emerald Isle. 3Play Media. https://www.3playmedia.com/blog/accessibility-laws-emerald-isle/

Minnesota State captioning committee. (2017). A campus toolkit for course captioning. https://ccaps.umn.edu/documents/CPE-Conferences/MnLC/MNStateCaptioningToolkit.pdf

Szarkowska, A., Díaz Cintas, J., & Gerber-Morón, O. (2020). Quality is in the eye of the stakeholders: What do professional subtitlers and viewers think about subtitling? Universal Access in the Information Society. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10209-020-00739-2

7 Jul 2021

The academic library and its evolving role as a stakeholder in scholarly communication

Guest Post by Sinead Kelleher, GradDip in Library and Information Studies, Graduating in the Summer of 2021

Scholarly communication has been defined as “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community and preserved for future use” (ACRL -Library guides, Scholarly communication toolkit, 2020). There are a number of stakeholders within this ecosystem, including researchers, publishers, funding agencies and of course librarians. The roles the various stakeholders have played within this system have changed and evolved over time. This essay explores how the role of the academic library and scholarly communication are inextricably linked, and while scholarly communication has evolved and continues to develop through the supportive efforts of the academic library, the role of the academic library has also evolved and has changed with developments within the scholarly communication landscape. This reflective essay includes an exploration of the role of librarians in open access; transformative agreements; SCI-Hub and librarians; the responsible use of metrics; the institutional repository; the library as publisher and the Open Educational Resources (OER) platform.

Shifts in the scholarly communication landscape such as; an increased pressure on academics to publish, changes in legislation in open access and copyright law and technological advancements have challenged traditional publishing models. These changes within the scholarly communication landscape have allowed academic librarians an opportunity to develop the importance of their role within scholarly communication.  The academic librarian traditionally collected and provided sources of information for researchers; they are now in a position to offer a more active role in scholarly communication.

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) have shown their dedication in the support of strengthening the role of the library in scholarly communication by developing a toolkit to assist librarians in this role. This toolkit points out the ways that academic librarians can leverage their skills and expertise to become more active members within the scholarly communication community. The methods mooted include; supporting the move towards open access; assisting in evaluation of subscription and open access journals; educating authors on copyright issues and publication contracts; educating authors on the use of responsible metrics, and also the hosting of publishing platforms and the development and management of university repositories (ACRL -Library guides, Scholarly communication toolkit, 2020). Advocacy for open access and indeed the role of the academic library’s involvement with this is reflective of the library’s interest in the fair dissemination of scholarly work.

Open Access and the role of Librarians

The emergence and development of open access has been one of the most transformative aspects of scholarly communication in recent years. Although computer scientists have been self-archiving since the seventies, the first free scientific self-archiving server was arXiv.org which was founded in 1991. The emergence of the idea of publishing academic papers online for a minimal cost came at a welcome time in scholarly communications. At this time the number of print journals were being produced at a high rate, and the journal prices were also increasing steadily. The journal prices were steadily outstripping the budgets of academic libraries. This led to a decrease in access to academic journals, which concerned librarians, this became known as the “Serials Crisis”. This term was coined to describe a period of financial crisis in print-based journals. Librarians in a move to promote fair and equal access to scholarly journals highlighted their concerns and become important advocates and members of a community to drive forward the open access movement (Wikipedia – History of Open Access, 2021).

One of the early initiatives of Librarians was to establish the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) in 1997. The establishment of SPARC has been a key proponent in the Open Access movement. SPARC is an international alliance of research and academic librarians which works to promote the fair and equal sharing of research and educational material, it actively promotes open access for scholarly material through working with authors, publishers, libraries and policymakers (Sparc Open – Who we are). The open access mandate supported by the academic library has risen extensively with support from government policies and universities. This has been consolidated by Plan S, in which all scholarly publications funded by public or private grants must be published in open access (Dalton, 2021).

Open access has grown at a competitive rate with now about fifty percent of journals being available through open access, and the academic library’s intertwined role with open access and scholarly publications continues to evolve in this journey. As part of the open access journey the library’s role has shifted to that of a meditator role in negotiating Transformative Agreements with publishers.

Transformative Agreements and Other Open Access Models

In the move towards open access, academic libraries became involved with procuring agreements, shifting the cost of open access publishing away from the traditional subscription models. Many interested parties supported the move towards libraries negotiating these deals (Schimmer et al., 2015), which became known as Transformative Agreements. These agreements are designed to shift the old subscription journal models to full open access in terms of publication models. They can be described as a stepping stone towards full open access. The agreements vary between publishers and libraries but are based on two models, the “read and publish” deal and the “publish and read” deals. The “read and publish” deals are similar to the subscription model in that libraries pay for journal access and some or all open access publishing is included in the agreement. The “publish and read” deals are different as the library pays for publisher costs and reading access is included as part of the agreement. These agreements are complex and expensive and are illustrative of the library’s commitment to assisting researcher’s in publishing their work. The library in University College Dublin (UCD) secured its biggest deal with the publisher, Elsevier, last year in which an allowance of 230 articles to be published free of charge was granted as part of the deal (Dalton, 2021). The fact that the full allowance was used is indicative of the fact that cost is one of the main barriers for researchers when choosing whether to publish open access (Dalton, 2021).

Although these transformative agreements are a positive step towards open access and are indicative of the library’s commitment to open access, the shift in cost burden to research libraries is unsustainable and libraries are looking to other models to support this.

Other open access models supported by libraries include the Open Library of Humanities. This is an organisation established by librarians and supported by publishers and other interested members. They publish open access articles across the humanities without charging the author (Open Library of Humanities – About, 2021). This model is based on the business model that if libraries continue to subscribe to the publishers the publishers will continue to open up subscriptions to all members. Once again, this library initiative illustrates their commitment in supporting researchers in publishing open access and the democratisation of sharing knowledge.

Although libraries as an integral member of the scholarly communication community are continuously striving to provide open access routes for journal articles more opportunities and attention is needed to support the open access publication of scholarly books.  Liber Europe provides some suggestions in how libraries have and can support open access books through the following means; supporting the acquisition of open access books within the collection development, encouraging the hosting of open access books within the institutional repository and encouraging rerouting of funding towards the publishing of open access books (Liber Europe – Open Access books in Academic libraries how can we adapt workflows: & cost management to an open scholarly landscape, 2021). These suggestions provide a pathway for libraries to work towards diversifying the attention of driving open access in different forms of scholarly material. Although librarians are continuously advocating and forging the road for open access, researchers have gained access to scholarly material behind paywalls through other means including pirate websites, such as Sci- Hub.

SCI-Hub, Librarians and the responsible use of metrics

Sci-Hub was founded as a result of the “Serials Crisis” and the financial burden for researchers with certain journal articles behind subscription paywalls. Although Sci-Hub has been supported by many as a way to tackle this crisis in scholarly communication, Harrison et al. (2018) highlights some barriers it presents to the fair dissemination of scholarly communication. Criticisms of Sci-hub include that the journal articles that they create access to, which are behind paywalls, are those which are connected to what is seen as “prestige publishers”. In this sense Sci– Hub is promoting the fact that these papers are used as a benchmark for other papers in their field. This “prestige promotion” is against the ethics of DORA, a research output which is trying to correct the balance of the over use of journal metrics. Harrison et al. (2018) also discusses Sci -Hub’s blatant disregard for copyright, which exists to protect author’s rights, and in this sense Sci-Hub can be seen as counterproductive in the fair dissemination of scholarly communication.

As previously mentioned, bibliometrics has become a prominent feature in scholarly communication. Librarians have played a role in guiding researchers in how to use different bibliometric tools. This is done through one-to-one help, workshops and guides on library websites. They have also developed guides on how to make sure the researcher’s work is identifiable, guides on how to promote their research work and track the impact factor of their research.  Although the use of metrics as an evaluative tool has become prominent within the scholarly communication world, librarians have also been involved in promoting best practice and the responsible use of metrics in the evaluation of scholarly research. Academic libraries have been involved in drawing up guidelines to support the responsible use of metrics within their universities. In many universities such as UCD, links to resources on the responsible use of metrics are included within their library guides (UCD – libguides/bibliometrics/dora, 2021). Librarians have felt strongly about the responsible use of metrics and Cox (2020/2021) has suggested how the “The open scholarship movement, for instance, provides an opportunity for libraries to contribute towards addressing issues raised around systems for research assessment and academic reward”, in this sense it is possible to see once again how libraries are committed to the fair dissemination of Scholarly communication. Another space in which the academic library supports the fair dissemination and preservation of scholarly communication is through the university institutional repository (IR). This offers researchers the opportunity to publish their material on an open access platform.

Institutional Repository

The institutional repository is a service which is managed by the library within the university, it is a digital archive which collects, stores and disseminates the scholarly communication of the university. Institutional Repositories are another means by which libraries and documentation services have been able to make a contribution to the growth of scholarly communication made freely available through digital content (ARL, 2009).  Researchers can publish their work here without paying the APC fee, charged by traditional publishers, when publishing their work open access. Thus, alleviating the financial burden for researchers. The depositary also assigns a personal identifier which allows the piece of work to be easily identifiable.

Palmer et al. (2008) has shown how libraries are positioned well to support and manage IRs due to their knowledge management expertise and their existing infrastructure. Academic librarians already retain a position of trust with researchers, staff and students and have used this position to encourage use of the institutional repository. There has been a long-held belief that librarians are great believers in standards, and while building digital repositories, they have followed the standards for scanning, metadata creation, harvesting and web services, among others (Arlitsch et al. 2014).  Libraries have evolved with the challenge of managing institutional repositories, becoming leaders in copyright legislation, metadata creation and authority control (Walters, 2007). Moving beyond the institutional repository the academic library has also adopted the role of publisher in the scholarly communication ecosystem offering another alternative to the traditional publisher.

Library as publisher

Library publishing, although it is not a new phenomenon, has grown significantly from its early modest days of printing catalogues of their own collection (Holzman et al., 2015). The growth of interest in library publishing began in the 1990s with a number of library symposia held in the States between the ARL and AAUP, discussions and programmes of library publishing grew from this. Amongst these publishing programmes are a number of collaborative groups, including Project Muse, HighWire Press, University of Michigan, Project Euclid, York Digital Journals Project to name but a few.

Project Muse is an early example of a non-profit collaborative project between libraries and publishers. Both Project Muse and Highwire offer its digital content services to many publishers including university presses (Holzman et al., 2015). Highwire press founded in Stanford University Library in 1995 created an electronic platform for its academic community to publish on. Initially publishing scientific society journals, it grew dramatically and by 2015 it had published more than seven million journals. Positioned within the University library, Highwire press although not run by library staff is supported by the librarians in Stanford University and has been hugely successful (Holzman et al., 2015). Although Highwire has since been acquired by MPS Ltd, in 2020 its humble origins as a start-up within Stanford University Library is testament to the librarian’s position in the scholarly communication ecosystem.

Another good exemplar of library publishing is the University of Michigan and Michigan library publishing programme. In the 1990s they began developing a publishing programme which then became the Office of Scholarly Publishing (Holzman et al., 2015), it has changed names a number of times since but their collaborative partnership is still evident in their mission statement, “Michigan Publishing combines the strengths of a highly-regarded university press with the innovative, service-oriented approach of a university library renowned as a leader in digital initiatives and technologies” (Michigan Publishing – Our Mission, 2021).

In 2013 the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) was founded, it comprised of sixty-one academic libraries and the Educopia Institute, the vision of the LPC supports “A scholarly publishing landscape that is open, inclusive and sustainable” (Library Publishing Coalition – About Us, 2021). In 2015, they published the first “Library Publishing Directory” which showed an increase in growth in library publishing, with 124 case studies of library publishing programs in the United States and Canada.

Through a support network from academics on campus, university presses and the LPC, library publishers have begun to develop their skill sets and knowledge of publishing platforms to play a more prominent role in scholarly publishing.  What is evident from the above examples of library publishing is the breadth and scope of different library publishing programmes is extensive.

Although the aforementioned examples of library publishing are based in the United States and Canada, the interest in library publishing is global. In Ireland the Library Publishing Group (LPG) is a subgroup of the Library Association of Ireland. They are involved in raising awareness of the library publishing movement, as well as mentoring new library publishers (Library Association of Ireland – Library Publishing Group, 2021). Other examples of the growth in library publishing in Ireland are within Dublin Business School (DBS). DBS began work on an early model of library publishing in 2014, in which undergraduates, postgraduates and staff from the Arts faculty published an open access journal in partnership with the library, this led to the founding of the Studies in Arts and Humanities Journal (SAH). The launch of the SAH journal has led to further publishing initiatives, which include the launch of the DBS Business review in 2017, and the development of an open access journal-publishing press in DBS (Buggle et al., n.d.).

Other examples of interest in library publishing in DBS is in the education of future librarians in this area, Dublin Business School has now included a module of library publishing in their MSc in Information and Library Management. Student testimonials responded favourably to this new aspect of the programme, citing that they felt that this aspect to their studies was “cutting edge and relevant to the theme of the changing role of the librarians and how libraries can play a stronger role in publishing” (Buggle et al., 2020). As future librarians these testimonials bode well for the library’s role in scholarly publishing. Other publishing platforms which libraries are now becoming involved in supporting are Open Educational Resources (OER) platforms.

Open Educational Resources

The library in NUIG Galway is the first library in Ireland to use this platform. They have identified this area as another platform to promote open scholarship (NUIG- Preserving the Past, Enabling the Future, Library Strategy, 2021). The library provides a set of tools and platforms to give access to staff and students to create open access educational resources online. It has also created a space for students and staff who use these platforms to collaborate with NUI Galway Open Press to produce web books, under open access (NUIG – Library Guides, Open Education Resources (OER), 2021). NUI Galway Open Press is supported by Pressbooks which can be published with a DOI and can be shared publicly via the Pressbooks Global Directory (NUIG – Library Guides, Open Education Resources (OER), 2021).

This scholarly communication platform that the NUIG library is supporting is an interesting programme which can provide rapid dissemination of information, reducing the cost barrier for students. However, there are concerns around copyright which is something that needs to be taken into account when using this platform.

The Future of Scholarly Communication and the library

In reflecting on the changes within scholarly communication, it is evident that the academic library has played a significant role in these developments. However, there are uncertainties and challenges in the future of scholarly communication and indeed the role the library will play within it. Although there are a number of publishing models currently involved in the dissemination of scholarly communication, we have seen that the scholarly communication ecosystem is in constant transformation and the recent Covid 19 pandemic will also have an influence on this.

The fast spread of the pandemic created a need for the rapid dissemination of scholarly communication in relation to health recommendations and vaccine developments. This resulted in a move towards unprecedented open globally collaborative efforts in sharing scientific information. In the post pandemic climate, it could be anticipated that there would be a further societal demand for openness and transparency in scholarly communication. Models which the academic library/librarians have advocated for and supported. There will also be economic challenges in the post pandemic environment including cuts in library budgets further creating a need for the removal of high publishing cost models and the continuity of the library’s advocacy journey towards open access scholarly communication. Through the library’s role as advocate for open access and responsible use of metrics the library has evolved into a position of a trusted advocate for the democratisation of the dissemination of the scholarly communication, and as a trusted member of the scholarly communication ecosystem it will continue to play an important role.


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