In this resource you can find information about how Duke librarians can help locate course materials, provide guidance to student who need to research topics and create course reserves. It also advises you how to follow copyright and accessibility guidelines to make sure all students can benefit from your course resources.

Table of Contents:

Take advantage of Duke Libraries services

Ask Duke librarians to locate and distribute materials. Search the Duke University Library catalog for books, videos and journals that the library has already purchased. Subject librarians are an important resource for locating materials for your course. They can create a study or research guide and help you find licensed or alternative materials. Many librarians have been trained on copyright issues as well.

Request that the library distribute materials to students both on campus and online. Through course reserves physical copies of materials can be made available at the libraries or students will be directed to links when the library subscribes to online versions. In many cases, materials can be added automatically to your Sakai site. Films can be placed on reserves as well, often with a physical and a streaming copy of a film made available. For additional assistance with course reserves contact: (Perkins Library); (Lilly Library/video); or (Music Library). 

Incorporate content and offerings developed by Duke libraries. For example, Rubenstein Librarians are available to help you design engaging activities and assignments that make use of digitized and born-digital collections in order to meet a wide variety of learning goals. They will pair you with a librarian who will work with you to develop an instruction session and/or assignment tailored to your course’s subject matter and learning objectives. They also offer modules centered on a set of digitized sources from the library paired with an activity or worksheet that you can adapt for your course.

Learn how to access Duke library resources off campus. Whether you are on or off campus, you and your students have access to many databases and journals licensed by Duke Libraries. There are several ways to access Duke library resources when off campus:

  1. On the Duke University Libraries homepage, run a search using the main search box and log-in with your NetID.
  2. Access resources using the Library Access Button
  3. Connect via Duke’s VPN to access resources as if you were on campus.

In the United States, there are roughly three levels of copyright. Whether or not you can use a piece of content in your course depends on both the level of copyright on the content and how you want to use it.

Public domain content can be used by anyone in the U.S., for any purpose. These include:

  1. Items that have “aged out” of copyright, i.e., items that were published in the U.S. before 1925 (this varies depending on publication circumstances, but 1925 is a safe cutoff point) (1) 
  2. Items produced by the U.S. government (note: some publications have copyrighted images from a third party that cannot be freely used—be sure to check document citations)
  3. Items deliberately assigned to the public domain (i.e., shared by their creators)

Creative Commons (CC) licensed content can sometimes be used, depending on the purpose. These materials have been shared by their creators under a license that specifies the ways other people can use them. You can read about all the different types of Creative Commons licenses. There are many different options; you may even want to license content you create so other instructors can use your materials. Common restrictions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Attribution: say who the creator was in the material where the item was used
  • Share alike: any material that uses the item has to have the same CC license as the item and be shareable in that manner
  • Non-commercial: any material that uses the item cannot be used in a commercial manner.
  • Open access materials are not necessarily creative commons licensed content but are another type of open resource you can use freely in your teaching

Fully copyrighted material can only be used under Fair Use guidelines. The creator or owner retains all rights to how these materials can be used, modified or reproduced. These items can only be used in a limited manner according to Fair Use guidelines. Note that even Fair Use material must be cited appropriately. Fair Use has a lot of gray areas, but generally speaking, you should consider the following four questions when evaluating whether a copyrighted piece of content can be used in a course:

  1. What is the purpose and character of the use? Material that is transformed or used for purposes of analysis or review is generally acceptable for an educational use. 
  2. Is the copyrighted material already published? It is more likely that you can use published content than unpublished works, and you can often use excerpts from works of nonfiction (facts cannot be copyrighted).
  3. How much of the content are you using? It is more likely to fall under the umbrella of Fair Use if you use only a small part of a copyrighted work and do not use the main point of the work (such as the climactic scene in a film). Under no circumstances would the entire work be considered Fair Use, even if one feels it is necessary for instructional purposes.
  4. What effect does your use have on the market? If using even a small part of a piece of content hinders the copyright owner’s ability to make a profit from their work, it is not considered Fair Use. For example, even though one photo from Getty Images is a very small part of their catalog, each use of the photo is expected to generate a fee. Using even one single photo without paying is considered a lost sale and would not be considered Fair Use.

If there is any question about whether usage of material you’ve collected falls under Public Domain, Creative Commons or Fair Use, or how to appropriately use material in any of these groups, please refer to the Duke University Library guide or contact Copyright and Information Policy Consultant Arnetta Girardeau ( It is always better to find out that the image or text you want to use needs to be replaced with something different before you violate copyright than to find out after the fact.

Curate materials from open sources

Reuse or remix open access materials created specifically for your discipline. There are databases of readings, course guides, syllabi, websites, case studies and assignments for every discipline that are copyright clear:

Haley Walton is the Duke librarian who consults with instructors who wish to use Open Educational Resources and has provided a guide to OER.

Take advantage of Coursera for Duke. Duke faculty and students have access to a library of open courses on a wide range of subjects developed by Duke faculty, as well as courses from other institutions. You can direct students to specific videos in courses that contain in-depth explanations of material in your course or videos/courses can be used by students wanting more information on related topics.                

Search for creative commons images. Some databases include:

When unsure who owns an image, try using Google reverse image search to identify where the image is from. Note, many Google image search results will be from Pinterest. Pinterest is not a publisher; it is a sharing platform for images owned by others, so further searching will be necessary.

Select accessible course materials

Duke University is committed to providing an accessible and welcoming learning environment for all students, including those with disabilities. The Disability Management System staff can help if you have questions about how to adapt your course to accommodate students with disabilities.

However, if you think about accessibility at the outset when you design learning activities, you will not have to make substantial changes to accommodate students in the future. This also increases the likelihood that you can use the same learning activities in a variety of course formats. We suggest reviewing our quick introduction video about accessibility options in Sakai as an orientation.

Choose document file types that can be accessed by all students. Be wary of using PDF documents if they are not converted to be accessible. More readable and searchable formats include webpages, Google Docs or Microsoft/Apple office products. This applies to all written course materials including the syllabus, lecture notes, slides and required readings. If you want to use an excerpt from an existing text, try to find an online copy instead of scanning it or using an image file. This guide from Duke Web Accessibility is a helpful tool for document and video design, and converting PDFs to be accessible.

Design your course materials with accessibility in mind. When you create materials for your course, think about whether your design choices make it easier or more difficult for students to learn from those materials. Some best practices for designing accessible materials include:

  • Use contrasting colors, such as dark blue text and light yellow backgrounds, instead of only shades of a single color.
  • Avoid color combinations that are difficult for people with colorblindness to distinguish, such as red and green.
  • When designing a graph or chart, each element should have both a different color and a second informational cue such as a distinct pattern; if a student cannot see the color cue, they can still understand the information.
  • Select fonts based on readability, and use at least a 12-point font for most documents.
  • Color and bold text can be highly effective for emphasizing important content, but only if it’s used occasionally. To emphasize information, use headings instead of changes in color or size. Avoid using italics and underline except in specialized cases such as hyperlinks or titles.

Zoom is an accessible platform for real-time video sessions. Zoom has many integrated features that allow students with disabilities to customize their experience to meet their needs. These include integration with closed captioning readers, full keyboard shortcut support and screen reader support. The instructor can also turn on live transcription during class to provide subtitles. We recommend using Zoom for class meetings, group project meetings and office hours in online and hybrid courses.

Use Panopto to record content videos for your students to watch. Panopto allows you to take advantage of its built-in accessibility features such as searchable transcripts and slide decks.

Check third-party content for accessibility. If you are asking students to interact with materials (videos, podcasts) that you did not create, check if they create accessibility barriers for students. For example, students with hearing disabilities may be unable to hear a video with poor sound quality. If you choose a text that is an image file, screen readers will not work. There are online accessibility checkers so you can see if assigned websites pose problems. Duke’s accessibility team can guide you through the process of identifying accessible materials.

Resources & further reading





  1. Copyright Term and the Public Domain in the United States