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Alongside universities, libraries and librarians are now using social media platforms to connect with users in a range of exciting and innovating ways. The latest platform that libraries are experimenting with is Instagram, which allows users to take photos on their smart phones, apply exciting filters and add hashtags, and then share these images online with their followers. Amy Mollett and Anthony McDonnell investigate how libraries are making the most of this visually-engaging platform.

This piece originally appeared as an Editor’s Column on LSE Review of Books.

With photos of the latest books available to borrow, snaps of library visitors attending workshops, and shots of behind the scenes activities, Instagram is fast becoming an exciting platform through which libraries and librarians can share news, achievements, and images of everyday life among the bookshelves. But it’s not only for its novel approach to photo-sharing that libraries are using Instagram: the social media platform is growing faster than Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest combined, and with the majority of users in key university student age brackets it certainly makes sense for libraries to consider Instagram’s merits.

As part of a ‘Higher Ed Instagram audit’ we undertook to help LSE Review of Books get ready to launch its own Instagram account, we focused on looking at some of the most common ways in which libraries around the world are using this photo-sharing platform.

1. Libraries are using Instagram to ask users about their favourite authors

Instagram allows libraries to introduce a little more fun into their online profiles and interact with users in new ways. Many have come up with imaginative ways to do something different using this platform, including the New York Public Library’s favourite author competition. Starting on the 1st March under the hashtag #LibraryMarchMadness, the library puts up the names of two authors and asks followers to vote on which one they prefer (voting happens by users adding a comment to the image of the names). The author with the most votes goes through to the next round whilst the loser gets knocked out. At the time of writing, polls were still open in the final, where Dr Suess is pitted against Edgar Allan Poe. Other libraries can really up their online engagement and build a sense of community through similar methods.

Today's semi-final #literarymarchmadness match-up is Dr. Seuss v. David Sedaris. Talk about two unique writers. Could this be any harder?! Sedaris said, “All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I'm afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.” That's subtle. Polite. Seuss on the other hand was a little more to the point: "I'll blow you into pork and wee beans! I'll butter-side-up you to small smithereens!" Somewhere, David Sedaris is smiling. Who will advance? Place your vote in the comments below, and the winner will move on to the next and final round.

2. Libraries are using Instagram to show off their surroundings and collections

It is common for Instagram users to take stylised photos of everyday events, and libraries are no exception. Many library Instagram accounts take advantage of the built-in photo filters, and use these on photos of individual books, full bookshelves, people reading, and the architecture of the building. Again, NYPL is great at this, but Boston and Piscataway (New Jersey) are worth a mention too. Library communication teams can use Instagram in this way to inspire users to come and visit. Followers might easily be able to imagine themselves curled up with a book working in a quiet sunny corner of the reading room.

The #nypl is a great place to hang out with friends on the weekend!

3. Libraries are using Instagram to publicise events

Alongside promoting library events through newsletters, Facebook, and Twitter, it is now common to see libraries using Instagram for this cause, both before and after events. Before an event, libraries are sharing photos of event posters, staff preparing for the event, and other related imagery. These photos can be used to both inform people and build excitement about the event. In addition, libraries are sharing photos of the event as it takes place – much like live tweeting on Twitter – and again once the event is over. This platform is a great place for capturing the excitement of author events or special anniversaries, and will hopefully increase interest in future activities the library runs.

Aaand..that was #53A! Thank you for the wonderful performance! #librarysg #pressplaysg #bildungsroman #music #gig #onerepublic

4. Libraries are using Instagram to show what goes on behind the scenes

People are often curious about what goes on behind the scenes in a library. Instagram offers a great opportunity to showcase an intimate look at what the roles of different library staff entail: how book ordering is done, how new events are planned, helping students in a workshop, and even stacking the shelves at the end of the day. Other institutions such as theatres, universities, and museums could also take up this approach.

Library Strategy Awayday - lots of hard work and creativity, exciting times ahead

5. Libraries are using Instagram to show their history

Instagram is proving to be an innovative way of drawing out archived images and video for libraries and other institutions. Boston Public Library takes advantage of the fact that it is in one of America’s oldest cities and publishes interesting historical images of the city and the library. San Francisco Public Library uses pictures of statues and the surrounding area in order to highlight the wonderful surroundings, to achieve a similar end.

An image from our collection dated February 15, 1941, the last day surface rail cars ran through Copley Square. #tbt #throwbackthursday #boston #history #transportation #library #bostonpubliclibrary #photography

Top left and featured image credit: LSE Library, Kai (Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA)

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the Impact of Social Science blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please review our Comments Policy if you have any concerns on posting a comment below.

About the Authors

Amy Mollett is Managing Editor of the LSE Review of Books. Amy graduated from the University of Sussex with a First in English Language, and completed a Masters degree in Social Policy and Gender at the LSE. She joined the PPG in September 2010 as Book Reviews Editor on the British Politics and Policy at LSE Blog, before moving on to manage the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog until the launch of the LSE Review of Books in April 2012. She is on Twitter and Instagram.

Anthony McDonnell is Assistant Editor on the LSE Review of Books. Anthony joined PPG in February 2013 and has been working on the Review of Books since November. Anthony is a graduate of history and political science from Trinity College Dublin, currently doing a Master’s in public and economic policy at the LSE. He previously spent a year working in Malawi.

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