Social Media and Libraries: 5 Quick Tips for Using Instagram

Libraries are doing lots of cool things on Instagram. For instance, just yesterday was #libraryshelfie day and tons of libraries posted pics of staff, patrons, and even dogs with shelves of books. Libraries are sharing #bookface pics where people pose with covers of books that line up with their faces. They highlight their programs and facilities. They advocate for literacy and community.

It’s awesome.

While my library has had an Instagram account for years, we only posted in fits and starts for a long time. It’s such a pain to have to flip back and forth between accounts, and it took a while for it to catch on in our community. Plus, iPhoneography is an art, and we’re all amateurs who weren’t always happy with our photos (and we’re still learning). But, like all of our social media efforts, we strive to be engaging and authentic. We want to let our personality show.

Here are 5 ways that my library has used Instagram to inspire, inform, and entertain our patrons.

libraries and instagram  wrapped up in books

Highlight new additions to the collection.

This is something I don’t see a lot of libraries do (and I follow a ton personally and through the library’s account!) I think this has to do with what roles the people handling social media perform otherwise. I post about half of our Instagram pictures, and I work in Collection Management, so when the books we order come in, I’m close by and technical services or acquisitions might let me know about them or I might just see them on carts waiting to be invoiced or cataloged, since we all work in the same area. This is part of the reason I think it’s great that our social media team is spread across units in my library, with youth services, adult programming, marketing, and collection management represented (I talk a bit more about our team in this posts about our Facebook strategy).

Make it fun! Stage those photos, don’t just snap a pic. This took just a few minutes. We happened to have those Cadbury biscuits in the staff lounge, and our acquisition guy has a British flag at his desk. Add tea and a mug, and you’ve got a much more interesting photo than just a picture of the DVDs themselves.

And of course, The Fault in Our Stars requires tissues. This not only promotes the new materials, but also our Lucky Day service, which is a select number of added copies that don’t fulfill holds and are suppressed in the catalog that can only be discovered and checked out by browsing the new shelves. We debuted this collection when we moved into the new building, so it’s fairly new, and the only way we’ve promoted it has been on social media, so our avid followers are the first to know when something hits the shelves.

If you don’t have props, add some fun graphics through an app on your phone. This photo had a quick overlay added in the Little Moments app on my phone before uploading.

If you want to just snap a quick photo of a new release, make it fun. When we happened to unpack both of these humorous cookbooks that started out as blogs in the same shipment, it warranted a quick pre-lunch photo.

Don’t be afraid to make a joke.

As I’ve said in previous installments of library and social media posts, we’re a bit quirky at LPL. Which basically means that we treat social media as an individual would, rather than an institution, and show our personality and sense of humor.

Since I work in Collection Management, all the damaged books land on our desks, whether it’s a coffee stain or a burn mark, and we decide whether or not to replace it. Hopefully, if the patron who dropped this book while cooking saw the post, they have a good sense of humor. When I shared this on Tumblr, I used the caption “if your book is that good, just order takeout #savethebooks” so there are many degrees of funny to be had. Do what aligns with your overall tone on social media. Our rule is don’t say anything on social media you wouldn’t say at a service desk, and it’s all the guide we’ve ever needed.

Ask questions or solicit feedback.

We do this all the time on other social media platforms, and it’s fun for Instagram, too.

When I was walking by the CD shelving unit one day, I noticed “Frampton Comes Alive” face out and was overcome with nostalgia for that scene with Winona Ryder and Ben Stiller in Reality Bites, and decided to use it as a prompt to ask what albums changed our patrons lives. Yes, someone will get your corny/dorky/weird reference, and they will appreciate that you let your personality show.

Capture those fun, behind the scenes moments.

This requires a bit of spontaneity, but it’s totally worth it.

So I knew that the children’s department was having a STEM related program that had all sorts of brain related activities. But when I was filling up my water bottle in the kitchen, the last thing I expected to see on the table was this strange package and note. Perfect moment to capture and share.

Those of us in collection management are always on the lookout for fun statistics to share with patrons. We even keep shadow boxes to display our ‘lifetime achievement awards” of items that circulate above and beyond the call of duty.

Use slideshows and video.

These techniques are especially helpful if you’re trying to share several images all connected to a single event. I’ve also used them to make a physical in-person display browsable in the digital realm. It will take a couple of extra steps and and apps, but you’ll get more mileage out of a single post and won’t dump a ton of photos at the same time and clog up someone’s feed.

As part of our Read Across Lawrence programming, we partnered with the local knitting shop, who donated yarn, and invited local knitters to yarn bomb the library’s trees. Since we wanted to showcase as much of the work as possible without overloading our feed, a slideshow was perfect. I used the Party Party app from A Beautiful Mess to make the slideshow.

We also had a town of preview photos leading up to the opening of our new building, but didn’t want to spam our followers with a ton of individual posts. A slideshow was perfect! This one was made using Flipagram, which lets you add a music sample as well.

We also wanted to show our followers the behind the scenes processes while the library was being renovated, so this slideshow shows some of the construction. This was also made using Flipagram, before I paid for the upgrade that allows users to remove the watermark. The text overlays were added using the A Beautiful Mess photo app, which also includes the due date slip background.

Don’t do all the work yourself. Host a contest.

Social media take a lot of time when you’re doing it all yourself. But there are dedicated patrons out there who want to share their love of the library. Not only will it take some of the pressure to produce content off of staff, you’ll reach people who don’t actually follow the library.

Encourage your fans to spread the love with a bit of a reward! We tried this out for Book Lovers’ Day and had lots of participants.

We also knew we would be too busy on the day the library opened to capture every moment, so it was the perfect opportunity to let our patrons help by snapping their own photos to preserve all the memories.

Ultimately, every library has to find their own style and voice on all forms of social media, including Instagram. These are just some ideas based on what we’ve tried and what has worked for us. For even more inspiration, follow more library accounts! Searching the #libraries hashtag is a great place to find more accounts.

I use “we” a lot, and while I obviously only speak for myself, a great deal of the credit for what we’ve done lies with my colleagues, who are awesome. I took the photos and posted all the examples I’ve included, but I don’t want to discount the effort everyone makes. It’s really a team effort.


Further Reading on Instagram and Libraries

There have been lots of other posts about the ways libraries use Instagram. Here you go!


I think there is a lot to be learned from bloggers, publishers, and bookstores about how libraries can leverage social media, so look for a follow up post about inspiring posts from bookish people outside of libraries in the future.


How does your library use Instagram? What’s your favorite form of social media (or even your pet peeve?) 

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