Picture This – The Benefits of Libraries Using Instagram

First, a disclaimer – I LOVE Instagram. It gets me. And I get it. Since joining Instagram a few years ago I find myself looking at everything with the eye of a wannabe amateur photographer. There is just so much beauty and information in our world that needs to be recorded and shared. Photo sharing sites such as Instagram and Flickr allow us to turn our smart phones into top quality cameras – just snap, crop and choose a filter – and almost any photo can look like a shot worthy of a Time magazine cover.

So, enough of my gush fest. Libraries and Instagram, is it a beneficial relationship? Absolutely! Libraries are all about the visual, and so is Instagram. Instagram also has the market cornered amongst the younger demographic; according to Yellow (TM) Social Media Report from May 2013, 71% of Australians aged between 14 and 29 have an Instagram account. The other 29% must be grounded.

While Facebook slowly becomes ‘boring’ and ‘uncool’ amongst the younger generation – as parents, relatives and grandparents join up to the social media giant, ‘get connected’ and post embarrassing comments all over the place (this is what my kids say, so it must be true!) – Instagram steadily holds its own with the tech-fad lovers that are Gen Why Y. Libraries seeking new members can use Instagram to their benefit, attracting the technologically inclined type of patron, people who may have only thought of libraries as places to go when doing assignments or projects for school. I can’t think of one teenager I know who doesn’t have a smart phone constantly attached to their hand, so it stands to reason that being a presence on ‘fun’ photo sharing sites such as Instagram – tapping into the hashtag phenomena, letting potential patrons know that libraries are more than just books in the 21st century – is a definite way to catch ’em while they’re young and keep ’em ’til they’re done.

I follow a number of libraries on Instagram, not just because of my Social Media studies, but because they are interesting, informative and post fascinating photos that often inspire me to seek out a particular book or Google an event or author. The State Library of New South Wales (follow them on Instagram at publiclibrariesnsw) suggest on their blog, available at http://blog.sl.nsw.gov.au/pls/index.cfm/2013/12/19/hashtag-instagram-and-nsw-public-libraries that public libraries in NSW should hashtag pictures posted on Instagram and Flickr with #nswpubliclibraries to showcase libraries and link photos with this hashtag to a group, encouraging discussion and a flow of new followers. This was posted on the State Library blog in December 2013 and so far there are 99 pictures on Instagram with that particular hashtag. By clicking on any photo, you are taken to the page where the picture was originally published and from there you double tap on the image to ‘like’ it, then tap on the name at the top to view all pictures posted by that library, press ‘follow’ and voilà! You are now receiving pictures in your Instagram feed from your favourite libraries.

Bond University in Queensland, Australia, recently ran a “Join The Dots” competition on Instagram during its 25th Anniversary celebrations, which coincided with National Library and Information Week. The idea was to encourage students to use the library’s resources to “get untwisted” when preparing for assignments. The prize was the Twister game, of course! It was a very eye-catching and clever idea by the obviously very clever and tech-savvy library staff at Bond Uni. Each picture posted was of a letter in a circle and underneath, a short informative blurb containing tips for study and staying on top of assessments and assignments – J for journals; O for orientation, I for information, N for news – and so on. An absolute genius idea! And the library’s followers increased substantially during the competition!

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Pictures from Instagram – Bond University Library @ bondlibrary

Hell, they certainly grabbed my attention and I live over 800 kilometres away!

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Social Me – dia

My love of social media was a slow burning ember. Trawling the internet for hours seemed utterly more preferable to ‘connecting’ with people I couldn’t wait to get away from at school. Or family I’d spent a lifetime avoiding. Ugh! Who would?

Well, that’d be me. Eventually. I dabbled in myspace, more for the music than anything. I recall my ‘music’ section contained about 60 or so bands, most of them obscure or uber-indie ~ ya know, to represent my individualism ~ same as everyone else. Myspace gave me a mild incentive to waste hours engage, uploading new themes for my page; the perfect this-is-me-trying-hard-not-to-look-like-I’m-trying-hard pic; updating my about me…lucky I was only a dabbler, otherwise I’d have been hooked. Social? A little. About me? My first chance to make it so. Media, hell yeah! How else would I discover new music (besides Triple J)?

In 2006 my friends started badgering me to join this site called Facebook. It sounded like my idea of hell. I had minimal interest in ‘connecting’ with anyone I went to school with, I made a physical effort to catch up with the family I liked spending time with and all my friends ~ the nagging ones ~ were at my house, all joyfully serenading me with a constant chorus of ~ “join Facebook, it’s great”. And while I was busy entertaining my lovely tribe of gals, family and funny enough, no school friends, they joined me up to Facebook. Without my knowledge, though with enough intimacy and familiarity with me that this wasn’t an issue when it came to security. Friends huh!?

I could have deleted it. I could have ignored it and let it float through cyberspace as yet another empty page. But I had a peek. A small glimpse. There was a little red box with the number 11 in it. Friend requests. Really? I wonder who? And down the rabbit hole I went. Quite happily too. I loved seeing that little red boxy thing telling me someone wanted to be my ‘friend’. Wanted to be my friend. Wow. So many notifications! Back then the ‘like’ button was still a pipe dream. If you liked something someone wrote, you had to say so, with real, as in typed, words. Carefully considered words too; there was no edit function, and I may be wrong (it was eons ago now, and Facebook updates itself every other week these days..) but I don’t think there was a way to delete what you’d written. And everyone could read everything written on your wall. My nightmare had become a lovely, and rather addictive, dream-like place to present the version of myself that I had never had a chance to put out there before. I was all over this newfangled social media thing, how could I deny it with all those little red ‘friend request’ and ‘notification’ boxes. And seriously, how good is that for the ego!

My last born child was a baby back then. My first and second born only used the computer for assignments and games, my husband was still computer illiterate. Thanks heavens. I became mildly addicted to the feedback and recognition a post on Facebook gave me. I started playing a game called ‘Fairyland’, harmless enough. But not. Addictive, in a word. But friend requests from all around the world! Still, safety first, you can never be too sure. So I put in place rules ~ never pay to play games; never accept friends who weren’t friends with my friends; only play when the baby is asleep and my work at home was done. Soon came the next game, and then the next. As much fun as they were, and as lovely were the people I relied on ~ for fairy dust; to buy my cooked products; to harvest my farm ~ I realised that Facebook, or rather, it’s games, had started taking a rather huge chunk of time out of my life. So I deactivated, for the first time.

Twitter kinda eased the pain. After the constant notifications and camaraderie of Facebook, I couldn’t just give up all that attention! I joined Twitter, as a voyeur at first, it seemed to be the domain of the highly educated and highly opinionated. And compressing your thoughts into 140 words or less? Not really my over-exuberant-with-words style. But interesting enough to look at. And slowly delve into, with what I assumed were witty comments on life as we know it, comments to journalists and authors who I would never had been able to get my words, admiration and opinions seen by before. It’s still not the easiest social medium platform for me, but it serves its purpose when I want to respond to something immediately, especially TV shows on ABC and SBS. And the happy dance I do when something I have written is considered worthy enough to be retweeted…well, that’s my own sight to behold. But you can imagine. All about social me – dia indeed.

Then came Instagram. Oh how lovely was this idea ~ share your life in pictures. People can like them, others can see that your pics have been liked and like them too. Simply brilliant. The problem here is ~ everyone with an iPhone (it was an iPhone only app back then, the sole reason I purchased one)  can take a good pic once they apply one of the filters offered by Instagram. Or any of the multitude of other photo apps that sprung up after Instagram hit the scene. How do I make my snaps stand out? How do I get more followers?. Better yet, I made a conscientious decision not to seek these things out. A small community of like minded snappers would make my soul feel more whole than trying to get to the popular page.

I’ve dabbled quite a lot in social media since my myspace days. A blog or two started but never really taken anywhere past the first few posts. Google circles, Snapchat and Kik. I gave them a whirl and deleted them quicksticks. If it’s not my scene, I’m ok with that. That’s the beauty of social media ~ there’s always something else to try. Youtube is what I use to seek out music these days, but my kids use it for almost everything, I expect eventually I’ll do the same. Through my adventures with social media I’ve made a few long lasting friends from my Facebook gamer days, one lady I ‘know’ lives at the top of Alaska, saw Janis Joplin and The Doors live in San Francisco back in the day, and has lived a happy  hippy life off the grid since the late 90’s.  Off the grid, but still connected to the world through social media. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I have a few ‘friends’ in Portland, USA, who make me laugh every time I read or see their posts or pics. We may not ever physically meet, but it is comforting to know there are people on the other side of the world who get you and think you’re important enough to keep in contact with. Without social media, my world would be much smaller. And who would lmfao at my lame jokes?

Blogging, well, here we are. If you’ve read this far ~ if you’ve read this at all ~ then I pretty sure we have something in common. Hello, how are you? Who are you? This is who I am, I hope you like me. If you don’t, it’s painless though, because I’ll never know!

I imagine there is an ideal social media platform for every one of us (with access to computers, lucky ducks we are), a form of communicating our thoughts and ideas and opinions with the world through whichever medium we prefer. Posts, music or games on Facebook, pictures on Instagram and Snapchat, short blurbs of opinion of Twitter and pages of boards on Pinterest. All these sites have opened up the world for so many of us. We have a never before had such an opportunity to share our thoughts, opinions, likes and dislikes with anyone else with access to a computer. All about me! And you! And them! There’s not much to complain about really.