Shooting for Success: Instagram for Public Libraries

Snap a picture, tag it, post it, and voilà: more people in the library! Is it really that easy? At our April webinar, we invited two librarians to talk about how they use Instagram, the Facebook-owned photo social network. Both of these librarians have used creative and downright funny tactics to bring attention to the great work their libraries are doing. Our guests were

We surveyed our webinar attendees to see if they're using Instagram and what they hope to accomplish with it.

  • 56 percent of attendees reported that their library has an Instagram account
  • 88 percent said they want to promote library services and programs
  • 87 percent want to connect with library users
  • 84 percent said they want to attract new library users

Planning and Management Tips

Amanda gave us a peek into the planning and management that goes into a successful Instagram account. When Cherry Hill first started using Instagram, the social media team established a list of goals for the account. "Goals give us a blueprint for what we should be posting," said Amanda.

Some of Cherry Hill's goals include promoting library materials and services, celebrating libraries in general, and conveying a love of reading.

The Cherry Hill Public Library has a social media committee made up of eight people, all of whom post to the library's Instagram account. The team coordinates via a shared document on Google Drive.

The team designated different categories for Instagram posts, along with who manages which types of posts. This list is a good example of how to involve multiple staff members in your social media.

  • DVDs and TV shows — These photos advertise new additions to the collection and are generally managed by a person from the circulation department.
  • Book covers and end pages — Someone in library's technical services department takes photos of interesting books when she adds the barcode and enters the book into the system.
  • Events — The director of PR takes these photos. Amanda said it is a good way to let your patrons know about programs and events.
  • Pop culture and Instagram trends — Anybody can post these. She advised our audience to have fun and not make everything on their account about the library.

Bookface and Book Bento

Bookface at Burlingame

Amanda discussed two Instagram trends that libraries can participate in: #bookfacefridays and #bookbento. Bookface has gained a lot of popularity already in the library Instagram world and has even gone mainstream with a recent New York Times article. In bookface, you line up your face (or anything else) with a book cover.

Amanda provided a few tips on how to bookface:

  1. It's okay if hands or fingers show.
  2. All you need is one line to connect from the book cover to the person or object.
  3. Take multiple shots until you get it right.
  4. Your photos don't all have to be faces. You can line up a book with scenery or an object.
  5. Sometimes you need props.

Book bento is another Instagram trend that's starting to pick up steam in the library social scene. Essentially, you coordinate a book with related objects and arrange them in a neat little box (see the examples below). 


Marketing Your Library Instagram Account

The Burlingame Public Library has had incredible success with its Instagram account, with over 5,000 followers (and a shout out in that New York Times article!). This success wasn't pure luck. Ray used a few key marketing strategies to promote Burlingame's Instagram account. The library announced its account on its email newsletter, flyers, website, bookmarks, and so on. He recommends linking your Instagram posts to other social media accounts, such as Facebook, so you can bring followers to all of your channels.

He also recommends following other libraries as well as local businesses and like-minded organizations and actively liking and commenting on their posts. I really liked this tip because it is how we discovered the greatness of the Burlingame Library! They been following TechSoup's account for a few years now and always "like" our posts.  

Make Your Own Hashtag

Burlingame of Thrones

One of the most clever (and successful) ways Burlingame has used Instagram is through hashtag campaigns. These photo series not only engage the Burlingame community by encouraging participation, but also show off the fun and creativity of the library staff. My favorite of these campaigns is #burlingameofthrones. Capitalizing on the popularity of the book and TV series (and the name of the town), this hashtag encourages local fans and staff to dress up like their favorite characters and sit on the library's own "Iron Throne."

Think Outside the Library

Ray recommends stepping out of the confines of the library for both your photos and your inspiration. Take photos around your local community, feature popular businesses, and highlight unique characteristics about your community. And while following other libraries is a great source of material and camaraderie, Ray advises following popular non-library accounts, such as Instagram's own account for hashtag and photo ideas.

This is only a slice of everything that was covered in this informative webinar. Be sure to watch the recording and look out for a follow-up post from Ray on the tools he uses for Instagram videos.