If the way to get our students involved with the library is to follow their digital footprints wherever they may lead, then Instagram, the enormously popular social networking site, seems like the logical choice.

Instagram is a free mobile app which, according to the website’s FAQ, allows users to take pictures, edit them using filters, categorise them using hashtags, and then display them on the Instagram site. Fellow users can then like and comment on them.

In 2013 Library Hi Tech News published An Instagram is worth a thousand words (Vol. 30 Iss 7), an article about the myriad uses that the social media app Instagram could have for libraries. Two years later blogs are still buzzing with the unique opportunities that the social media site can provide in engaging patrons and connecting the library community.  Digital trends’ 2014 article Instagram is growing faster than Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest combined, shows the huge growth of the site, with a 23 percent rise in active users.

Libraries are tapping into this surge in popularity, using the primarily image based site (the only words really are the hashtags and the comments) as a way to show off their physical library space and collections and get the word out about library events. It also provides an opportunity to forge a closer relationship between librarian and user, with Instagram providing a visual and informal way of showing users the inner workings of the library and its staff.

Instagram uses hashtags, where users ‘tag’ images with words or phrases (a popular tag being #shelfie, a ‘selfie’ taken by a shelf of books). This system, also used on Tumblr and twitter, lets the users categorise and thus organise the content of the site. A 2015 article from the blog 5minlibrarian 10 Instagram Tips for Instasuccess suggests that establishing a unique library hashtag is essential. This is so that users can find your content easily, as well as being able to upload their own photos with the hashtag when they take relevant images.

Public libraries online’s 2015 article Libraries of Instagram by Kristine Techanavitch suggests that looking at the way in which users have mentioned or tagged the library is an easy way of gauging how the library is being used and how patrons feel about it. Whether scrolling through the endless feed of images can be classed as “easy” is up for debate, however.

These elements make a compelling case to add the social media app to our library services. If we needed any more convincing, according to LSE’s 2014 article Five ways universities are using Instagram, Instagram’s key demographic also happens to be our student population, with university students making up the majority of Instagram users.

While Instagram seems to be the new big thing for a library to acquire, it is important to remember that social media sites, while free to use, can be an expensive investment because of the staff hours spent monitoring the site. It is also not guaranteed that students will follow the account and engage with the library. However, if the payoff is as good as the many articles suggest it is, perhaps this is a gamble worth taking.


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