Instalibrary: The (un)uses of Instagram in libraries
Instagram is a unique social networking site that allows users to take, enhance and share photos with friends and followers on the Instagram network. Instagram was launched in Apple’s app store in October 2010 and since then it has skyrocketed to the top 10 social networking sites. The application was acquired by Facebook for $1 billion on April 9, 2012 (Rushe, 2012). Since its inception, Instagram has managed to catch a lot of attention with its artistic filters and growing network of users especially once it expanded its network to Android device users in April of this year. After its launch less than 2 years ago, 10,000 users were using the service; today the application services more than 50 million users (Taylor, 2012).
Like Twitter, Instagram uses hashtags and short descriptive text, but the network requires visualizations as its main source of “storytelling”. The network is open for users to follow and be followed freely with optional privacy settings available.
The growth of Instagram can in part be credited to the integration with other social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. While Facebook and Twitter have been able to tap into other markets like educational and business fields, Instagram is still working on increasing its value in not only the personal market but the professional one as well.
To Instagram or not to Instagram
Instagram’s easy to use platform gives it an excellent opportunity to be used by the technologically handicapped as well as technology experts. Photos can be used by taking them directly on the device or by taking them with a traditional camera, then adding them to a device library. Once a photo is chosen, it can be edited easily on Instagram and added to the app’s feed and other social networking sites. The ease of use and compatibility with other social sites encourages participation among users. If this isn’t enough Instagram visually entices users to browse and follow as they will.
While there are several reasons to use Instagram, the application is not designed to be accessed easily. To use Instagram, a user must download the app on their Apple or Android enabled phone/device leaving those individuals and businesses without this access in the dark. Instagram does not even allow users to be able to view photos on their website forcing Instagramers to seek out third party websites like http://web.stagram.com or http://luxogram.co/ along with many others. Another drawback to using Instagram is the limitations of its use. While users love the capabilities to enhance their photos and tell stories through visualizations, the requirement of these visualizations leaves news-only content out of the Instagram market. Obviously, Instagram is not used as a news outlet which works well for many of its users, however, it is difficult for Instagram users to tap into this field as a photo is required to post, but one may not always be available.
Despite Instagram’s limitations it is an extremely beneficial tool that can and should be used in the library. If a library has an employee willing and able to manage the Instagram account, it can be used to attract a new kind of patron as well as be used to market the library in a new way.
The synthesis of libraries and instagram is virtually non-existent at this point, as there are only two libraries currently utilizing the application (based on a search of “library” in user names). Academic institutions on the other hand are beginning to utilize the app more frequently. Some notable institutions on Instagram are Wayne State University, the University of Florida and Stanford University. Those libraries that are taking advantage of the opportunities available with Instagram are using it for more than news and updates. The app is being used as a community tool, a marketing device and an educational resource.
The UCLA Powell Library is one of the few libraries using Instagram at this time. Their mission is “to serve as a place of inquiry, creativity, and community to the university’s 27,000 undergraduate students (Library, 2012).” This mission statement exemplifies a goal that goes beyond education and shows a shift into a new technological age where social networking (no matter what format) is at the center. Their feed which began 14 weeks ago contains details on library events, a timeline of their Edible Book Festival, details on therapy dog sessions as well as other photos. While their Instagram life is still young the use of this budding social network shows potential for growth in the future. In UCLA’s case Instagram has been used successfully in promoting library events and acting as a bond between the library staff and students, teachers and the general public. A great example was their use on Instagram during their edible book festival. The application was used before the show to exhibit prizes and get the word out. The app was used during the show to advertise the event and create an instant online diary of the festival entries and it was used after the show the show the winners.
Instagram of the future
Instagram isn’t just for personal use anymore. More and more businesses are beginning to use this app, especially since there are a plethora of business tutorials built into Instagram’s online community. Libraries have an opportunity to join in an extensive network to share information in an artistic and fun format. One way to implement Instagram into the normal marketing structure of the library is to encourage participation among library guests. Offer patrons the opportunity to share and intermingle their experiences at library functions and everyday activities. Many institutions are using hashtags to allow users to share their photos making a space where other users can engage with the library as well as other users.
Libraries can take a cue from educational institutions that have already joined the Instagram network by also creating educational related activities. Many libraries already have youth programs in different formats and there is a way that Instagram can be incorporated into programs for youths and adults alike. Programs can be formatted to encourage short photo essays or photo sharing sessions. There are also ways for academic libraries to piggyback on their home institutions as it is more likely that a university rather than a university library will be on Instagram. The Infinite Thinking Machine recently released a video about the use of social networking like Instagram in education. A school teacher used Instagram in her lessons allowing her students to “practice collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills with a real world audience (The Infinite Thinking Machine, 2012).”
It is disappointing that more libraries are not utilizing Instagram to their own gains. So many people are visual learners and are attracted to art and photography. Even an enhanced photo of books seems more interesting. A picture of a library event from multiple perspectives, makes the event more enticing. And Invitations for participation can make a community feel more united. If libraries embrace the use of Insatgram they can tap into a market that it utilized by millions of individuals, both young and old as well as libraries and schools from around the world.
Library, U. P. (2012). Instagram. Los Angeles, California, US.
Murray, J. (2012, April 12). Instagram snaps into top 10 social networks. Retrieved June 21, 2012, from Experian Hitwise: http://weblogs.hitwise.com/james-murray/2012/04/instagram_snaps_into_top_10_so.html
Rushe, D. (2012, April 10). Instagram founders turn two years of work into $1bn – only in Silicon Valley. Retrieved June 20, 2012, from The Guardian : http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/10/instagram-founders-two-years-silicon-valley
Taylor, C. (2012, May 1). Instagram Passes 50 Million Users, Adds 5 Million a Week. Retrieved June 21, 2012, from abcnews.com: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/instagram-passes-50-million-users-adds-million-week/story?id=16247981#.T-ZO77WwacQ
The Infinite Thinking Machine. (2012, April 17). Episode 2.02.