Subject Librarian

Using Instagram in libraries...

Image c/o Colton Witt on Flickr.

Image c/o Colton Witt on Flickr.

I’ve not been posting much on here this year (hello start of academic year), but that’s not to say that not much has been happening. Of course we launched our new YouTube channel over the summer and we’ve seen it pay real benefits in terms of answering student queries. But we’ve also seen our Instagram account grow pretty well (we’ve got 377 followers, around 200 of which have started following since we really focused on developing it) and it has also led to significant benefits in terms of our Facebook Page. I thought now was as good a time as any to reflect on how we use it and what has worked for us.

I think it’s really important with social media not to generalise too much about how it is used. It’s very tempting to put forward a series of guidelines on how to use it effectively on the basis of “it works for me, so it’ll work for you”. With that in mind, here’s what has worked for us, maybe it works for you, maybe it doesn’t.


We attach a fair amount of hashtags to our images. Unlike Twitter where tags are generally used sparingly, we have found that putting lots of hashtags on our images is a good way to go. We try to use descriptive ones that represent the photo, but also look out for the kind of hashtags students use and incorporate those as well. The key ones we always apply to photos are #uel, #universityofeastlondon and #uelllibrary. On top of that, depending on the content, we may use #librariesofinstagram (if it’s an image of our libraries or a view from our libraries), #stratfordcampus or #docklandscampus, then geographical tags such as #london, #eastlondon, #newham, #stratford etc. In terms of the geographical ones, this tends to be for external shots of the library or views from the library. We think it’s important to connect with local community and be part of it. Generally speaking I think it’s a GOOD THING to engage with the local community however we can, so if it’s relevant to the image we tag so the community can find it.


We try to share a variety of images, including pictures of the exterior of the library, “artistic” internal shots (abstracts or interesting angles of features generally rather than “straight” captures), views from the libraries, pictures of particular promotions taking place (eg our relax with a book initiative) or images pointing out particular activities taking place that affect users. We also try to share images created by students, either of our two campuses or of our libraries (preferably the latter). We do this using the Repost app, which makes the process nice and easy. We always ask permission from the individual (just think it’s better to be courteous, as well as to flag that our account exists to the individual and their followers) and always ensure they are credited properly. As the main people managing our Instagram are largely based at one campus, the sharing has been particularly useful for ensuring that there are always images of the other campus shared with followers, helping to ensure it doesn’t become seen as an Instagram account for one campus but not the other. I think sharing images has certainly played a big part in getting us noticed and followed.


Periodically (normally once a day) I do location searching (we also ensure our photos are location tagged) for images posted at either of our campuses or using any of the tags that we have identified as being commonly used. If we find good photos of the campuses, we’ll like them. If we find good photos of the library, including general shots or library selfies or images of their workspace in the library, we ask to share them (if they are general shots of the other campus, we may share those too to ensure we are relevant for folks there). We’ve definitely noticed that spending the time liking the photos of our students has made a big difference in getting noticed and gaining followers, very often they will follow us back, even more so if we share their images.


For a long time, we found it really difficult to reach people on Facebook. After the changes to the way Pages work, text based updates simply do not get the views and are virtually a waste of time. Mandating that all posts should be image based has certainly made a difference, particularly when they are delivered via Instagram. We’ve found we comfortably hit three figure viewing figures when we post to Facebook via Instagram, sometimes as many as 500 views, which certainly beats the 15-20 we were getting with text based updates. Setting this up was a faff however. Having created a work Facebook account and creating a page for my School, I then added that account as admin to the library Facebook Page and then logged in via Instagram to authorise posting to Facebook. The drawback being I then have to share that login with the team so they can set it up too, but it’s not a major issue (it’s not my personal FB account after all).

Business account

We also recently used the Facebook page connection to set up our Instagram account as a “business” (ergh) account. Despite the awfulness of the business connotation, it has given us some benefits, including detailed analytics on the reach, engagement, likes etc of our images. That is particularly helpful in determining what works and what doesn’t. It also gives us a contact button on our profile, making it easier for people to call or email us or to get directions to our building (clicking to get directions takes you through to the native maps app on the smartphone/tablet being used). It also, of course, helps to signify we are an official library account.


In terms of our views, I know there is a lot of scepticism about the extent to which libraries and librarians just follow each other and like each other’s posts, giving the perception that accounts are well followed and engaged with, when it actual fact it’s just a little library echo chamber. Quickly glancing through some of our recent images, it does appear we are going beyond the library chamber. For example, one recent photo has 39 likes and around 8 of those are libraries or easily identifiably librarians.

I think without doubt Instagram has become our main channel of communication with staff and students. It has definitely played a big role in driving up views of updates on our Facebook page and, without a shadow of doubt, it has had far more engagement (likes/shares/comments) than any other channel we provide access to. We never get anywhere near as many mentions/replies/likes/retweets on Twitter nor do we get comparable comments/likes/shares on Facebook. Certainly nothing we have posted on either of those channels has had anything like 30+ interactions of any sort.

Of course, one needs to be careful to extrapolate and suggest this will be the same for everyone. It certainly works for us though and we have found engagement when we previously found it difficult to get significant engagement. I’d certainly recommend trying it out (where’s the harm in that!?)…it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll find more engagement there than elsewhere, but who knows!

As an additional point, I also use Snapseed when creating images…it’s got loads of great features, including some good text options if you want to add any to your images as well as loads of great filters (some of which I prefer to Instagram’s built-in features.)

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