One glance at Pinterest will tell you it is populated with pictures of delicious cake, expensive clothes, and motivational quotes. It can be hard to tell where an academic library might fit in on this website. Librarians have recognized, though, that retail businesses have been successful when marketing on Pinterest, and their ideas can be transferred to library world. It is often described as “filling a gap.” Most libraries on Pinterest already have a social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. These online technologies allow libraries to perform virtual outreach by creating content and share with followers. Pinterest added another dynamic to content creation: organization (Thornton 165). Not only can libraries create and share library-related content on Pinterest, but they can organize their content into boards. Pinterest provides an opportunity to create virtual displays or collections of information with images. This is not possible with other social media sites.
With a strong emphasis on the visual, Pinterest is an effective method to communicate with more visual learners. Instead of seeing pages of text while scrolling on the library website, students can browse the same information in a more visual format (Stellrecht 406). Library outreach efforts can be displayed in an aesthetic manner that is efficient but effective. In the past, academic libraries have created Pinterest boards with various categories (Thornton 170; De Jaeger-Loftus and Moore 269):
- Digital archives/archives/special collections: Pinterest provides a great medium for sharing archival materials, especially photographs, that students do not often have the chance to see. Arranging digitized materials on a board provides a virtual display of the collection without causing wear and tear on materials.
- Information about library staff, services, and building: Pinterest provides an opportunity for an academic library to show off. This idea is especially exciting if a library has undergone rennovations.
- Information literacy: Some librarians have suggested using Pinterest as a medium of information literacy pedagogy. This website is focused on outreach through Pinterest, but pedagogy would be an area of further research.
- Library resource suggestions: Some libraries attempt to create research guides through Pinterest, while others showcase their collections. Examples of successful boards can be found under Examples of Use.
- Library events: Libraries can advertise their events on Pinterest, or share pictures afterwards. This use of Pinterest could be ineffective, as photographs are usually already shared through Facebook, Flickr, or other sites.
An academic library cannot start a Pinterest account on a whim. Just as any other form of social media, a library’s presence on Pinterest should be planned. Academic librarians Julie Murphy and Hilary Meyer examined social media presences of Illinois Libraries by surveying member libraries of the Illinois Library Association and developed some guideines (12-15):
- Goals and assessment: Before entering a new social media realm, a library must determine their goals or focus. For example, will they concentrate on pinning book-related content or creating a online resource guide? They also need to plan how they will assess their activity.
- Find followers: It would not make sense for a library to venture into an unpopular social media platform. They must find where there patrons are. In most cases, academic libraries begin pinning because they know a strong user base already exists.
- Designate staff time: Perhaps the most challenging aspect of managing a social media presence is finding time. The burden should not lie on one staff member, but the library should have “one voice” across all their social networks.
- Variety: Libraries should not post only pictures or only event announcements. Keeping things fresh and exciting is the best way to gain followers.
- Assess regularly: Libraries must make sure their social media strategy is successful. If no one is following or repinning content, the account is not successful. If it is not working, it is not worth the time and resources to maintain.
In addition to following these guidelines, an academic library’s Pinterest account needs to be visibly accessible as well. The library’s homepage should include a link to their Pinterest boards. Pinterest profiles should include clear descriptions of the institution and their purpose on Pinterest and link to the library website, Facebook, Twitter, and catalog (Thornton 173-174). A Pinterest account needs to be integrated into the library’s existing online presence; it is not merely an additional site. If patrons are unable to find you or cannot understand what purpose Pinterest serves for a library, then it is a useless technology to be dabbling in.
Finally, the most important “best practice:” is providing proper attribution to and explanation of Pins (Hansen, Nowlan, and Winter 6-7). When using Pinterest libraries need to be sensitive to issues surrounding copyrights and licensing, especially if they pin content from third-party sites. Many libraries avoid this by uploading only their own content to Pinterest. Others, like the University of Regina Library, have developed guidelines to avoid copyright infringements on Pinterest. (For more, see Copyright Issues)