Snapchat in the Library

Librarians master an app to reach millennials

November 1, 2016

Some of the entries in Nashville (Tenn.) Public Library's Geofilter design contest for teens.
Some of the entries in Nashville (Tenn.) Public Library's Geofilter design contest for teens.

Much has changed in the five years since Snapchat arrived on the social media scene. It’s no longer the fledgling “disappearing message app” used solely by teens. Snapchat is now the poster child for message-focused social media apps that are growing in popularity among young users. It’s a platform that emphasizes interaction, capitalizing on the playful side of social media and providing a way for users to send multimedia messages (“snaps”) back and forth between friends.

The ability to chat with your friends, use filters, toss in an emoji, and showcase your lighthearted side are some of the many reasons millennials have flocked to this platform. This mass migration of millennials to Snapchat has made librarians sit up and take notice. Library Snapchat accounts have begun popping up over the past year, and the librarians behind these accounts are finding innovative ways to reach their patrons.

A snapchat from Leon Springs Elementary School in San Antonio.
A snapchat from Leon Springs Elementary School in San Antonio.

Snapchat can be used across the educational spectrum, even in elementary school. Jennifer Eckert, librarian at Leon Springs Elementary School in San Antonio, Texas, finds Snapchat to be “most popular with kids in 4th and 5th grade.” Academic librarians, public librarians, and school librarians alike are finding ways to get creative with Snapchat.

Readers’ advisory

Alanna Graves, teen services librarian at Cape May County (N.J.) Library, started using Snapchat for the library’s #TeenBookTuesday in November 2015. “Since introducing #TeenBookTuesday we have seen our featured books get checked out within a week after our snaps. It’s also a great way to interact with patrons. My desk is a little hard to find because it’s in the back, but since we introduced Snapchat, patrons now make a beeline for my desk because they remember my face,” Graves said.

Zinnia Bayardo, librarian at Dr. Joe J. Bernal Middle School in San Antonio, also uses Snapchat for readers’ advisory. “We have a ‘Teen Tuesday’ and ‘What Are You Reading Wednesday’ every week where teens post photos of what they are reading,” she said. “Over the summer (when I was lagging a bit on my posts) I had students asking me when I was going to start posting for Teen Tuesday again. I also had one student tell me that she read one of my book recommendations that I shared on Snapchat. Our ‘What Are You Reading Wednesdays’ have become particularly popular because students really like seeing themselves.”

Promotion and news

Snapchat is an excellent tool for event and program promotions:

  • Graves snapchats during events at her multiple library branches. She recommends snapping objects rather than patrons, in case of privacy restrictions.
  • Sarah Meisch-Lacombe, who handles Loyola University Chicago Libraries’ Snapchat, uses it to promote upcoming events like the library’s book sale.
  • Hannah Byrd Little, middle school librarian at the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, likes to snap videos during school assemblies.

Librarians also like to use Snapchat during the school year to share relevant news with patrons. “Social media is where students are getting their news,” Byrd Little said, “so it’s important that I share information out on those channels. Every morning I take a snap of the school schedule because it can be confusing to students. I also promote national and fun or interesting holidays on Snapchat.”

Behind the scenes

Hosting a behind-the-scenes look at the library is a popular way to engage the community. This includes an inside look at spaces and objects in the library, as well as a peek at what library staff and faculty are up to. Stacy Taylor, user experience librarian at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, said, “We do 10-second ‘elevator speeches’ with our library faculty.”

Nancy Jo Lambert, librarian at Reedy High School library in Frisco, Texas, explained: “Students really like when we feature our teachers on Snapchat using filters—that’s the type of content that gets the most screenshots.”

Meisch-Lacombe gives college students a glimpse at what academic library staff like to do after hours by taking videos of Loyola’s “Library Olympics,” a staff event the library hosts every year. “I like to take video of some of the events we do like ‘book-on-the-head racing’ to give personality to our snaps,” she said. “It’s better than just posting static content.” She also takes a “Throwback Thursday” approach and highlights some old interesting books and magazines, such as Vogue issues from bygone years.

Geofilters

Snapchat’s Geofilter feature has become widely popular with users. Geofilters are graphic designs that appear when one is in a specific location. On Snapchat they come in two flavors, Community (free to design) and On-Demand (for a fee, mostly used by business and brands).

To test the waters before they commit to an official Snapchat account, Nashville (Tenn.) Public Librarians Nicholas Tognoni and Josephine Wood created a Geofilter contest last summer. “We’re encouraging patrons to use iconic aspects of the library building and other local Geofilters as their design inspirations.” To ensure that their patrons were prepared for Geofilter creation, they held design workshops. “We took our traditional graphic design workshop that we hold every Monday and changed the focus to Geofilter design using Adobe Illustrator,” Tognoni said. “Using Illustrator and other professional software is a great way to teach teens skills that will later translate into jobs, and Geofilters work as natural marketing for the library.”

Social media is where students are getting their news, so it’s important that I share information out on those channels. Hannah Byrd Little, middle school librarian at the Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee

Teen takeovers

An emerging trend of interest to librarians is “teen takeovers” or Snapchat ambassadorships. “This fall I want to start doing a Takeover Tuesday with our student workers,” Taylor said. Tognoni and Wood added, “If we do start an account, we’d like to allow teens to be content creators and maybe have them film a 3D printing session. Social media ambassadors are a great way to get community people to amplify your library’s message. We think it’s definitely a platform worth experimenting with.”

Overall, librarians have found Snapchat to be an innovative tool for interacting with patrons and sharing the library’s events. Meisch-Lacombe recommends that libraries “just go for it and experiment; don’t overthink or plan it out too much.”

Bayardo summed it up: “There is a trend of meeting students where they’re at, whether it’s messaging or instruction, and it’s important that we make it easy for students to get information and learn about the library.”

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