Monday, 21 September 2015

Thing 18: Communicating through Photographs

Photographs have been used to tell a story since they were invented; most of us find stories more interesting and alive if they include photographs or illustrations. Humans are very visual creatures 
and a large percentage of our brain dedicates itself to visual processing.

In Thing 18 we are going to look at how libraries can tell a story or start a conversation using photographs. The two applications we are going to look at are probably the most well know of photo- sharing apps; Flickr and Instagram.

Canadian based independent enterprise Flickr was launched in 2004 as a web game that shared photographs. The developers quickly realised that users were more interested in saving and sharing photos online than the game they were developing, making Flickr one of the first social networking sites – social photos! Remember this was in the days before Facebook and Twitter, and we were still sharing printed photographs!

Yahoo saw the potential of the site and acquired it in 2006 for $35 million. As Facebook and Google became more popular Yahoo allowed access to the site using Facebook and Google IDs, which was great – one less password to remember! However in late 2014 Yahoo revoked this method of access and you are now required to use a Yahoo ID to log in. So if you have a lapsed Flickr account you will have to contact them directly to regain access or open a new account. One thing I don’t particularly like about Flickr (apart from not being able to use Facebook or Google to sign in) is that you need to provide them with your mobile/cell number to complete registration.

Flickr is considered to be the world’s leading photo-sharing site, with approximately 112 million users in over 63 countries, and the average number of images uploaded daily is around 1 million. Take a look at this article if you would like to see  some more interesting  Flickr stats.
Japanese Print:
Library of Congress

Flickr is easy to use, reliable and now has a pretty nifty mobile app with its own camera and filters. More importantly however, Flickr has an amazing creative commons search facility which allows bloggers and publishers to find attributable images for free. It also allows millions of people to see and share your photographs – your visual stories.

Flickr and Libraries

Flickr was originally designed for individual users, and it wasn’t until 2010 that they changed their community guidelines to allow businesses, non-profits and other organisations to have an account, though lots of organisations and businesses were already signed up!

Most libraries set up Organisational Pro accounts, which allows a team of people to post to the one account and allows for continuity through staff changes. Check out Dublin City Libraries on Flickr, you will notice that they are members of four or five groups.  Groups are a great way to start visual conversations around a common theme. 

As with all social media, check your organisational/institutional social media policy before setting up an account. Become familiar with Flickr, both the web based and mobile app before formulating a library Flickr policy. Take some time to decide whether to use the free account which offers a terabyte of storage space, or, pay for a Pro account, which is approximately €45 annually and offers unlimited storage.

Tips for using Flickr:

·         Organise images into topic specific groups.
·         Tag, tag, tag so that other users can quickly and easily find your content.
·         Community engagement: encourage library users to upload and tag their photos of library events        and exhibitions, so that they are easily searched.
·         Share images from library, campus and community events.
·         Photograph rare and fragile items in your collection rather that scanning them.
·         Create a collection of images that teachers can use for lessons or lesson plans.

Tame the Web blogger Michael Stephens wrote an excellent post in 2008 about libraries using Flickr, he gives some great tips of how to use the application, check it out here.  The cost for a Pro account has gone up since 2008, but not by that much, so it is still good value for money!

Museums and libraries are participating in ‘The Commons’ which is a project that catalogues and shows off hidden treasures. Flickr started The Commons in conjunction with the Library of Congress back in 2008.  Members of the public are actively encouraged to comment on and tag the images. As of now there are over a hundred participating organisations including the National Library of Ireland. and the British Library.

For the serious photographers among you, Flickr also provides lots of metadata about the images. This is one of my favourite photographs that I took when our new library was being constructed right outside my office window. When you click on the link and scroll down you will be able to see when it was taken, what type of camera was used and all sort of other interesting information! 

Instagram is a photo sharing application that allows users to take a photo, apply a digital filter, and then share it on various social networking platforms. It was developed in San Francisco in 2010 and is optimised for mobile use; you must download and sign into the mobile app before you can access Instagram via a web browser. Unlike Flickr you cannot use this application without a smart phone or internet camera and mobile app.

As with Flickr, Instagram had an immediate popularity, with over a million users within two months of launching, and by 2011 there were over 150 million uploads and 10 million users.

Facebook took note of its popularity and proceeded to purchase it for $1 billion in 2012, since then it has gone from strength to strength, adding hashtags, new filters, high resolution photographs and optional borders to name a few!

Again, before embarking on opening any organisational or institutional social media account check your organisations social media policy, and put procedures for use in place before opening an account.

Instagram and Libraries

Instagram is seen as a fun, young app, it has an immediacy that perhaps Flickr doesn’t have yet. The New York Public Library is a great example of how libraries can use Instagram. They introduced a favourite author competition using the hashtag #LibraryMarchMadness, whereby the library selects two authors and asks followers to comment on which one they prefer, the one with the most comments goes through to the next round.

Check out the National Gallery of Ireland's Instagram account. They use Instagram to publicise their collections and events.

Want to show off your new acquisitions? Take a quick snap and share it via all your social media platforms. Stage your photos so that they are fun, or even cryptic! Add filters and download Instagram overlay apps – these are really good fun and there are lots of free and paid ones available. Take a look at this photo I posted on our Rudai23 Flickr earlier, I overlayed some text on it using a paid app called 'Over'.

Tips for using Instagram

·         Post regularly, at least once or twice a week – remember you are easily forgotten on social           media.
·         Use hashtags# to share and find content.
·         Have weekly or monthly specials; post something from Special Collections perhaps, that                     wouldn’t normally be publicly available.
·         Show what goes on in the background, most people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes          in a library – let them have look at what you do and how you do it.
·         Engage with comments, and replies, don’t just post the photo, start a conversation.

As you can see Flickr and Instagram have their differences, but can be used towards the same end, to engage, market, publicise, and participate in a visual conversation.

I haven’t shown you how to open an account with either of these applications, because by this stage of the course you are pretty adept at opening new accounts, setting up profiles and deciding privacy settings, but if  you have any problems please do contact us via Twitter or Facebook group.

 Your task for Thing 18 is:

After Thing 17 Reflective Practice, I thought I would give you an easy task this time!
  • Open a Flickr account, search for a library account and download a photo to use in your Thing 18 blog post (make sure it is under a creative commons license and attributable).
  • Open an Instagram account, find one or two library accounts and start a conversation by commenting on an image or two.
  • Think of how you could use either or both of these applications in your library.

Take a look at our Pinterest page Thing 18 Communicating Through Photographs for further reading.

 This post was written by Christine Jordan, Senior Library Assistant, St. Patrick’s
College, Drumcondra, Dublin


  1. Hey there, my phone cant download Instagram for some reason - will i be failed if i don't complete the instagram task part of this module?

    1. Hi Niamh, no you definitely wont fail. We should have put an either/or option with those tasks, sorry. Usually we provide a choice for the tasks.

    2. No worries, once i know what the story is.

  2. Hi Niamh, i'm pretty much the same with instagram it wont download as I need to delete filesas my storage is at its full capacity but I tried to delete as much as I could but it still wont download.. also trying to embed a photo from Flickr into my blog but the blog option is not their only facebook twitter etc....

    1. Hi Jackie, to embed a picture from flickr, click share, then when the options box pops up there is an embed option next to the word share at the top. Click on this and you'll see some code highlighted in blue. Copy this code to your clipboard and past it into your blog post in HTML mode. If you're still stuck I'll email you some screen shots tomorrow.

  3. Is it possible to download Instagram onto a computer? I don't have enough space to download it to my phone. Thanks

    1. Hi Cait, I've tried using instagram on a laptop. I can view my account but not upload photos or look at my feed. Maybe you could temporarily delete an app on your phone and then install instagram to try it out, then delete it again? It's a very round about way to go but it might be the only option. I regularly have to go through my apps and delete a few to make room for new ones.


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