How Selfies Are Re-Energizing The New York Public Library

These photobooth selfies weren’t taken at a bar. They’re from the New York Public Library, which is mobilizing fans through pictures.

The photos look like they could have been taken at a bar, a bat mitzvah, or one of those swanky media parties with sponsored vodka. But they weren’t. These photobooth shots were snapped at the New York Public Library as part of a new social media initiative to engage more with the library’s selfie-loving patrons, and the live photostream is making our hearts melt.


“This is new ground for us,” Ken Weine, vice president of communications and marketing at the NYPL, tells Co.Exist. “An institution like us has to find ways to communicate with people in person and digitally, and what’s fun about this project is that we’re doing both at the same time.”

A couple of weeks ago, the NYPL installed photobooths at its 42nd Street and mid-Manhattan locations, encouraging visitors to step inside and tweet the results. The photos from both are then immediately uploaded to a Flickr, where anyone can scroll through shots of the library’s enthusiastic patronage. Weine says that the photos have become so popular that his inbox is already flush with requests from other NYPL branches to bring the booths to them.

At a time when the NYPL was threatened with a severe set of budget cuts, officials recognized that they were going to have to mobilize library fans in a new way. The idea for the photobooth came together in a brainstorming session Weine had with Theresa Myrhol, head of the mid-Manhattan branch, when they were figuring out how to make going to the library a more engaging social media experience. When a suggestion for patron photos came up, Weine remembered going to a basketball game with his son–they posed for a father-son shot in a photobooth, and then shared it widely with friends and family.

“It just struck us immediately as a really energizing thing,” Weine says. “It’s just one of those things you put out there and you try to poke holes in it, and we couldn’t poke holes in it.”

In May, the NYPL ran another social media experiment by asking patrons to tweet lines of original poetry for national poetry month. The contest yielded mixed results from some 400 Twitter handles, but proved that there was interest, and that the library had more room to explore its online identity.

“We are trying to stir the pot,” Weine says, adding that 1.4 million people visit the mid-Manhattan branch alone annually. “One thing we’ve learned from the photobooth is there’s so much passion for libraries, and people are personally attached to their branch. There’s a lot of fertile ground to engage with people.”

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.