Tapping through Instagram Stories usually means you’ll peek into one friend’s wild Friday night, witness another friend’s beach vacation, and see a series of photos of another friend’s cat, complete with sassy captions. But now, thanks to the New York Public Library, you can also encounter a piece of literature.
The library partnered with the design firm Mother in New York to create and upload a digital version of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland to its Instagram story, and there’s more to come. Over the next few months, the NYPL will also upload Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” illustrated by the design studio Buck, and Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis, illustrated by designer César Pelizer. The beautiful drawings for the digitized Alice in Wonderland are by conceptual illustrator Magoz, and perfectly capture the classic’s colorful whimsy.
It’s a clever use of technology, bringing literature to a digital platform that 400 million people are looking at every day. “Preserving the value of education and reading, especially in today’s political climate, is something we should all try and be more conscious of,” says Corinna Falusi, partner and chief creative officer of Mother in New York. “So while, yes, it’s nice to see Instagram Stories of cute puppy pics or vacation sunsets, why not demand more from your social media platform? Why not turn it into a tool for greater public access to literature?”
But these aren’t just digital books that you can tap through like you would on an e-reader. Besides the custom illustrations, Falusi and her team also added video and images inside of the books. My favorite part? If you tap quickly through the pages, a small animation comes to life in the corner of your screen–almost like an old-school flipbook. The detail brings the experience closer to what it feels like to flip quickly through the pages of a much-loved book to find your favorite chapter.
Even the text itself is attuned to what it’s like to read on a screen: Falusi and her team deliberately chose the typeface Georgia, which was initially designed to make screen-reading more pleasurable, and the background is more cream than white to be easier on the eyes.
Most stories disappear after 24 hours–but in this case, the NYPL’s Instagram will add all of the digital books to its “highlights” bar, located below information about the account on its main profile page. It turns the NYPL’s Instagram into a digital bookshelf that readers can access at any time.
The books themselves were chosen for their differences, and because of a common theme: transformation. “For the start, we tried to find books with very different styles and tones, with authors that gave their unique flavor to literature,” Falusi says. “Each book also has a theme of transformation, which is appropriate since they are coming to audiences in a brand-new format.”
The NYPL isn’t alone in using technology to make literature accessible to more people while experimenting with how screens can bring new dimensions to a centuries-old form of art. An ambitious project in the United Kingdom called Ambient Literature has also explored writing literature that uses location and weather data particular to every reader, something that could only be possible using a screen. Novels designed to be read on smartphones have been popular in Japan for years. And elsewhere on social media, authors write entire short stories on Twitter.
But for the NYPL, the project is mainly a gateway to introducing readers to its e-book collection, which can be accessed through the library’s e-reader app SimplyE. “We hope bringing books to social media, surprising them with classics as they scroll through their feed, will spark an interest in reading that leads them to visit their local libraries, download our e-books, and keep turning pages,” says Richert Schnorr, the NYPL’s director of digital media.
It seems promising so far: The day of the Insta Novels launch was the NYPL’s most successful day on Instagram Stories, with more than 450,000 total impressions. The library’s account gained 7,100 followers, which is 56 times its normal growth rate.
Falusi has bigger ambitions. “The dream is, of course, to ultimately bring all books to Instagram,” she says. Perhaps one day, Insta-libraries will be commonplace and we’ll all be reading novels in our stories.