By Mary Beth Breckenridge
Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
AKRON, Ohio – What do you get when bookshelves pose for a picture?
A group shelfie, of course.
Go ahead and groan, but give the Akron-Summit County Public Library credit for a pretty good visual pun.
For the last few weeks, the Ohio library has been coaxing smiles from its social media followers with its “shelfies,” cleverly planned photos of books and other materials on its shelves. The pictures have included a shelfie of Devo videos in memory of band member Bob Casale; a roundup of Richard Simmons exercise videos as an antidote for the indulgences of Fat Tuesday; and the aforementioned group shot, a witty picture of rows of shelves at the Main Library, sunlight streaming from a window to give the photo some ironically misplaced gravitas.
The concept is, of course, a less narcissistic twist on selfies, self-portraits that have become a staple on social media sites.
Michael Derr, the overseer of the library system’s social media efforts and a committed foodie, had seen cookbook shelfies on food sites and thought the concept might work well for the library. He started posting the photos in mid-February on the library’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sites.
“We were trying to find a way to make our Facebook page a little more interesting and get people talking,” Derr said. It’s also a way to counter the impression that the library is a staid place, he said.
“I certainly didn’t invent it,” he said of the trend, “but we’re willing to exploit it.”
Where the shelfie idea started is hard to pinpoint, but the concept was boosted by the British newspaper The Guardian, which in December urged readers to post pictures of their bookshelves on social media and created the hashtag shelfie to categorize the photos.
The New York Public Library took the concept further, declaring a Library Shelfie Day on Jan. 29 to encourage postings by book lovers using the hashtag libraryshelfie. Organizers Morgan Holzer and Billy Parrott were inspired by Museum Selfie Day earlier that month, when museum employees and visitors were urged to shoot themselves – metaphorically speaking – in front of museum displays as a way of promoting those exhibits.
Holzer and Parrott posted shelfies every day for a week leading up to Shelfie Day to stir up interest. But they didn’t see much evidence of the event being promoted by other libraries, so they anticipated getting maybe 100 submissions, said Holzer, the New York library’s information architect and unofficial keeper of its Instagram account.
By the end of the day, about 1,500 photos had been posted on Instagram and another 1,800 on Twitter, she said. “It was kind of insane.”
There were photos of bookshelves arranged in rainbow order, photos of cats on bookshelves, photos of people hiding behind books. They came from individuals as well as 248 libraries and other institutions from 14 countries, including a hospital library and a fourth-grade class in Pennsylvania.
Now Derr is trying to keep the fun going in Akron, but feeding the shelfie beast isn’t always easy. He had some trouble coming up with a theme for last Wednesday’s post, the start of Lent being off limits for such tongue-in-cheek treatment. But his research turned up an obscure observance: National Cheese Doodle Day.
“I did a run to the vending machines, and thankfully we had some cheese doodles,” he said. The result: a shelfie showing a bowlful of the unnaturally colored snacks next to books on cheese. After all, who hasn’t snacked on something sinful while in the grip of a good read?
Derr admitted the library might have sent a confusing message with that one. “Typically, we discourage that behavior,” he said with a laugh.
But if the post encourages people to read, he said, then it’s worth a few orange-stained pages.