NYPL's new program Insta Novels feature artists who bring the stories to life on Instagram. New York Public Library

The whimsical Insta Novels program wants you to reconsider the roles of libraries and social media.

You might not think to pick up a copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland from your local library. But the New York Public Library is willing to bet that if you can access it with the tap of your finger—on an app you probably already have open—you just might find yourself falling deep into the alternate universe dreamed up by Lewis Carroll in his beloved novel.

That’s part of the thinking behind Insta Novels, NYPL’s latest program to bring literary classics to the digital masses. As the name suggests, the library is taking advantage of the popularity and wide reach of Instagram by uploading literary classics in their entirety into the app’s Stories feature—essentially turning the library’s account into a digital bookshelf. The stories live on in the “Highlights” section on NYPL’s Instagram page, so they don’t disappear after 24 hours. The program launched Wednesday with part one of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Two other literary classics are queued up to be added over the next few weeks: the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and the novella The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka.

If the titles aren’t enough to get you thumbing through the stories, the library also teamed up with the ad agency Mother to find illustrators to bring the stories, and even the words themselves, to life. On one page of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, stars twinkle at the bottom; on another, the words of the Dormouse character scroll up in whimsical fashion, mimicking the tail of a mouse.

The selection of stories was chosen for diversity in subjects and formats, said Richert Schnorr, the director of digital media at NYPL. But they also followed a theme: “There’s a theme that started with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland about transformation, about not knowing what reality is, and turning things upside down,” he said.

That theme can also describe how libraries have had to adapt to the digital age, and how their roles have changed at a time when literary reading is declining and when social media has become a major disseminator of information—accurate or otherwise. Libraries are now offering more than just books; they’re increasingly connecting communities to the web, and transforming into incubators for startups and refuges for the homeless. They’re dipping their toes into the digital space; before teaming up with Instagram, for example, NYPL launched an e-book app to make their books more accessible, as well as two podcasts.

The cover art for Charlotte Perkins Giman’s feminist short story was designed by Buck Design. (New York Public Library)

In a way, it makes sense for NYPL to pivot more toward mobile engagement. The latest research from the Pew Research Center shows that 77 percent of Americans own a smartphone. Zoom into urban areas like New York City, and that number jumps to 83 percent. Meanwhile, Instagram recently hit 1 billion users, giving NYPL the potential to reach people way beyond the city’s borders. (Though, there is a valid argument that such digitizing of the library fails to reach some underserved communities, as Michael D. D. White of Citizens Defending Libraries told the Wall Street Journal.)

At the end of the day, Schnorr said this latest project is to use an element of surprise and whimsy to inspire people to pick up a book, to get them to excited about reading, and to visit their own libraries—if not New York City’s. The project doesn’t go as far as “reinventing the wheel,” he said, but it does turn the idea of social media being a fast-paced medium on its head. The theme of the selections “dovetails so nicely into the concept of transforming this kind of fast, twitching medium into something that’s a little more contemplative and long form,” he told CityLab. “It asks for a little bit more attention from the users.”

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a map of London Uber driver James Farrar's trip data.
    Transportation

    For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data Is Power

    Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.

  2. Smoke from the fires hangs over Brazil.
    Environment

    Why the Amazon Is on Fire

    The rash of wildfires now consuming the Amazon rainforest can be blamed on a host of human factors, from climate change to deforestation to Brazilian politics.

  3. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  4. Graduates react near the end of commencement exercises at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.
    Life

    Where Do College Grads Live? The Top and Bottom U.S. Cities

    Even though superstar hubs top the list of the most educated cities, other cities are growing their share at a much faster rate.

  5. A man sleeps in his car.
    Equity

    Finding Home in a Parking Lot

    The number of unsheltered homeless living in their cars is growing. Safe Parking programs from San Diego to King County are here to help them.

×