Follow Friday: Boston Public Library

There's a virtual help desk on the other end of that Twitter feed.

boston public library

Photo by Meredith Foley for Boston Magazine

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Whether you’re a self-proclaimed bookworm or not, no city is complete without its friendly local library. For Boston, that’s the Boston Public Library, comprising the Central Library at Copley Square and 24 branches throughout the city.

This week, we asked Gina Perille, the BPL’s chief of communications and strategy, about how the library stays connected with its diverse and plentiful audience.

How many people run the BPL’s various social media accounts? How do you manage all of them?

There are two of us who manage Boston Public Library’s main Facebook page. Many of our branch locations across the city as well as some specialized teams within the Central Library in Copley Square also have a presence on Facebook. We provide support and content suggestions to those more specialized pages and they maintain them with posts that are targeted to a particular location, age group, or discipline. I handle the library’s @BPLBoston Twitter account as well as the @BPLBoston Instagram presence.

What are the goals for the BPL on social media, and where does your content usually come from?

Our goal is to engage with our communities of users through conversations that highlight our collections, services, and programs as well as the people who make it all happen. That’s the foundation upon which our social media activities are built.

We make a conscious effort to genuinely engage with our audiences and not simply broadcast our information. Sometimes that can be challenging because we have a lot of information to impart—we offer 800 programs each month across 25 locations and have 23 million items in our collections. Even so, real conversation leads to real story sharing, and that is one of the best social media outcomes of all.

In three words, describe the voice and tone of the BPL’s social media.

Welcoming, informative, and fun.

Which account is the strongest channel for the BPL? If you had to pick, which one is the “must-follow”?

Choosing one channel is a tough call because each one has its own virtues, but I would say our @BPLBoston Twitter feed is the best place to start in order to experience the library’s of-the-moment and in-the-moment personality.

What’s the weirdest, most surprising, or most outspoken feedback you’ve gotten via social media?

People’s love of libraries, love of books, and love of reading comes through strongly on social media. Even though Boston Public Library has been around since 1848, it can be surprising to some to see the passion today. No one has yet asked for the library’s hand in marriage, but there have been several professions of love over the years.

What aspects of the BPL do you find that audiences are most surprised to learn about?

People are the most surprised by the sheer vastness of our offerings, whether that’s the size of our collections, the range of programs we offer, or something else. And it is free to all. We are continually introducing and re-introducing ourselves, which is something that I personally enjoy a great deal. It is always someone’s first time interacting with Boston Public Library.

At this time of year, we make a special effort to try and spread the word that anyone who lives, works, or goes to school in Massachusetts can have a Boston Public Library card. The other thing that some people are surprised to learn about is the diversity of our digital offerings—we have tens of thousands of free e-books to lend along with digital magazines, streaming audio, video, and television shows. On social media, specifically, some people are surprised to know that the library is here and responding. We’ve used social media to solve problems for our users and those quick interactions can sometimes be the most gratifying.

The BPL is not just a library—the Central Library especially hosts many special events like the Legoland Master Model Builder competition, the Boston Marathon exhibit, and so on. Anything else we can look forward to this fall?

There are many wonderful programs coming this fall. We have a full slate of author talks scheduled throughout the system and a special local history series that is very popular. Many of our locations host exhibitions of local artists and feature items from our collections in beautiful displays. At the Central Library in Copley Square, a new exhibition in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center is worth a visit. It’s called Back to School: Geography in the Classroom and features vintage maps, globes, and games that instructors have used to teach geography. There are even student-produced geography projects from as far back as the 18th century.

The other thing that we’re excited to share—especially via social media—is some of the progress we’re making on the renovation of the Central Library. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have been terrific ways to share project updates while construction is taking place.

In your opinion, what is the most Instagramable spot in the BPL?

Bates Hall, our large reading room, and the outdoor courtyard at the Central Library in Copley Square are fan favorites, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if our new branch in East Boston started to gain more attention. The library on Bremen Street is spectacular.

Bates Hall at the Central Library

Courtyard at the Central Library

East Boston Branch

Since you’ve been with the BPL, what has been your personal favorite thing to share on social media?

Throwback Thursday is a natural fit for a historical institution like ours. We have nearly 100,000 digitized images of items in our collection already showing on our Flickr photostream. It’s a virtual treasure trove of content for us to share. It is fun to choose themes and identify topical events to link them to.

Finally, what is your favorite book?

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is the book that I have been recommending the most in recent weeks. It’s a beautiful, historical blend of old and new—just like Boston Public Library.


Responses have been edited and condensed.