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Facebooking Local History

Like most libraries, we post lots of pictures to Facebook promoting programs or events, technologies, services, or other information about the library.  According to Facebook's "insights," we "reach" a substantial number of patrons with these messages.  But none of these begins to compare to the patron engagement we achieve by posting local historical photos.

Generations of families have called Mooresville, Indiana home, so there is an appreciation among our patrons of family and local history, which is why history looms large in our mission.  When I began working at Mooresville Public Library a decade ago as our Indiana Room librarian, local and state history was my thing (so was genealogy, about which I knew just enough to be dangerous).  So I produced loads of local historical handouts for patrons to peruse.  At first, these were distributed on paper, but we decided that was environmentally unfriendly, so we digitized the content and placed it in our "treasure trove" blog and upon our website (here and here and here, for those playing at home).  When we began using Facebook in 2010, it never occurred to me to post historical photos there.  That's what our Indiana Room web pages and blog were for!

A few years ago, in one of my "d'oh!" moments, I began to post some historical photos on Facebook. Suddenly, our "reach" exploded from the hundreds to the thousands.  Statistics for the photo posts were huge.  Here's a typical example:

Click to Enlarge

This post (two years ago) about The Village Shopping Center (1973 photos by Richard Squires) "reached" over 41,000 Facebook users (our service district is around 15,000).

Click to Enlarge

So far, 5,644 Facebook users have been "reached" through this post (from a couple months ago) about John Dillinger and the suggestion that a historical marker be placed here for him (an unpopular idea among our longtime residents, by the way).

Most of our Facebook posts "reach" hundreds of patrons, at best.  When we hit thousands (or tens of thousands), we know we've tapped into a popular topic.

We're not sure why local history is such a responsive subject for our Facebook page.  Other history/genealogy librarians with whom we've spoken have not enjoyed as much readership as their libraries' other departments (particularly children's), although their numbers are usually quite respectable.  We field far more reference requests for adult, teen, and youth services than we do for state/local history and genealogy.  Apparently, it's the photos that resonate with our social media followers.

You might want to give it a try.  Post a few local history photos with some background commentary on Facebook (or other social media), then see what happens.  Hopefully, many folks will join you on memory lane.


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