Pinterest Use By Libraries

This post is meant purely as my own observations/thoughts on Pinterest. I am by no means an expert; I use it very slightly outside of work, even less at work and have done no research on it. I started this as notes to share with other local staff at a recent discussion about using Pinterest which I was unable to attend.

Pinterest Use in UILibraries

The staff at University of Iowa Libraries experiment with various social media platforms. My department in particular tries to promote our digital collections through social media. Overall, the Libraries have not made extensive use of Pinterest. I know of the following Pinterest accounts from various UI Libraries departments:

Things that work well

Pinterest is really easy to use. Boards can be set up very quickly on topics of interest. It is very easy to pin content and to upload new content. Pinterest has a large user base and is a place where people are engaging with content.

The boards look really good and can be very engaging. I like the image + a brief caption display of Pinterest. While you can make a set/album in Flickr, you need to hover over to see the caption. However, my preference for the caption may not be typical.

A few things I didn’t know/think of which colleagues shared:

  • Pinterest supports animated GIFs (our Special Collections Tumblr makes great use of them)
  • Works well in LibGuides, e.g. – Willow Fuchs, who created this guide, says it works better than the cover embed tool within LibGuides
  • Can embed a Pinterest board in WordPress
  • A board can have contributions from multiple people and you can see who posted what (each contributor retains her own identity). Our department has one board of this sort.

Things that don’t work well

You must be logged in to fully see the content. There is a big black bar across the bottom of the page exhorting you to create an account or login. (And as a side note, this login follows the annoying trend of assuming you need to make an account, making the login for a current user harder to find.) If you scroll to the bottom, the last items are obscured and there is no way to see them. I think I first heard of this in August or September 2014, but didn’t really note the comment in a random tweet (which I cannot find now). In my department, we had not noticed this bar until after we made a board collecting some items for homecoming and then realized that the big black bar means it doesn’t work well for promotion.


As a colleague pointed out, the display is even worse for an individual item.


The boards are not sortable; you cannot rearrange in any meaningful way. They display most recently pinned items at the top. (To be honest, this has bothered me far more in my personal life than on library boards, although we were careful to pin the corn monuments in order.)

I am unsure how well most academic library content really works for engaging with users on Pinterest. Some selections from our digital collections work, but I am less convinced that our information resources will result in repins or other engagement. New book/video boards will probably have the effect of promoting the item, but not our collections in particular. As general display mechanisms within Pinterest, these are quite poor in my opinion because you must be logged in to see everything. However, embedding a board in LibGuides and in a WordPress page may completely solve this problem. This could mean a Pinterest board could be a useful tool when embedded elsewhere.


On Pinterest as a whole, some of the most popular things pinned relate to shopping (decorating, clothes, etc.), food, travel, and crafting. I think we in Libraries may have more success if we make boards on themes like this to appeal to the people already on Pinterest.

Pinterest has more women in the user base ( If we want people to engage with content or even see board while logged in, we may be reaching a skewed subset of our population. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but we should be aware of it. I also found it interesting that the users tend to be more conservative than on other social media ( Again, I don’t know if this should have any impact on how we use Pinterest.

Given the above, I am not surprised that our Mildred Wirt Benson board seems to be the most popular of those made by our department (this is not based on any statistics but on a quick review of what is being repined and favorited).


The Pinterest terms state, “If you post your content on Pinterest, it still belongs to you but we can show it to people and others can re-pin it.” The terms also state, “Copies of content shared with others may remain even after you delete the content from your account.” Pinterest provides details of how to report alleged copyright infringements and what happens if something you posted was reported as such.

We also must to be careful about rights of content that we post (upload or pin from a web site) and repin from elsewhere boards. This includes remembering to check the rights of our own content before we begin pinning it. I found the following two items helpful, although one is from the UK so somewhat less applicable here.

Business Account/Analytics

I don’t think there was an option for business account when our department joined Pinterest several years ago. I only realized the accounts exist when I looked for analytics for our accounts. You need to create/convert to a business account to see this data. If we want to see these analytics, we will need to convert the account.

I also don’t know if we would need to have the terms reviewed in any official way. If we start making more use of Pinterest in a formal way, we should get answers to both these questions.


We have not discussed any best practices for following other accounts or boards. If we begin to use Pinterest more, we should probably consider this and add/weed boards/accounts as appropriate. We have also not been liking other pins, which means we are not engaging with others. Again, if we really want to engage with people on Pinterest, we should fully participate.

I think our goals with Pinterest have simply been for us to experiment with it and see how it connects to our digital collections. Our general goals for social media in our department are to connect our digital collections with people on the platforms that they use. Since we have only been dabbling with using Pinterest, I couldn’t begin to assess the success of Pinterest boards. People are pinning our content from our digital collections, so I am unsure if the boards are providing much added benefit. (Having a business account and clear goals would be needed to actually know if they were worth the time to make.)


You can get an RSS feed for your boards by adding the extension rss to the end of the URL for the board, for example, The feed includes the most recent 25 pins on the board. “How to Track Your Website’s Content on Pinterest,” a 14 March 2012 Mashable article, provides more information.


As mentioned above, you can embed a board in a LibGuide page. I was able to add content in two ways, but given my infrequent editing of LibGuides there are probably better ways to do this (I think Willow made a widget). We are now on LibGuides 2.0 in case that alters anything

RSS feed.

You can add an RSS feed to LibGuides, so you can add content from a board in this manner. It includes additional information (not just the picture), but it does not look particularly good (the first 20 characters of the text appear, then the picture, then without a line break, the caption begins).


If you hover over the image, you do not see any additional information. Click on an item takes you to the specific pin. If you are not logged in to Pinterest, it has the problem of the black bar.

Rich text/html

When you are viewing one of your boards, you can click the gear in the upper right and select “make a widget” to access the widget builder. This will give you basic code to embed you board elsewhere. However, there are no options for what it looks like. You can copy this code and past into the source of a rich text/html box in a LibGuide.


If you hover over an item you will see its caption. However, if you click on an item you will be prompted to pin the item to one of your boards, if you are logged in, or prompted to login/sign up for Pinterest, if you are not logged in.


This is extremely poor interaction for non-Pinterest users.

You can also use the Pinterest widget builder for more code options. Select “roll your own” you can design the board as you would like.


This gives you far more control over the display, but you still have the problem of what happens when you click on an item


You can easily embed a pin just by adding the url, without it being a link. However, if I try to center this, it becomes a link.

You can also do this by selecting “add media” and then “insert from URL”. The URL that appears will be enclosed in the embed tag (in square brackets). WordPress provides more information on this.

You can do the same thing with a board (with no customization) in WordPress. Again, you can do this by clicking add media to insert from URL, which adds the embed code.

As with the other boards (vs. pins) that I have been able to embed, clicking on an item in a board brings you to the repin popup rather than taking you to the pin.


You may be able to embed a board using the code discussed above. (This post by Jane Morgan (29 September 2014) has good examples for how you may wish to customize a board.) However, adding a custom board requires javascript and sites (like this blog) do not allow javascript. If you can add javascript, you may need to add the code to the footer of your theme.

The best example I have seen is from another library. I really like the look of it. The items go to the pins (as in my RSS example above) rather than prompting you to pin the item. I don’t know how they did this. It think it involves having individual items not a board embedded. I also think it requires javascript so I cannot experiment on this blog.

However, as Ka-Ming (@AgentK23) points out, this still has the black bar problem within Pinterest, making it far less effective to direct people back to your own resources.

Digital Collections

Whether we choose to make boards or not, our digital collections will be pinned and we should understand how our software works with Pinterest. We should also note what items have been pinned. I had started a blog post months back on this. I will finish that up as a later post.


I was interested to see that Pinterest is included in counts by Altmetric. Altmetric is only able to count items with an identifier, and I do not typically see DOIs or other identifiers in Pinterest, so it seems few items would be counted in this measure. The Altmetric blog post “Interactions: Hmm… Pinteresting!” (by Jean Liu, 6 March 2013) provides some answers to my questions and is well worth a read.

“If you were to look at the pinned pictures associated with the top 5 most pinned articles (above table), you’d see that most are actually images and not data. This is at least partially due to the limitations of Pinterest for communicating science through certain kinds of pictures. Pinterest is a highly visual platform that is most suitable for displaying interesting, standalone, high-resolution images, but many research outputs are difficult to share in this manner.”

Keep up with Changes

As with any social media platform, the company makes changes which may help or hinder your efforts. You need to pay attention to these changes and adjust your plans accordingly. Keeping up is always easier if you use the social media platform, but be sure to view the site as an outsider as well (that is, if you aren’t signed in, what do you see?).

Selected Tips/Presentations etc.

There is loads of information about using Pinterest, but these items I found particularly interesting.

Pinterest Image Optimization: Make the Best Pins! By Louise Myers (5 February 2013)
How Libraries are Doing Pinterest Wrong by Paige Alfonzo (21 November 2013)
Exploiting user internet behaviours using social media by Ian Clark (9 September 2014)
“Pinterested” in good ideas for your library? (23 October 2014 Iowa Library Association presentation)


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