Last Monday in Clio we discussed usability and design considerations when creating a website. The image sharing site Pinterest was brought up as an example of historical / educational institutions using a commercial site, and the question was raised, is Pinterest helpful to historians? This is a question that has come up a few times for me at conferences and in discussions with peers. I am usually shocked at the answer. As an avid user of Pinterest for classes, I use Pinterest to create visual notes and reminders, bookmark articles, and keep track of ideas. But it turns out most people don’t see this potential or don’t see a reason to use it in this way.
As soon as I learned about this site I was super excited. I’ve been looking for a way to organize and collect images from the web since I started internetting in the mid 1990s. What’s not to get? You can save (almost) any image from the internet and write notes under it and then save it on a “board” with other images. The board is populated in chronological order and once the image is pinned there is no way to rearrange where the pin appears on the board. But that is what makes Pinterest a lot like Twitter. There is a constant waterfall of posts that you can try and keep up with or you dip into once in a while. And then also like Twitter you can go to certain peoples / institutions pages and see what they have posted.
For this blog post I want to highlight some interesting history boards, how I use Pinterest, and why it is a useful tool for me to use at work.
INTERESTING HISTORY BOARDS:
When creating a board there are a number of categories to choose from on a pull down menu. History is one of those categories. It sits snuggly with Hair & Beauty and Health & Fitness above it and Holidays & Events and Home Decor below it. But it’s there! Just begging historians to collect some images and make a board about it. Here are some examples:
HOW I USE PINTEREST:
One way that I use Pinterest is for class boards. I like to keep track of class discussions and readings using Pinterest. I will invite others from my class to participate if they wish but usually there is limited involvement. I think a reason for the limited involvement is that it is hard to keep track of a board you did not start. You don’t know if what you want to pin has already been pinned to it, or if you will pin something inappropriate to the theme. You have to get over this of course if you are going to participate freely in a group board, but there is a sense of ownership that comes with being the person who set up the board to begin with. My most recent class board is for the class Gender and Material Culture that I’m taking this fall.
The first class board I made was for the class Antiquities and the Museum. I still add to this board images of ancient art or the rediscovery of ancient art. The board doesn’t end, it can forever be added to and the images from the class will be buried at the bottom.
PINTEREST AT WORK:
At SC&A we use Pinterest boards as a way to look at digitized collections quickly. Images from our collections may be scattered as they are a part of online exhibits and blog posts, are available on Flickr, or are stored in MARS (the Mason Archival Repository Service). This distribution of images makes a quick scanning of all content impossible. Linking the images to Pinterest allows us, as well as anyone else, to see the images all on one page. We can also create boards around a theme that relates to our collections but isn’t actually from our collections. Putting images online where people already are is a smart way to engage users and aid find-ability.
Overall I really do love Pinterest and think that it is a great way to organize, collect, and share images. It could be more academic and it could be more customizable. But the barrier to entry is incredibly low and that is an important part of its success. A key point for organizations to keep in mind is the need for good descriptions of images. There are a lot of images that one would only come across through serendipity due to the lack of description. Pinterest lets the user become the collector of images, it is not an exhibit platform, and I would barely call it an exercise in curation (though there are a few examples of pins added to boards in a very deliberate manner to achieve a certain look), but it is definitely a finding, labeling, and storing activity that could be beneficial to historians if they are so inclined.