New York Public Library’s Picture Collection

During an in-person visit to the NYPL Picture Collection I casually inquired about their new Instagram takeover program, volunteering myself as a guest curator, and left my card with the front desk librarian. Six months later their director contacted me and asked if I was still interested!

From there I began brainstorming and collecting subject headings to research using their digital collections. The director and I communicated via email and I laid out my goals for the takeover.

In my proposal I began by recalling a sign in my neighborhood library asking patrons to submit their answers to this question: In one sentence, how would you describe a library to a person who’s never been to one?

In that moment my mind went blank. But the next day I had my answer: The library is like visiting a new city with avenues full of intriguing information that feel safe and exciting to explore.

This is how I feel when I use the NYPL Picture Collection and Digital Collection: like I can follow my intuition through as many twists and turns as I desire. Each of those paths is of my own making and I can stay on them for as long as I want or I can veer down another just by entering a new search term. When I’m on those routes I’m encountering clues that fuel my curiosities, many of which are mundane but exist nonetheless.

As I use the Collections, I’m attuned to sparks that draw me into a picture and give me the sense that it will resonate with my friends, community, and beyond. That’s where visual literacy comes into play: being able to recognize cues that connect what I see in the image to what I experience. For example, when I see pictures of people doing things I do or using the same tools that I use, I feel less alone in the world, less like I’m fumbling around and doing something wrong.

Sharing parts of the Collections during an Instagram takeover is a way to uncover and highlight threads of daily existence through different time periods and curiosity about life and how to live it. Asking questions such as:

      • How does a modern woman wear a vintage hat?
      • Furniture innovations for storing books
      • Ways to visualize data like a person might have in a bullet journal or to-do list
      • Wearing menswear for women
      • Collaborating
      • What is the best way to arrange a desk to be efficient and aesthetically pleasing?
      • How do you display flowers in a casual manner?


Brainstorming subjects to research in the digital collections to be shared during the guest Instagram takeover. Photos by Laura Glazer.

Project by

New York Public Library Picture Collection


Laura Glazer