UP Library InstaNovel project

Posted on January 26, 2021

What are they?

InstaNovels are mostly short stories published on the UP Library Instagram page, accompanied by colourful, modern illustrations. The concept was originally introduced by the New York Public Library.

With the rise of social media in the past decade, attention spans have decreased and addiction to technology has reduced consumption of offline content. By embracing social media channels like Instagram, the New York Public Library found a way to inspire a new generation of readers by creating digital content that expands their knowledge-base of the classics.

The UP Library introduced this project in an effort to develop a stronger reading culture amongst students. This is a great opportunity to offer a ‘tech-savvy’ reading alternative suitable for this digital age, which aligns with the Department of Library Services' overall vision: to establish itself as a modern, 21st-century library.

Reading on mobile devices has its advantages: phones have an adjustable backlight, readability and accessibility settings, automatic dark mode, search optimization, one-handed page-turning, and best of all, you always have your book with you because you always have your phone with you. Reading on social media will of course not be as optimal as other dedicated mobile reading applications, such as Apple Books or Google Play Books (which boasts an extensive catalogue and plenty of customization options), but it is effective for those users who are not regular readers but are regular Instagram users – and there are plenty of those! Our marketing strategy therefore focuses on promoting InstaNovels as an easy way to switch over from – often – meaningless Instagram scrolling to meaningful reading, whether you are at home, at work, or on-the-go. 

How it works

InstaNovels make use of the Instagram story feature where posts are available for 24 hours and thereafter are added to our profile’s highlight reel which is always available. The text is included in full and augmented throughout with modern illustrations. To read, simply view the Story as normal, and hold your thumb down to stay on a page and complete reading the text. You can then lift your thumb to let the Story advance to the next page. To have a good understanding of how InstaNovels are read, have a look at this promotional video which is available on all our social media channels (directed by Kelly Liebenberg and animated by Elaine Marais).


Image 1: Preview of InstaNovel, The Gloria Scott by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The chosen stories

Currently, there are nine InstaNovels available on the @UPLibrary page. Of those, the following six stories were selected because they are classic, well-known texts which are out of copyright and are available in the public domain.

For the fourth InstaNovel, it was decided that a celebration of African authors and stories would take centre stage. The InstaNovel adaptation of Uthlakanyana, a short story from Nursery tales, traditions, and histories of the Zulus by Henry Callaway launched in July and was well-received by the readers. This book is available on the UP Library’s UPSpace repository and internet archive. The creative cover is an original work designed by Graphic Designer, Elaine Marais.

As a Library, we wholeheartedly understand that storytelling forges connections among people and ideas. It unites, it inspires and it comforts. And we believe that we have a responsibility to provide a platform for the storytellers in our UP community and beyond. Therefore, in September, the decision was made to accept #InstaNovel submissions from the public.  Through creative marketing, and networking during UP Library's annual Mind-Altering Books webinar, we appealed to all aspiring writers in our UP community and beyond to share their writing with us and give us the opportunity to turn their words into an InstaNovel. We developed original cover artwork with them and put their manuscript through a minor editing process to make sure it was in top-notch shape for publication! Our brilliant first author, student Ryan Naamdhew, is an aspiring playwright and you can read his beautiful poem capturing young love and loss, titled Crinkle Your Face” here. Our second author, Antea Pretorius is the Project Manager: Publications in the Department Enrolment and Student Administration, and you can read her short story "Hair" here.

Image 2: Preview of original InstaNovel covers


User reception & feedback

With over 500 million daily active Instagram Story users globally (Iqbal 2020), we are hoping to tap into a booming generation of digital readers by meeting our audience where they already spend their time.

UP Library’s Instagram page is doing really well. As of January 2021 our Instagram account is the top performing South African Academic Library on Instagram in terms of follower count and engagement rates, in comparison to other University Libraries, including the University of Johannesburg, University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, among others.

Image 3: Comparison of Instagram Followers in SA Academic Libraries. Compiled by: Kelly Liebenberg


We also ran a 24hour Instagram poll to gain a better understanding of our followers’ reading habits and the results showed that there is certainly an interest in InstaNovels, with 77% of followers revealing that they would like to read an InstaNovel. We were happy to see that our Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Kupe, participated in the poll as welll!

  • Question 1: Do you spend a lot of time reading on social media?
    • 85% YES, 15% NO
  • Question 2: Would you like to start reading books more often?
    • 94% YES, 6% NO
  • Question 3: Why don't you read as often as you would like to?
    • 52% I don’t find the time
    • 44% I struggle to get in the habit of reading
    • 4% I don’t enjoy reading
  • Question 4: Would you read an InstaNovel?
    • 77% YES, 23% NO

We received a lot of other positive social media feedback through direct messages and lively comment threads.

Image 4: User feedback on InstaNovel promotional material


Final thoughts

Our goal for InstaNovels was to bridge the gap between the two problems identified above: wanting to read but not having the time and wanting to read but finding it difficult to get into the habit of reading. By only publishing stories with an estimated reading time between 20 - 60 minutes, and only publishing quality stories that would pique the readers’ interest, we hope that we successfully aided in cultivating a habit of reading by providing text on Instagram, where the prospective readers already spends their leisure time. This can be seen as a gateway to discover a love of reading which will encourage Instagram users to obtain books from many different sources, including our library, the UP Department of Library Services.



Iqbal, A. (2020, June 23). Instagram Revenue and Usage Statistics (2020). Retrieved from Business Of Apps: https://www.businessofapps.com/data/instagram-statistics/


- Author Kelly Liebenberg
Published by Chené Da Conceicao De Freitas

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