Eighteen-year-old Becca looks at it “at least twice a day.” Sixteen-year-old Hailey estimates that she checks the site four times a week. It’s not facebook, or tumblr, it’s Pinterest, “a place where you can organize your style and personality by pictures,” as Becca described it. This fall, I’ve been surprised at the number of teen girls looking at the visual curation site in our library, and especially at how different their boards tend to be when compared with the recipe-and-decorating patterns of my own contemporaries.
Hailey has developed her presence there largely from re-pinning things. When she finds clothes she likes on other people’s boards, she said will look for other pins from the same site or pinner. “You have common interests,” she said about her Pinterest connections, ““You can learn new hairstyles, ways to do your nails, about new clothes, and new books” from them.
She doesn’t know most of her Pinterest followers and following face-to-face. “I don’t know many of my friends that have one,” said Hailey, noting that she might pay a subscription fee for the service, “if there were more people using it…. But you don’t have to be a member. There’s a main wall when you go to the site. But you can’t develop your own without logging in.”
Unlike Hailey, eighteen-year-old Becca said “almost every girl I know uses it.” She said everyone has a wedding board, “even if they’re not planning on getting married any time soon.” She said she even pins things for her “future children.”
Both Samantha and Hailey said they got into Pinterest after seeing friends looking at it. Hailey fondly remembers her first pin, “high heels shaped like a duck.” Now her boards include inspirational quotes, fashion, books, and animals, and crafts. She said she recently referred to her saved pin on how to curl her hair with a flatiron.
Sixteen-year-old Samantha said she saves food and travel ideas. “Places I want to go before I die, things I want to do before I die,” she said, and, seasonally enough, a Christmas board with tree-trimming and present ideas.
Samantha searches Pinterest for topics, and finds pinners to follow based on the images returned. She especially likes the site for artistic inspiration, like an encaustic sculpture she made using crayons, a canvas, and a hairdryer.
Becca said she tends to look at the Humor Category, since her home screen when she logs in tends to be largely re-pins of her own pins. She said she is currently using Pinterest to learn to cook, and she has made eggless cookie dough from a pinned recipe the last three nights in a row. Another student bought a pasta maker and taught herself to make homemade ravioli after seeing the kitchen tool on a food board.
A family and consumer science teacher at my school has been leveraging all the pinning in class. Boards have replaced collage assignments that were previously poster-bound.
A number of teens told me they access Pinterest almost exclusively via the app on their phones, but Hailey thinks that it is too difficult to see enough on a mobile device. And she said that reviewing her Pinterest boards over time lets her “see things I was interested in, but I’m not interested in anymore,” she said, noting that the site made her aware how quickly her tastes change.
“I wish they had more books on there,” said Becca, punctuating the potential for libraries to reach their teen users there.
How popular is it? Earlier this year, Pinterest was suddenly driving more traffic to blogs than twitter. Given the visual nature of the site and its appeal to teens, it might seem a natural addition to our youth services social media arsenal. Outside of reading promotion, YA librarians could use Pinterest to “localize” hot topics, potentially link ever-popular inspirational quotes to local community non-profits, for example, could channel youthful iealism into practical service.
Jennifer Rummel wrote about ways teen librarians can use Pinterest for VOYA. But plugging into Pinterest is not without problems. “Right now, it’s more of a girly thing,” said Hailey.
What are the implications of using a tool that is so heavily gendered in its usage? Sites like manteresting and gentlemint have attempted to create a “male” alternative to pinterest, but even if librarians had the luxury of time to the maintain separate boards, would that fracture seem like forcing teens to choose an identity? Gender-neutral solutions like The New York Times’ new Compendium tool may provide a better answer for getting teens their visual collage fix without the problems inherent in a recognizably gendered online space.