Staying Lit Through Instagram

Our University prides itself on having over 200 societies; ran by students, for students. Under normal circumstances, these societies can tick over quite nicely, going about their usual business on campus.

Yet COVID-19 has seen a significant change in how these societies are operating on a day to day basis, that is if they’re even operating at all. Most have had to fight for survival online, changing the way they function in order to keep the ball rolling until we’re all back on campus. Sadly, some societies have succumbed to the pressures and challenges of lockdown, and simply faded away into the dark abyss.

Obviously these societies will likely be revived again once the pandemic has subsided, but in the meantime, what are we supposed to do? How are we meant to feel a part of the University of York? And how are we supposed to stay engaged with the student community? It’s difficult to feel included during times like these, yet some societies have managed to pull it out of the bag and maintain our keen attention.

See here Exhibit A – the Literature Society (aka LitSoc) has managed to stay alive, and more importantly stay lit, through Instagram. As a society, they’ve managed to create exciting new content that has engaged their followers, encouraging them to participate in what is fast becoming a thriving online student community. Via a virtual interview (because as we all know, pandemic times call for virtual measures), we asked the LitSoc committee how the society has had to adapt to the challenges posed by the lock-down, and how they’re managing to keep LitSoc alive in exciting new ways. Here’s what they had to say:

How has LitSoc been affected by the lockdown?

Charli: Naturally we’ve had to cancel a lot of our events which is super sad! We had one of our iconic Poems and Pints events planned for summer term. It has always been so popular and we were really looking forward to our first one as a new committee so it’s a shame it won’t be going ahead, but of course we will be rescheduling for autumn term! 
But we are very lucky as the events we do at LitSoc are flexible and don’t necessarily need face-to-face interaction to take place. We have been able to move a few of our events online such as our book clubs which we now hold on Zoom and if anything it has helped us to increase our social media presence! Our weekly email has also had to shift to a bi-weekly email, however, we thought it was really important to keep this going for summer term as it offers a sense of structure at least which helps all of us at uni keep a sense of time! It’s also a great platform for advertising our up-coming events and you can subscribe to it
here or find the link on our social media pages.

Has the lockdown benefited the society in any way? 

Liv: Of course it is a huge shame that we had some really exciting ideas that we were hoping to pull off as a new committee, but like other societies we have had to adapt and overcome. I guess it means we have had the chance to trial new things that we wouldn’t have done previously. Last week we held our first virtual film screening which was a great way of bringing our members together and provided them with a chance to relax and socialise. I think given people have more time on their hands, it also means our members have been more engaged with our social media too, we had some brilliant entries for our competition! 

How have you, as a committee, tried to keep the society going during quarantine?

Charli: To keep our social media presence active we thought it would be fun to run a little literature related competition which would also inspire people to look at their home set-ups differently. We asked our followers to upload a photo of their book shelves using the hashtag #LitSocShelfie which was a great success. A big shoutout to our winner @violet_hatch who won a £20 online book voucher. We really enjoyed this and hope to do more like it in the future. 
As well as this, our Instagram takeovers were a great way for us to stay in touch with our followers and we also created an Instagram story highlight called Lockdown Library, which our committee contributes to by providing book recommendations over the quarantine period.

Your instagram story takeovers by members of the committee have been fantastic. Do you have plans for more interactive content soon?

Lizzie: Thanks! We are so glad you enjoyed them. It was such a great opportunity to interact with our followers and share some tips we hoped would help people during this difficult time. If you missed these, they are all highlighted on our insta @litsoc. Of course we have more plans for our stories! As we are heading into the dreaded exam season, and we sadly had to cancel our study brunches that usually take place in the Leavis Room, we are going to do a study with me / question time on our insta stories instead! On Tuesday 5 May and Tuesday 12 May, both at 11am, we will be answering any exam worries, whether these are English Literature related or more general revision tips and tricks inclusive of all degrees. So check these out if you want some much needed motivation like we do! 

Do you have anything planned for the society after quarantine/next year?

Lizzie: We have lots of exciting ideas for next year! We have recently had a beautiful rebrand thanks to our wonderful new Press and Publicity Officer, Ceri, so we are hoping to release some new merch for our members come September: totebags and bookmarks are just a few of the ideas we’ve had! Obviously we will have a Poems and Pints event as soon as we possibly can! But we also have some exciting new ideas such as Freshers mixer:  a super relaxed social opportunity for literature loving freshers to meet at the start of the year and make new friends. This will also be a great chance to introduce ourselves and what LitSoc is all about whilst sharing our upcoming events! LitSoc also held a Book Shop Crawl last year through York which we hope to do again as there are so many bookshops that have an excellent selection of books at really reasonable prices — a winning combo for students! And we are also thinking of doing some kind of humanities formal by collabing with other societies but it’s still very early stages at this point! 

Recommend us some books! What have you been enjoying lately and what are you looking forward to next?

Lizzie: Great! For this we thought it would be great to share what our followers have been reading during lockdown instead of us! On my Instagram take over I asked what our followers had been reading and they had some excellent recommendations. I’ve added loads to my list, here are just a few: 

Girl, Women, Other – by Bernardine Evaristo (winner of the Booker Prize 2019, also a top recommendation from our secretary Liv!)

The Runaways – by Fatima Bhutto (a harrowing and probing narrative that explores the suppression of emotion, identity and love.)

Purple Hibiscus – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (just finished this myself! Utterly heart wrenching and beautifully written, *content warning* the novel does contain moments of domestic abuse.)

The Secret History – by Donna Tartt (it seems everyone’s reading this at the moment, don’t resist jumping on the bandwagon, it’s popular for a reason!)

Check out the ‘Takeover’ highlight over on instagram for more books, as well as our ‘Lockdown Library’ highlight to see what our committee has been reading!

How do you think that bookstagram accounts, and other book related Instagram accounts like LitSoc, can help students during lockdown? 

Charli: As always, books remain a great way of providing a form of escapism, especially in such confusing times. Bookstagrams and related accounts embody this on a virtual and accessible platform which is even more important when the outside world isn’t available to us. Bookstagrams become our virtual libraries, providing us with recommendations and a sense of community. We like to follow as many as possible to keep our outreach diverse and you can check out some of our recommendations below. 

As you can see, LitSoc are tackling the difficulties of lockdown full force! The new content on their Instagram account is fantastically engaging, and they have much more content to come. It seems Instagram is enabling the reading community to stay fully in the loop with all things books, and is even allowing societies like LitSoc to keep their spirit alive under lock down! In addition to interviewing the Literature Society, we also asked them to recommend some of their favourite bookstagram accounts, so that all of our readers can join in and get more get involved with such a vibrant Instagram community! Here are their recommendations:

Lizzie Fitton (President):

Recommendation: @books_with_taylor

“I really love Taylor’s more relaxed insta aesthetic; it never becomes monotonous. Her book recommendations are always a winner and she works for Penguin Random House so her stories offer an invaluable insight into the publishing industry from a leading publisher!”

Charli Lear (Vice President):

Recommendation: @brewsbitesandbooks

“We all love this account from our very own Secretary, Liv! We recommend this not only because it’s fabulous but because it offers a great insight into student life at York and provides us with some new coffee spots to check out!”

Olivia Furness (Secretary):

Recommendation: @whatgracereads

“Grace’s detailed captions and reviews offer a spoiler-free insight into her current reads. I love her aesthetic and she definitely fills me with motivation to get on with uni work.”

Kacie Green (Social Sec):

Recommendation: @irishreader_

“His pictures are really great, plus he has a YouTube channel: would highly recommend his reading vlogs for the Twilight series for some light hearted funny watches!”

Ceri Barrett (Press & Publicity):

Recommendation: @bookcovergallery

“They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I have to admit one of my favourite parts of browsing a bookshop is enjoying all the wonderful cover art! Especially nice while physical bookshops are closed, this account showcases some gorgeous covers, and of course every post is a new book to check out too!”

Ellen McCarthy (Treasurer):

Recommendation: @penguinukbooks

“Their account is very active, with aesthetically pleasing posts about all their recent releases with links to their online store where you can still purchase books. Their Instagram stories are fab, with lots of links to articles on their website with book recommendations, author interviews, and quizzes. If you are interested in current affairs they also have a section called Penguin Perspectives, which features essays by writers like Philip Pullman about the COVID-19 crisis. Not quite escapism but some very well-written and interesting perspectives, worth a read.”

If you want to get involved with LitSoc and take a look at their online content, then head over to the society’s social media pages and give them a follow:

Twitter: @LitSocYork

Instagram: @Litsoc

Facebook: Literature Society at the University of York

Featured Image by the Literature Society