Checking out BookTok with Mychal Threets
“I think we just have fun with it. Me and the people who work on Library TikTok pride ourselves on embracing the cringe. I think as more and more people see library coworkers having fun with TikTok, you’ll see them start to submit ideas or be willing to participate themselves.”
Mychal Threets, ‘18 MLIS
You wouldn’t be the only one – he has a combined following of over 160,000 on both platforms.
“It’s been a very wild experience. I think people enjoy it for me much more than I do,” Mychal says of his recent time in the spotlight. Because it is recent that this attention has shone on him, even though, as he says, “I’ve been on TikTok since the pandemic first started.”
“I tend to tell people that it seemed like either you chose Animal Crossing or you chose TikTok and I didn’t have a Nintendo Switch,” Mychal jokes. “I told a bunch of people I was never gonna download TikTok because I have too much social media as it is. But I think someone sent me one and we were supposed to be locked down for two weeks. So I was like, ‘Let’s just check it out.’ And then I just got lost like everybody else for 12 hours. Time just kept on going – the next video, next video, next video, and I never meant to post videos [myself].”
Like many TikTok users, Mychal (or mychal3ts) initially started out just enjoying it as a consumer, “lurking” and watching others have fun – maybe commenting on a few TikToks along the way. Some of those comments did well, and even inspired him to make his own content.
“I just tried a couple of dance videos just because it was going to be a trainwreck – I thought ‘I’m a terrible dancer, maybe they’ll think it’s funny.’ And then I just randomly did a book review. I think one of the BookTok account people popped up on my FYP (For You Page). I was like, ‘Oh, that’s cool. I never thought of doing something like that.’”
The Information Communities of TikTok
For the uninitiated, BookTok is the reader’s side of TikTok – every community has its own corner of TikTok (there’s LibraryTok, for example, too).
Mychal’s review got traction from other BookTokers, and it became an open discussion between him and that side of the community.
“I just kept on making them and having fun. Just searching for what was trending and trying to put a book spin on it. So it started by happenstance – I made a video and stumbled into that. And I think the thing that made me keep on going was trying to pursue a Scholastic Book Fair for Adults.”
A lot of Millennials (and Gen-Zers) have nostalgia for the Scholastic Book Fair, an experience that pops up at schools around the States with the latest in chapter books and middle-grade reads – and the idea of creating that same hype but for adult reading material captured the imagination.
“Still shooting for it – haven’t achieved that part,” Mychal says. “But I think that’s when my boss for the marketing department started seeing my videos and she said you should make them for the library.”
While Mychal was initially hesitant to make videos for the library itself, they hired another library staff member that was interested in TikTok and so together they began to create content that was separate from his personal social media accounts. With the backing of the marketing department, the two of them started getting other library staff involved to make videos highlighting library resources. Mychal admits it was a little more daunting making content in front of other people versus on his own time by himself, but it was fun, too.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize the recent exposure is… very recent,” Mychal explained. “It’s been pretty wild and chaotic for about only two months now. So it’s all been truly very recent.”
Though he’s a Supervising Librarian now, a lot of the videos that have resonated with audiences, Mychal noticed, started from a habit of writing down stories from his time as a Children’s Librarian.
“That’s when I started doing all these observations…taking note of the funny things that little humans enjoy telling me and I would just jot it down, like, ‘I like this. This is fun. Remember, this is what got me through today.’”
Mychal tells those stories on TikTok and some of those stories about interacting with patrons are what really caused his account to blow up.
“People responded well. I think that was my favorite thing that people say [in the comments] – that it reminds them of their local libraries.”
Of course, being in the public eye with TikTok means that some patrons recognize him now from online. One person even sought him and his library out to come to say hello while on vacation, and Mychal says, “That made my entire year.”
One of the things that makes Mychal’s content stand out is that he exudes warmth: he’s a welcoming presence for people of all ages and backgrounds. Just being himself has helped counter the stereotype that librarians are curmudgeonly shushing individuals that only care about books instead of people.
“I think that’s the importance of the library institution, especially since it’s free,” Mychal says. “I always balk at the word ‘free’ but it is a place where you’re not expected to do anything. It’s greater than window shopping. You can take a book and read it in the library. You don’t even need a library card. [Or] you can check it out and go.”
The whole point is that libraries are for everyone and their unique needs. “I think that’s the most crucial aspect of it now – there’s me who’s covered in tattoos and usually has giant hair. There are people in the library who look like gangbangers, there’s the unhoused, there are elderly grandmas and their grandkids and everyone’s colliding together and just doing their own thing, but they’re all in one place.”
With that in mind, Mychal wants to create a place where every type of person feels safe and knows they’re welcome at their local library.
It’s both encouraging and surreal to Mychal to see what resonates with people, because as he puts it, “most of my messages — even the Mental Health ones — tend to be messages from me to me, just seeing if other people also need to hear it as well.”
Tips For Getting On Board With TikTok
Not all libraries are as quick to embrace TikTok, but Mychal has some thoughts on how people can broach the subject of getting started.
“I think just being honest with what you hope you get out of TikTok – like hopefully camaraderie amongst you and your coworkers – I think that’s a big sell. It’s a way to reach people where they’re at. Millions of people are on Tik Tok. I think any library administration should be lucky enough to have their library system embrace TikTok.”
If the administration is concerned about what type of content or trends are popular, for example using songs with explicit lyrics, then they can lay out some ground rules to avoid conflict.
“As far as tips for getting over the nerves… I think we just have fun with it. Me and the people who work on Library TikTok, we pride ourselves on embracing the cringe,” Mychal said. “I think as more and more people see library coworkers having fun with TikTok, you’ll see them start to submit ideas or be willing to participate themselves.”
But Mychal can understand why some people wouldn’t want to be in front of the camera.
“I always tell people that I don’t like being on social media as much as people think I do. I’m just willing to see it as a useful tool. And it is fun. I’m blessed to receive mostly positive comments. There are very few trolls that I have at least come across because libraries are so wholesome. You’re going to get a lot of comments. ‘That’s my local library’ or like, ‘Hey, is this so-and-so library? I used to go there when I grew up…”
On top of that, it’s a good way to promote the fact that libraries do more than just books. Many also have movies, summer reading programs, and even cool regional features like park and museum passes.
But Mychal says not to get caught up with the numbers or worry about engagement, and that the videos they spend hours on sometimes don’t even get half as much attention as the ones they create in a few minutes.
That said: “Don’t forget to cross-promote. Sometimes the reels will get more engagement, and more reactions on Instagram than they did on TikTok and vice versa. So just put it out and just keep on using it.”
Advice for the Future
“I just wanted people to know that I had graduated, and I didn’t know if they would be around,” he says. “I also knew at the time that my library would have librarian openings in the near future so I figured the sooner I had my degree the better…”
Mychal had also finished his undergraduate degree online and considers himself “wired” for online learning. But that said, Mychal tells students not to be discouraged by how long it may take them to finish their own MLIS degree. “I feel like I didn’t get to enjoy it as much even though I loved it,” Mychal admits. “I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I would have if I had taken a couple of extra semesters, and made even more connections, but I still had a lot of fun.”
Mychal also notes that the majority of librarians in his system also received their degree at SJSU, and he thinks it’s definitely one of the best choices for a Master’s he could have made.
As an alum, with 10 years of practical experience under his belt, Mychal also hopes to one day get to teach at SJSU.
“I think it would be fun to teach a ‘What they didn’t teach you in Library School’ course,” Mychal said. “They didn’t tell us about [dealing with] the plumbing and lighting…” he adds, and that it would be a light-hearted course that dealt with the reality of working in the public sphere.
When discussing the future of LibraryTok and BookTok, Mychal says he’d most like to see the community gain more recognition.
After all, BookTok is more than book recs (though it is that too). Mychal brought up the story of indie author Shawn Warner whose local book signing ended in disappointment—until a TikToker saw him and purchased two copies of his book, and it clearly made his day. But the attention that TikTok got ensured that things didn’t end there — it went viral, ensuring his book sales shot him to sudden popularity as a No. 1 Amazon Best Seller all because over 17 million people saw his TikTok. Then there’s also the journey of Oliver James who has publicly been documenting his adult literacy journey of teaching himself how to read at 34 years old. This journey has had very public ups and downs, and people have cheered him on along the way.
And of course, there are bookstores like Barnes and Noble that are manned by Book Sellers, who are often on Booktok themselves and will set up displays promoting trending books, which also shows the power — and the reach — the online community has. Even some larger TikTokers like Elyse Myers, Jazz Thornton, Kris HC, Hank Green, and Jason Reynolds have waded into BookTok, Mychal noticed. Having a place to talk about what they’re reading and gush with other readers can help build excitement even for people that wouldn’t traditionally consider themselves readers, and that’s what this online community is all about.
“I just love the important encouragement and support that comes with Booktok,” Mychal said. “I definitely hope that they just keep their mission going forward but they get more recognition for the good they do in the world.”
Check This Out!
As a TikToker himself, Mychal recommends the accounts of Kelsey Bogan, SJSU instructor and school librarian as well as the Milwaukee Public Library account as one that every library person has probably been sent to by one of their loved ones who knows they’re in libraries, but he also recommends looking up LibraryTok, BookTok or #LibrariesOfInstagram to see what will begin to flood your account’s feed.