It’s not often you see your local library in the digital spotlight.
But when the Chesterfield Public Library posted a video on TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, on March 28, the small rural library got its chance at Internet fame, gaining more than a million views within hours.
The viral video shows Library Assistant Lucy Applegate holding a DVD copy of the animated film “Inside Out,” and uses an audio clip from the cartoon “Owl House” to joke that while the movie came out seven years ago, some of the library’s younger patrons might consider it “ancient.”
By Friday, the video had amassed more than 3.1 million views, more than 707,000 likes and 8,233 comments.
Even before the pandemic, libraries across the nation were using the Internet to try and engage with their younger audiences. Now, many of the libraries are using social media platforms, such as TikTok, to boost their outreach efforts.
The idea for Chesterfield Public Library to have a presence on the platform wasn’t new.
“It had been on my mind for a while to start an account,” said Kathleen Packard, the library’s director. But it wasn’t until Packard attended a professional development workshop, “Leveraging Social Media for your Brand,” earlier this year at the Hudson Public Library that the idea came to life. The Chesterfield library was interested in exploring different ways it could reach younger patrons, specifically middle-schoolers to young adults.
The workshop “had a heavy emphasis on how to use TikTok as a platform for libraries to engage with younger audiences, which is what we were looking for,” Packard said. “So we said, ‘Why not? We’re gonna try this; we’re gonna go for it.’ ”
The library created an account on March 1 and posted its first TikTok the next day. The content began as an introduction of staff members, with footage from around the building, before expanding into following the latest trends on the platform as a way to promote events at the library. The account, @chesterfieldlibrary, had 3,560 followers as of Friday.
“While we mainly use it to promote book displays and programming we have going on at the library, we often mix in some book humor here and there,” said Applegate, 20, the library assistant who created the Owl House video.
“We’ll look at what’s trending, so the different songs or filters on TikTok, which can change pretty frequently,” said Packard, who gives ideas to Applegate before letting them have full creative freedom in the filming and editing process. “We ask ourselves, ‘How can I take that fun trend, in general, and make it library-specific? How can you make it funny and relevant?’ ”
Applegate was initially hesitant about the library creating a TikTok account.
“It felt like a big jump at first for us,” they said. “We didn’t have a large presence initially, and so we didn’t have a foundation for our image that we could build off of for social media.”
They relied initially on what other libraries were doing on TikTok, watching other videos and researching engagement strategies on various platforms.
However, having a library account on TikTok does have its perks.
“Libraries are different entities themselves on social media, so we can have a bit more freedom in the content we create unlike celebrities or influencers,” Applegate explained. “There’s a great community within TikTok of other libraries. This helps in spurring ideas for content, and we just support each other.”
One of the ideas they got was when North Riverside Public Library in Illinois posted a video, after having hid a photo of Robert Pattinson, one of the actors who starred in the movies based off the book series, behind the Twilight shelf in the library’s collection .
“I saw that video and just had to recreate it,” said Applegate, who then replied to the video on the platform with their own addition of Pattinson in the Chesterfield library. “It was so fun and felt like something our patrons would enjoy.”
Like any online community, there are those who engage consistently with the library’s content. “I’ve started to identify usernames who comment often, who like our videos a lot, and it could really mean two things: Either these people are local and are patrons who come in often, or these are people who could be hundreds of thousands away and possibly might never come into our library,” Applegate said. ”Whatever it might be, these are people who are getting joy from the content I’m creating, which is really cool.”
“This was only supposed to be a trial, we only planned to test this out for three months,” Packard said of using TikTok as an engagement tool. “But thanks to this video and seeing the impact it’s had, we’ve decided to make TikTok a permanent tool in part of our outreach.”
The library has a dedicated iPad for content creation for its TikTok account, and other marketing software made for libraries, but Packard emphasizes that it isn’t a big monetary burden for libraries to try this type of outreach.
“As long as you have a plan, really, there’s no loss. That’s the beautiful thing about social media; you can just try things out and see what happens.”
The Keene Public Library has also experienced the power of social media can have in exposing patterns to new materials, and in promoting its collections. “Recently, there was an increase in checkouts of older books [classics] thanks to a recent trend on the BookTok community,” said Jay Fee, Keene’s teen services librarian.
#BookTok, a hashtag used by creators on TikTok who feature book recommendations, reviews and memes about — you guessed it — books, helps introduce people to new recommendations.
The Keene Public Library has software that connects with its catalog when promoting certain collections on social media, enabling staff to track data on the impact of these efforts. Through the use of its YouTube account, as well as its Facebook page, the Keene library can consistently promote events and national initiatives at the library such as the National Teen Lock-in that happens each summer.
“We were able to promote collections that were available online, while also connecting with our teen audiences,” Fee said. “We’ve also been able to share another piece of ourselves, to engage with our younger patrons in fun and engaging ways.”
Social media also proved essential for many local libraries during the pandemic.
“It was a lifeline for us, in order to stay in touch with our patrons,” said Julie Rios, the technology director at Walpole Town Library. “We did story-times online for our youngest patrons, and to keep our teen patrons involved we started an online book club in which they would read two to three chapters online and the kids could interact with staff through comments.”
Like Chesterfield’s library, the Walpole library has also discovered how far its content can reach.
Recently, Rios received an email from a nine year-old girl, Ruby, who requested a specific book for online story-time. Ruby was in Washington, more than 2,948 miles away.
“Who knew that little old Walpole Town Library could reach kids all the way in Washington state?” Rios said. “The reach of social media is truly outstanding.”
The library has also been doing Facebook Lives — videos filmed and streamed live onto its Facebook page — of book reviews in its collection for just over a year now, beginning in March 2021. The videos are then saved onto the library’s Facebook page as well as its YouTube account for people to view later.
“We’ve definitely seen an increase in those books being checked out that were reviewed on those ‘lives’ — in fact, those are the books that are going out the fastest for us,” Rios said.
A sense of community can be found throughout the Walpole library’s Facebook feed, with more than 30 responses to its most recent “What are you Reading Wednesday?” call out, which invites patrons to share the novels they’re reading through the comments feature on the post. Currently, the genres range from tear-jerking romances and harrowing murder mysteries to adventurous tales of fiction.
Packard noted that the building of online communities is evident even in the comments on the library’s recent viral video.
“The majority of those 8,000 comments we have on that video are positive — that in and of itself is a community.” Packard said. “Libraries exist to help connect people with information, and I’m happy we can do that with the use of things like TikTok.”
Applegate echoed these sentiments, referring to the content they create for the library.
“I’m happy that I can show that libraries aren’t just a place to be quiet and read — we’re so much more.”