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Magazines > Information Today > April 2023

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Information Today
Vol. 40 No. 3 — April 2023
FEATURE
What Its Like to Run a Library TikTok
by Justin Hoenke


When it comes to keeping up with the latest trends, libraries seem to always be at the front lines, learning and growing as the rest of the world does the same. Libraries have either embraced, learned about, or criticized all of the trends we’ve seen over the last decade. We jumped on providing digital services before everyone was connected to the internet for every moment of their lives. We used social media to connect with and grow our local communities even before we knew what else it could be used for. We embraced technology such as 3D printers and invited our communities to test the future right when they first came out.

Enter TikTok, the hip and rad thing that all the kids are talking about. According to Wikipedia, TikTok is a short-form video-hosting service owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company. It allows users to create and share their own videos. Over the past few years, TikTok has become the place to go to keep up-to-date with the latest news, memes, viral videos, and more. Even if you haven’t used the actual service before, chances are that someone has sent you a popular TikTok video to watch via email or social media. In keeping with tradition, libraries are right there on the platform, using it to engage with members of their community.

Bailey RandolphTo learn more about TikTok, how libraries are using it, and what it’s like to start and keep up with a library TikTok account, I spoke with Bailey Randolph (right), head of children’s services at the Grande Prairie Public Library in Alberta, Canada. I hope you find our conversation as fun and inspiring as I did. Bailey’s story about setting up and running the TikTok and its impact on other library services shows that when a library keeps up with the times and grows with its users, good things come its way.

HOW DID YOU AND THE GRANDE PRAIRIE PUBLIC LIBRARY START USING TIKTOK? WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL IMPETUS TO SHARE LIBRARY STUFF ON THIS PLATFORM?

I used to be the teen librarian at the Grande Prairie Public Library, and during the COVID closure, I was trying to find new ways to reach my teen patrons. Instagram was OK, but a lot of the teens were telling me we needed to get a TikTok account. We started our account in December 2020, and we quickly realized that we could use the platform to promote the library as a whole, and not just target the teen audience.

WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF GETTING IT UP AND GOING? DID YOU HAVE TO GET PERMISSION FROM YOUR LIBRARY ADMINISTRATION?

I’m really lucky to have a director who is always ready to try something new, and she really trusts staff to take the lead on new challenges. She was 100% supportive of the library starting a TikTok. There was some hesitation from some staff, and I had to present how other libraries were using the platform—which was tricky because I believe we were one of the first. Eventually, I was granted permission to run with it, and I haven’t looked back.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD LIBRARY TIKTOK VIDEO?

TikTok is unique in that any video has the potential to reach lots of people, meaning that anyone has the chance of seeing your content, regardless of whether they follow you or not. It’s really the perfect platform to let people know what your library is all about. Some libraries use TikTok to make book recommendations or to showcase their programs. We use ours to educate nonlibrary users on what libraries of today are about and to try to break some of those traditional library stereotypes.

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO KEEP UP WITH IT? HOW MUCH TIME/ENERGY ARE YOU SPENDING WEEKLY TO PLAN AND FILM THESE VIDEOS?

TikTok trends change very fast, but the nice thing about TikTok is that you can film a bunch of different videos at one time and save them to drafts to post later. While we were closed, we could film whenever we wanted, but now that we are open to the public again, we are finding we are filming more drafts ahead of time.

I am a big TikTok user in my personal life, and I find myself scrolling every night before bed. It’s the best way to pick up on the latest trends—if you see a sound or concept come up multiple times on your homepage, it’s probably a good idea to try to fit it to your library niche. Some videos take longer to film, but a lot of them take about 5 minutes to film.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE RESPONSES YOU’VE HAD FROM YOUR COMMUNITY? HOW IS YOUR WORK ON THIS PLATFORM CONNECTING WITH YOUR COMMUNITY?

I’ll be honest, the majority of our followers are not from our community—I think most aren’t even from Canada. But we do have many people who come in and mention that they saw one of our videos and decided it was time to come check out the library in person. A lot of people see our videos about our special collections (our video games, our toy library, our Library of Things) and didn’t realize that we offer these services. We have also been able to make connections with other community organizations via TikTok. Our public school board follows us, and they have issued a few challenges to us, such as the Pink Shirt Day Challenge, which has led to us working more closely with them on things like Family Literacy Day. We’ve been able to invite people from one of our local radio stations to come and do challenges with us, such as The Cold Challenge, where we tried to raise awareness for our Warming Wall by seeing how long we could last outside in -50C (-58F) weather with no coats on.

We’ve also had so many comments on our videos telling us how proud they are to be able to tell people we are their home library, or messages from former Grande Prairie residents about how they wished the community was like this when they lived here.

YOUR TIKTOK VIDEOS OPEN UP THE WORK YOU ARE DOING TO THE LARGER PROFESSIONAL LIBRARY COMMUNITY. ARE YOU REACHING THESE SEGMENTS TOO? IF SO, WHAT’S THAT BEEN LIKE?

Our library really focuses on harm reduction and spreading awareness of how crucial libraries are to underserved populations. We use TikTok to promote many of our community-based initiatives, like our Little Free Pantry, our Warming Wall, and Project Full Stop—an initiative aimed at fighting period poverty. I have been contacted by so many libraries across North America asking for guidance on how other libraries can also start initiatives like these for their communities.

There are libraries that still have a long way to go in establishing themselves as safe spaces in their community, and I feel showing them how easy it is to take those steps can really help move us forward as a field.

A LOT OF YOUR VIDEOS TALK ABOUT THE LIBRARY BEING WELCOMING, SPECIFICALLY TO MEMBERS OF THE HOMELESS COMMUNITY. YOU LET PEOPLE SLEEP IN THE LIBRARY. YOUR LIBRARY DOUBLES AS A WARMING STATION DURING THE TOUGH WINTER MONTHS. YOU’VE GOT A PLACE WHERE FOLKS CAN PICK UP CLOTHES IF THEY NEED THEM. HAS TALKING ABOUT THESE SERVICES ON TIKTOK HELPED THE PEOPLE YOU SERVE BECOME BETTER AWARE OF WHAT YOUR LIBRARY IS DOING?

We have gotten so much support from our community from talking about these initiatives we offer. Particularly for our Little Free Pantry, we have seen so many donations come as a result of our TikToks. And not just from our community either! We have had donations for our pantry come in from across Canada and even as far away as Arkansas.

Since we started advertising ourselves as a safe, barrier-free community space, other organizations have started sending their clients to the library for food and clothing. We’ve found a lot of people either don’t qualify for assistance or are just looking for a little help until payday. We don’t screen people who use our services; they can take what they need, when they need it.

EVERY VIDEO OF YOURS THAT I WATCHED WAS ENTERTAINING. EACH HAD A MESSAGE, AND EVERYONE ON SCREEN WAS HAVING A GOOD TIME. TELL ME ABOUT HOW YOU KEEP THIS PLATFORM FUN FOR THOSE WHO ARE INVOLVED WITH IT.

We have a message we want to get across, but we don’t want to be preachy or condescending. No one wants that, and it’s not helpful. That’s why we try to approach every video with an empathetic, relatable tone or in a fun way. For the most part, we don’t force anyone to be on camera when they don’t want to be, so everyone you see in our videos wants to be part of them, and I think that makes a big difference—there is no faking the fun involved, because everyone  wants to be involved. I’m lucky enough to work with a ton of really fun, creative people, who are always willing to lend a hand and be silly when needed.

WHO ARE THE PEOPLE RUNNING THE TIKTOK? WHO IS INVOLVED IN THE PRODUCTIONS?

Hailey McCulloughFor the longest time, it was just me running the TikTok account. I would pull in people to help film where needed, but the ideas, editing, and monitoring were all done by me. During the summer months, I would pass off some of the responsibilities to our summer students, but I took on most of the responsibility for our library’s account. As our account has grown and I have switched jobs within my library, I found I needed a co-pilot for the account, so I brought on Hailey McCullough (right), our head of adult services. She’s done a fantastic job of filling in when I’m unavailable, and she comes up with some really good ideas—and she’s always up for doing a TikTok Live with me.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO PREPARE, RECORD, AND EDIT A VIDEO?

In my experience, all it takes is a good idea, a passionate opinion, and a few minutes for 10–20 takes, and you have a video. It’s important to know what you want your account to be about and to focus on that niche. Then it’s about finding TikTok trends and creatively shaping them to fit your niche. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

Some videos are trickier to film and edit than others, especially if you’re doing a bunch of cuts and trying to line everything up to fit a sound. But just like everything else, it just takes some practice. Some people use fancy equipment like ring lights and phone stands. I literally prop my phone up wherever it fits and just roll with it. You can make things as complicated and expensive or as cheap and simple as you want. We even brought in a leaf blower for one of our ghost videos—it made for an awesome effect.

WHAT ARE SOME IDEAS YOU HAVE FOR HOW YOU’RE GOING TO CONTINUE TO USE TIKTOK TO CONNECT WITH YOUR COMMUNITY?

To be honest, I never really know what the plan is! I film as ideas come or as topics arise that I feel I want to speak on. Right now, the goal is to keep showing people that we are a safe space and keep showing other libraries what being a safe space looks like.

LINKS TO THE SOURCES

For more on TikTok in libraries, make sure you check out “Librarians Are Meeting Younger Readers Where They Are: TikTok” by Lora Kelley, from The New York Times , Dec. 30, 2022.
nytimes.com/2022/12/30/ books/librarians-tiktok.html

To learn more about what Bailey Randolph is doing at the Grande Prairie Public Library, visit its TikTok.
tiktok.com/@gppubliclibrary


Justin Hoenke is a library consultant who is interested in public libraries as community centers, supporting youth services staff to help them achieve their goals, and video game collection development. You can learn more about his work in libraries at justinthelibrarian.com. Hoenke previously worked in public libraries across the U.S. and New Zealand in leadership and youth services. Send your comments about this article to itletters@infotoday.com or tweet us (@ITINewsBreaks).