However relevant the stereotypical, silence-enforcing librarian remains in the popular imagination, Mychal Threets wants to dispel any lingering notion of the library as a dry, humorless place, lorded over by rigid pedants.
In fact, Mr. Threets has leveraged the power of social media to show that the public library is as joy-inspiring as it is welcoming, and that librarians — in his case, a 33-year-old man who sports quirky threads, tattoos and an Afro — are “so happy you’re here.”
Mr. Threets has taken on that mission by sharing videos of what he calls “library joy” on TikTok, Instagram and other platforms, telling stories about the everyday happenings at the Fairfield Civic Center Library in Solano County in Northern California, where he is the supervising librarian.
His videos have collectively garnered millions of views and hundreds of thousands of followers across his social media accounts.
“Most of the time I’m either just retelling library interactions, library stories,” Mr. Threets said. “And then, apart from that, I just try to give people messages of hope.”
In a recent video, Mr. Threets shared an anecdote about a “library kid” who, cash in hand, was trying to return a late book only to find out that the library was a fine-free zone.
“I was like, ‘You’re good to go, you can start checking out more books,’” Mr. Threets said in the video. “And this kid just gets a gigantic grin on their face and just goes, ‘Really? I’ll be right back.’”
The child, he explained, went to get his grandmother from the parking lot where she had been waiting, and he immediately returned to browsing the shelves.
“That’s the importance of libraries being fine-free — it’s telling people we want them to come back to the library,” Mr. Threets concluded in the video. “They belong in their local library.”
Those experiences are what Mr. Threets means by “library joy,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s being able to see people love their local library and just have the wholesome moments.”
Library joy, Mr. Threets said, is what has kept him going since almost as long as he can remember. A “true library kid,” he received his first library card when he was 5.
He was home-schooled by his mother through most of grade school using the resources at his local library — the same one that he now runs. And his earliest friends, he said, were the books, and voices, on the shelves.
“They’ve always meant the world to me,” Mr. Threets said. “They are how I kept on going day after day.”
He has adopted a line from one of his favorite childhood characters, Arthur Read, a mild-mannered aardvark from a book and animated series: “Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card.” Mr. Threets even has Arthur Read’s library card tattooed on his arm.
Several years ago, Mr. Threets thought that his observations from the library could encourage other people to frequent the stacks, so he began sharing his vignettes in posts on Facebook.
During the coronavirus pandemic, he transitioned to uploading short videos on TikTok and Instagram, where they resonated with many people. His first viral hit came in March 2023.
Apart from offering a dose of joy, the videos remind people that libraries offer much more than a collection of books on shelves.
There is something in them for everybody, he said.
People can access the internet, check out instruments, check out video games or even obtain baking equipment. People without a place to stay can turn to libraries to protect themselves from the elements. They can spend time on their own, Mr. Threets said, or befriend new people.
The library is a “place for everybody to exist,” Mr. Threets said.
“Without the library, many people wouldn’t survive,” he added. “Many people wouldn’t be in the position they’re in to better their lives and have the ultimate future that they’re capable of.”
Jamie Nakamura, a former Solano County librarian, said Mr. Threets was “raising up the image of the whole library staff.”
“Mychal doesn’t just talk about himself,” she said. “He talks about his peers and how great they are and how much they want you in the library.”
On social media, Mr. Threets makes it a point to talk about the intersection of his two passions: the library and mental health.
He has long been open with his followers about his own mental health struggles, and wants the library to be a place where people can feel free to express that same level of vulnerability.
“I’m always talking about how you can bring your anxiety, you can bring your depression into the library,” Mr. Threets said. “You don’t have to leave it outside of the building.”
Library patrons and his online followers know to expect the routine “mental health check” from Mr. Threets, who constantly preaches that “it’s OK not to be fine.”
Mr. Threets’s peers have recognized his work. He is well known in library circles and was nominated by his colleagues for an award from the American Library Association.
Last year, he was one of 10 librarians who were selected from a nationwide pool of 1,400 nominees to win the association’s I Love My Librarian Award for Outstanding Public Service. They will be honored at a ceremony later this month.
Some of his followers have likened him to the eponymous host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” or to LeVar Burton in “Reading Rainbow.”
Recently, Mr. Threets made a video about someone who came into the library to thank him for “saving” their dad’s life.
The person told Mr. Threets that their father had come into the library one day. Mr. Threets recalled the person telling him: “And you came by and you were pushing in chairs, and you said, ‘Hi, my friend, how is it going?’ And my dad told you he was not doing well. And you said, ‘Thank you for coming to the library. Thank you for being here. Never be afraid to ask for help. That’s what the library is for. We’re here to help you.’” He said the person told him, “And that meant the world to my dad.”
The father began to go to therapy and work on mending a broken relationship with his family, the person told Mr. Threets.
“And I’m telling you this story because I didn’t save that person’s life,” Mr. Threets said in the video. “The library did. The library is here to help you. Never be afraid to ask for help.”