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You’ve Heard of TikTok, But Do You Know About BookTok And LibraryTok?

by on August 28, 2023

Social media’s influence on reading trends continues to evolve as librarians, readers, authors and publishers jump on the new ways to engage readers and influence their reading choices. How do these groups filter out all the noise when there are countless ways to communicate with readers? TikTok is becoming the go to way to promote and recommend books.

As we continue to come out of pandemic isolation, customers are visiting their local libraries with new questions about what to read. Instead of asking for a book that their neighbor told them about and the cover is blue, they say, “I am looking for a book that I saw on TikTok. Can you help me find it?” Often the book is a Colleen Hoover title, but other popular requests for TikTok recommendations operate like word-of-mouth on fire.

This isn’t new (remember 50 Shades of Grey?), but the acceleration in quantity and enthusiasm is dramatic. BookTok and LibraryTok, are areas of TikTok focused on book recommendations and library services. Many public libraries have book displays in their public areas featuring the latest trends on TikTok in addition to other bestsellers so customers can grab what they need and go! TikTok is also searchable in an easy, accessible way.

Customers who are looking for a beach read can search #bookrec #booktok and #summerreads, for instance, and find videos that present a plethora of firsthand suggestions. Searches can easily be narrowed, and the recommendations feel personal as the person talking about the book could actually be on the beach, in their living room, or in a classroom. You can literally picture yourself enjoying the book in the actual place you want to read it. In this fast-paced world, who wouldn’t want that?

If an older title is suddenly gaining in popularity, it’s almost always attributable to BookTok or to a celebrity book club pick. Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club has a strong presence on TikTok with 390,000 followers. Some authors who have spiked recently due to TikTok trends (besides Colleen Hoover) include Elena Armas, Madeline Miller, Ana Huang, Sarah J. Maas, Laura Nowlin and Adam Silvera. Romance, fantasy, and “romantasy” reign supreme on TikTok no doubt due to TikTok users trending younger and female. Females account for 57% of the platform’s active users, while males make up just 43% and nearly three-quarters of users are under 40.

The Milwaukee Public Library (@milwaukeepubliclibrary) (MPL), which has almost 105,000 followers on TikTok, was featured on National Public Radio recently for their low budget, creative approach to using humorous TikTok videos to promote their library system, intellectual freedom, inclusivity, and the fight against book bans. The library system has also seen an influx of tourists visiting the city because they saw their videos on TikTok. Not every library system has the staffing resources to put out such consistent content, but those who have are seeing tangible results. MPL staff explain that they are using the creativity of staff to produce relatable content with “smoke and mirrors” and not a lot of financial investment.

Being well versed in readers’ advisory at the public library now means being familiar with what is trending on the latest social media sites. There is a firm crossover between customers who are comfortable with social media and also comfortable with technology and therefore placing their own holds, but the questions still come to library staff.

Independent authors such as Maryland author BK Borison have been picked up by traditional publishers after getting some attention from BookTok. Although staff will often put in requests for purchase, the books that gain popularity on TikTok might not meet the official selection criteria for the library due to being self-published, offering a lack of professional reviews, or for other reasons. In that case, staff can often help customers put requests through an interlibrary loan system or find a link for purchase from a vendor.

TikTok, and many other social media sites, have leveled the playing field for customers who just want to find a good book to read. It’s easily accessible, popular, and free, as long as you have a smartphone and internet access. Customers can also make their own videos with music, dancing and any special effects they want to use to promote their favorite book! TikTok has also brought in a younger audience, which is crucial to the relevance and sustainability of public libraries.

Looking for some good content on LibraryTikTok or BookTok? Cincinnati Public Library (@cincylibrary) with almost 31,000 followers recently shot to prominence with its viral video of a ballet dancer selecting books from the top shelf with her outstretched leg, followed by a library page trying the same trick. Their video of a cat driving through the library pickup line for holds easily catches any librarian’s attention.

Librarian Mychal (@mychal3ts) of Solano Library in California has 13,000 followers on TikTok and has created a quickly growing following for his charming stories about working as a children’s librarian, welcoming everyone, and the power of a library card. He also demonstrates his commitment to being a role model by showing kids that some librarians don’t fit the stereotype. They can be young, male, Black, tattooed and informal in their conversations with customers of all ages. Mychal’s posts were recently shared by the American Library Association.

Influencer @ezeekat of Orlando, FL also shares clever promos of books and board games. He is enthusiastic about various fandoms that are of interest to many library folks.

But it isn’t all sunshine and roses for using TikTok to provide book recommendations. Some social media users are wary of TikTok due to their overseas ownership and security concerns, and some governments have banned the app on government issued phones. But never fear! many Tiktok influences, or BookTokers also cross post to Instagram so their content can be found there as well!

So, whether you like TikTok and use it regularly or haven’t tried the platform, you really should consider checking it out to make your job just a bit easier and maybe even a bit more fun!

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