In a recent TikTok video posted by the Monterey County Free Libraries account, the camera zooms out from a stack of new arrivals while Canadian singer-songwriter Carly Rae Jepsen croons “I’m coming BACK for you baby, I’m coming back for you!” The text reads: “When you reached the checkout limit for the day.” In another, the camera pans frantically over shelves of books while a voice says, “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.” The text: “POV: When you keep seeing James Patterson books.”
If you’re on TikTok this is familiar territory – a step in the big game of applying and reapplying familiar sounds to novel video clips. If you’re not on TikTok, well, the thing to know is that unlike social media platforms that have come before, which tend mostly to use visual mediums (video or still images) as memes, TikTok is all about sound.
The fact that Monterey County Free Libraries is on TikTok is not so surprising in and of itself; books are big (as in, reshaping the publishing industry big) on this particular social media site. What’s more noteworthy is the way the county-run library system is showing up there – with a voice that is funnier and more irreverent than you might expect from a library. Take, for example, the James Patterson TikTok. Yes, books by this incredibly prolific author are unavoidably plentiful in public libraries. Pointing that out? That’s cheeky, fun, far from the shhhh-be-quiet-and-read-your-book reputation.
Monterey County Free Libraries’ exploratory foray into the land of dance challenges and get ready with me videos began in mid-September of 2022 thanks to CSU Monterey Bay service learner Eric Regalado, who came in with a particular vision and set of skills. A communications major, Regalado has his own popular TikTok dedicated to Hot Wheels cars (@hotwheelsfoo) and has launched one for his day job at Valley Patient Care – a local medical supply company – too. For Regalado it’s the democratic nature of the platform that’s appealing – unlike social media sites like Facebook or Twitter that have become more institutionalized, and thus rely more on existing brand cache, TikTok is still a little wild. Anyone can gain a following there pretty quickly, Regalado says, if you’re willing to put the work in.
“It was all his idea – it was something that our social media team had wanted to get into but didn’t want to start something we couldn’t maintain,” MCFL’s Alison Day says. For Day and MCFL, the appeal of the platform was the opportunity to connect with a new, younger demographic. Therein also lay the barrier to exploring the site – MCFL staff didn’t exactly count themselves as part of that demographic, until Regalado showed up. “We recognize that in order to make it good you have to be immersed in it,” Day says.
Regalado’s immersive process works like this: Start the day by spending 10-15 minutes on the TikTok For You Page (the automated feed that appears when a user opens the app), to get a sense for the sounds du jour. Next pick a sound (or two) and create a video clip to go with it – a MCFL-specific spin on the thing everyone’s talking about. Regalado’s style is primarily very short, simple video clips – “I really try not to think so much about it,” he says. As for the tone of the videos – that’s Regalado “just being myself.” (As his supervisor, Day would sign off on each video posted to the account.) Take video. Add sound. Post. Repeat.
If Regalado is the behind the scenes operator of the account, then Monte, MCFL’s mascot, is the on-camera star. Monte is a plush donkey and an homage to the library system’s history, when the system’s first librarian, Anne Hadden, would travel around the county via donkey. In one video, Monte gets their staff ID picture taken; in another, Monte wonders what would happen if Monte’s iCloud photos were leaked by hackers (answer: lots of photos of library books would be made public).
Regalado is done with his service learning hours at MCFL, but he plans to stay on as a volunteer and help keep the library’s TikTok presence going. How it evolves remains to be seen. For now, the library is just having a little fun online.