Staff Interview: Abby H.
1. How long have you worked at the library? What is an average day like for you?
I started at DC Public Library about five years ago. Day to day can be pretty different and the variety is one of the reasons I love my job. But if I had to say, typically, when I get into work I check the desk schedule to find out when I'm scheduled to be on the floor and available to help the public, then I check my email and respond to anything that needs an immediate reply. Depending on the day, I might have a Twitter chat to host, which is a great opportunity to connect with patrons when teens are typically still in school. I might spend some time planning programs, reaching out to other organizations in DC, and sprucing up the teen area. Once I'm on the desk, I'll work on projects that I can drop easily, like Read Feed lists. People often need help with things like basic computer navigation/use, printing/copying, and finding books or other information on a topic. Some days I get to host programs for teens and occasionally I help out in the children's and adult's departments.
2. Why did becoming a teen librarian interest you?
I spent a good amount of time at my hometown library (Derry Public Library in New Hampshire) as a teen. It was a place where I could explore my interests and cultivate my skills in a supportive environment. As someone who struggled socially at school, the library was a really important part of my life and I was motivated to help create that same environment for teens after me. I later discovered I also love organizing information and helping people find answers to questions and solutions to problems. Most library jobs are well-suited for those interests, so the role of a teen librarian seemed like a natural option for me.
3. What do you wish you knew about working at DCPL before you started?
Since I grew up in a town that only had two unrelated libraries, it never really occurred to me that a larger system might have branches with different personalities. I've bounced around the DCPL system a bit and have had a chance to serve at different locations, and it's always interesting to experience how different everywhere is from everywhere else even while we're all part of the same organization! I think really understanding that ahead of starting to work at a place like DCPL can be a huge benefit to finding the perfect fit, though I got really lucky when I was placed at Southwest and it's always felt like home to me.
4. What's something every teen librarian should have ( like good book recs, patience etc)?
Empathy! Anyone working with people regularly, especially in a helping profession like librarianship, should have empathy, and I think it's especially important when working with teens. It can be easy to dismiss people who are a different age from you or are different in other ways, but doing so can be so damaging to the relationship between the librarian and the patron as well as the patron themselves. Teens have enough to deal with these days, so I really strive to be a person who doesn't add to their stress and, even more, I strive to be someone who takes away some of that stress with empathy and sincerity.
5. What social media app is your favorite?
Despite all its faults and challenges, I really enjoy TikTok most!
6. Talk about the social media work you do professionally.
Wednesdays, I host a Twitter chat called #BrownBagDC. From @dcpl, I pose questions to readers who want to engage in the hour-long conversation, share bookish and related news, and generally foster discussion. Jo S., who was a Library Associate at Southwest when I started, originated the chat after the in-person event dissolved. She later invited me to help host and I eventually took up the lead. Thursdays are my favorite. #AskALibrarian is another hour-long "chat" of sorts in which library staff all over Twitter respond to reader's advisory requests. In other words, people on Twitter can use the hashtag to ask for book suggestions with as specific or broad details as they like. I also post to the teen Instagram account (@dclibraryteens) to share about programs at Southwest, book lists, and other content I think followers might find interesting. At one point, I contributed to the @dclibrary Instagram account, starting a feature I called #WhatDCReads where I took aesthetic photos of recently-returned books to highlight what people in DC were reading. It was a fun way to help people feel more connected to and get to know their neighbors with a layer of anonymity.
7. What got you into posting on Tiktok?
I posted my first video in early December 2019. I'd become mesmerized by lip-syncing videos on musical.ly before it was absorbed by TikTok and then I moved over with the merger, but didn't post until I'd been on for quite a while. While writing an article about it for Book Riot, I realized there was very little bookish content on TikTok and saw that as a big opportunity. I'd tried my hand at Instagram and had a bit of a following, but nothing like the big bookstagram accounts. It seemed to me, if I was going to have any luck with a platform, being early could only help. So I decided to give it a shot.
8. How did you grow your audience on Tiktok?
Growing my audience was a mix of luck and strategy. Going viral helps, but once people are there, you have to give them a reason to stick around by creating worthwhile content. I try to maintain my audience and continue growing it by offering content that has some sort of value. Sometimes, that means teaching them something, like an explanation of what happens to a book once you return it to the library. Other times, it's just a laugh. Engaging with others both in my comments and in their content is helpful, too. A lot of social media experts will talk about the idea of community and how important it is to build that in order to build your following. I've found that to be true -- engaging with other creators encourages them to engage with you and it snowballs from there. You don't have to be best friends with anyone on an app, but dropping the occasional comment or like to boost their content can go a long way for yours.
9. How to go viral?
There's not exactly a magic wand for this, unfortunately. The closest you can get to a magic wand in going viral is to be controversial. Occasionally, I give in to posting controversial takes (at least as far as the bookish community is concerned), but when I do, I try to make sure there's other value in the video as well. Beyond that, it's returning to the idea of giving your audience and potential audience worthwhile material. The first time I went viral was with a how-to on creating low-cost gifts around the holiday season. The various craft tutorial videos I've done tend to have done well consistently. But other times, a video I don't expect to blow up will surprise me and do really well -- and vice versa. There are a lot of factors to consider: when you post, how you frame your content, making your content a sort of story with a problem/solution or beginning/middle/end, what exactly you're saying with your content. But you could hit all those notes and more and still see a video flop. Sometimes, it's just not about you, and all you can do is move onto the next thing or retry that content another way at another time
10. How do you get brand deals/ sponsorship / things sent to you?
Speaking from my experience, it seems like most brands have a sort of threshold where they will reach out to you. For example, one publisher might be interested in working with anyone who has at least 10,000 followers. In most cases, brands reached out to me via DM or email and either had an influencer list they would add me to or would offer a one-time opportunity. Sometimes I know about things being sent ahead of time and other times I don't know until they arrive at my door, which makes for exciting mail (I'm constantly asking my husband, "Any mail for me today?" because it's always a fun highlight, whether it's a letter from a pen pal or an influencer box). I get the sense publishers, for example, are more likely to want to include you in these things if you're already promoting material on your account. I was doing this a lot from the beginning with reading recommendations and lists of books around a theme/topic. But if you're interested in getting advanced reader's copies, don't let your follower count necessarily stop you. NetGalley is a great place for readers to read digital copies of books before they're published (as is Edelweiss, though they tend to be more exclusive to people in the industry), and there's no harm in reaching out to a publicist to ask about getting an advanced copy of a book you're dying to read. They may say no or not respond at all, but everyone starts somewhere -- and they may say yes.
11. How do you stay well while consuming and creating lots of content?
It can be tough! For me, the biggest thing is taking time away when I need to and not feeling guilty about it. There's always a chance you'll lose followers if you don't post for a week or a month or however long you need to be away. But if you choose to continue posting and/or engaging with the app knowing that it's detrimental to you, you'll likely be producing much lower quality content and losing followers as a result anyway. Mental health is a much less taboo topic than it has been in the past and it's not unusual to see creators post honestly about struggling and needing a break. I think that's a great idea, because it helps to further de-stigmatize mental health struggles and it gives the audience a heads up as to why they might be seeing less content from their favorite creators. Another piece that's really helpful, especially with TikTok and Instagram, is the drafts feature. I can create a ton of content on a day when I have the energy and interest in doing it so it's ready to post from pre-created material on days I have less time to dedicate to actually creating.