At a time when public libraries are threatened by funding cuts and even book bans, librarian Mychal Threets sings their praises with infectious enthusiasm. Everyone belongs in a library, he says, and a library card can unlock a world of magic and possibility
“My child is a reluctant reader but finds butts to be hilarious. Any recommendations?”
Mychal Threets gets questions like that a lot. By day, the 33-year-old is a supervising librarian at the Fairfield Civic Center Library in California, US. But under the gaze of the smartphone lens, Threets becomes a superhero.
Not your usual tight pants or billowing-cape type. To his 600,000-plus followers on Instagram and almost 700,000 on TikTok, @mychal3ts is an ordinary man with extraordinary powers. From his first-rate reading recommendations to his sheer passion for advocating libraries as a tonic for a whole host of challenges.
“I was a shy, reserved kid,” explains Threets. “Books were my first friend.”
Indeed, he has a list of his favourite books that’s as long as his arm. Literally: he has tattooed book covers on his biceps and forearms of Where the Wild Things Are, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, and Alice in Wonderland.
So how did Threets go from being a home-schooled kid to helping a generation of children rediscover the pleasures of the library? “I’ve been in love with libraries ever since I was three years old,” he beams via video call. “[But] I thought I was going to be an astronaut or an athlete. Librarian was never, ever on my radar.”
Instead, he “kind of stumbled” into the role. He got chatting one day to a member of staff on the desk at the Fairfield Cordelia Library, and asked how she got to work there. She explained, he applied for a position, got the job, and has worked at the library ever since.
“When people talk about equity, diversity and inclusion, they always forget how important belonging is in that conversation,” says Threets. “Libraries are all about belonging. If you’re mentally ill, if you’re unhoused, if you’re a ‘library kid’, if you’re a teen, if you’re a grown-up, if you’re a single person, you have a spot in the library.”
When he first took to Facebook to write about the interactions he’d had with kids in libraries, he got a few likes. Then he switched to videos on TikTok and Instagram and his audience ballooned. These days he answers questions from kids, does funny skits and generally bigs up the library system whenever he can.
“If someone tried to create the public library today, it would not get approved,” believes Threets. “People would be against it because there’s no monetary gain.” (The theory chimes with that of author Neil Gaiman, who wrote that in modern life “libraries are one of the few places you are allowed to exist without the expectation of spending money”.)
Yet for many, they’re essential. Libraries offer books but frequently also films, musical instruments, board games, video games, and resources such as access to lawyers or help with tax. That’s not to mention the access to computers, e-books, audiobooks and databases. “There’s something for everybody – that’s the joy,” explains Threets.
Still, in some parts of the US, libraries are coming under pressure to ban certain books. How does that make him feel? “I will never understand why people want books to be banned,” Threets says. “They think that these books by authors of colour are trying to indoctrinate their kids. They’re trying to make kids feel guilty about an LGBTQIA+ agenda when there is no agenda.”
Libraries are all about belonging. If you’re mentally ill, if you’re unhoused, if you’re a teen, if you’re a grown-up, you have a spot in the library
As a person of colour, Threets says he didn’t grow up with a lot of books written by people like him or about people like him. “Kids want to feel seen in books,” he says. “They want to see their friends. They want to see their family.”
Such authors deserve to tell their stories, he believes strongly. Whether it’s highlighting great authors for kids of all backgrounds or openly talking about mental health online, his social media presence lends the library a renewed importance in today’s screen-first world.
A love of books has been reignited in a lot of grown-ups even, via his posts, Threets explains. “They’re like: ‘Oh, you reminded me of books I loved as a kid.’”
After all, as Threets’ Instagram bio reads: “Having fun isn’t hard, when you’ve got a library card.
Main image: Gabrielle Lurie
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