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The Coolest Place on Earth: The Public Library

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Librarian Mychal Threets posing for a photo in front of the Fairfield Civic Center Library.
Librarian Mychal Threets posing for a photo in front of the Fairfield Civic Center Library.

View the full episode transcript.

Fairfield’s Mychal Threets is a superstar librarian, who readily professes the importance of childhood literacy, library access, and mental health. Because of that, he’s amassed a social media following that rivals your favorite artists and entertainers.

From the children’s reading area of the Fairfield Civic Center Library, where the walls are decorated with numbers and letters inspired by the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Threets records videos that he shares with hundreds of thousands of people across multiple social media platforms.

A tall and thin African-American man who has a big afro and a bigger smile, Threets uses his platform to share his personal story, as well as suggestions for books and uplifting affirmations for those in need.

This week on Rightnowish, we talk to Mychal Threets about what it’s like to be a social media star and how the public library system is a place for all.

@mychal3ts

The library is better with you in it! You belong ☺️ #BookTok #LibraryTikTok #Storytime

♬ original sound - mychal

 


Episode Transcript

Mychal Threets, guest: This is just our giant picture book area. This over here is probably like the primary spot where I always tell all the stories on social media, on Instagram, on Tik Tok and Twitter. I think I’m usually standing right over there.

[Music]

Pendarvis Harshaw, host: What’s up everyone, I’m your host Pendarvis Harshaw. Welcome to Rightnowish! Today, our team is taking y’all to the coolest place on earth… the library!

The library?! Yeah, I said the library fool.

Look, the library is this place where dreams originate, and plans take shape. Where meetings are held and solitude is found. Where our youngest, as well as our more seasoned community members, take their time to slowly read.

It’s where, as a kid, summer book programs gave me free tickets to Oakland A’s games. And as a young journalist, I’d spend hours inside the Oakland History Center, looking through their historical maps and archival periodicals. 

Each library is different, and every library system is unique. But what grounds them all, is that the public library is one of the few spaces in society that is open to all. And for that, it’s sacred. 

Today, we’re joined by a person who recognizes just how special the library is: Mychal Threets.  

He’s a librarian at the Fairfield Civic Library in Fairfield, California. And he’s kind of a big deal. He makes social media videos about the library system, banned books, and the importance of mental health awareness, and he shares them to an audience of hundreds of thousands followers. His videos have gone viral and he’s touched the hearts of many. And recently, Rightnowish’s Marisol Medina-Cadena and I pulled up to his information desk and talked to him about what makes his library– and all libraries– sacred spaces for everyone, right after this.

Pendarvis Harshaw: The Fairfield Civic Center Library. What’s the significance of this place to you? 

Mychal Threets: So, it literally is my childhood home away from home as a homeschool kid, grew up in this library, came here every single week. As a kid, my mom homeschooled me. It’s where she came to get resources for homeschooling, came to storytimes, came to programs, brought my childhood cat to this library’s pet parade, very proudly held her while she received a ribbon. But then fast forward, I ended up getting my first library card from this library at the age of five. So library cards have always been special to me. I have a library card tattooed on my arm. They’ve just always meant something to me from a very early age. And then this place is also just special to me. Just again, growing up here, first library card, but it’s also where I got my first library job as a shelver. I’ve held several jobs in the library world over the last ten years, and I’m now the supervisor of this library that we’re in right now. 

[Music]

Pendarvis Harshaw: Was there a specific moment for you as a young adult where it clicked, the significance of this library? 

Mychal Threets: I don’t think the significance of this library. I think just libraries in general being a safe space for me from a very early age. I’m not shy at all about suffering from mental health, from anxiety, depression, panic disorder, nightmare disorder. I didn’t realize it at the age of eight, that I had anxiety and all those things, but I’ve traced it back to that time. 

[Music]

Mychal Threets: …And this library was always very special to me, and that’s where I felt comfortable. The books were my very first friend. If it sounds cliché to say, but it’s very true that I was one of those kids that books meant the world to me because it was hard for me to make friends, let alone as a homeschool kid. But as a shy, introverted, anxious kid, it was even more difficult. So this library was special, and I felt safe… safe here from as early as I could remember. I’ve always felt that way in libraries everywhere I go. 

Marisol Medina-Cadena, host:  How Pen and I found out about you is through the viral videos that you post online. 

Mychal Threets (in a clip, singing): “There are some books in this house. There are some books in this house. There’s some… 

Marisol Medina-Cadena: And I just want to know, like, what’s the overall message you’re trying to promote about libraries through those videos? 

Mychal Threets: Yeah, so those videos, I never expected those videos to go viral. And at the time I was hoping that maybe a thousand people would see that video. And my overall message with these videos is just to remind people of one, that the library exists. I think so many people don’t even remember that they have a local library. They don’t realize that the library is more than books. Some libraries have better budgets than other libraries, my library, for example. But you’d be surprised to learn that your library may have more than books, that it has musical instruments, board games, video games, but more importantly, just remind people that they do belong. I feel like I’ve said the word belong 100,000 times since all these videos took off. But like, it’s so… it’s so special to me that that is what the library is for. You could be unhoused, you could be mentally ill, you can be a kid, teenager, grown-up without kids. The library is a place for you. It’s a place where you can be your authentic self, whatever that means to you. 

It’s not a place where you’re going to be judged walking in. There is no expectations. When you come to the local library, you don’t even need a library card. I love when people come into the library and flash a library card like we’re Costco. And I’m like, you don’t have to do that. I love that I can see your library card, but you can just walk in. Like, you can just go, you can read books, you can read the newspaper. We even print out people one time passes for the computer. You don’t even need a library card to use our computers.

But so yeah, I think just reminding people that the library exists, that it’s different from what they used to be. We don’t shush people anymore. I’ve been shushed far more times than I’ve shushed people. And just everybody should come and visit their local library. It’s pretty much my whole message behind those videos. 

[Music]

Marisol Medina-Cadena: Can you set up that viral video that you said got like over a million views? Like what was the message you were saying specifically in that one?

Mychal Threets: So the first video that took off is the one of the kid who asked me if I’m a boy librarian or a girl librarian where a kid and their grown up were at the… at the desk with me, helping them check out books, and I could see the kid kind of like stealing glances at their grown up. And I was like, oh, they’re going to say something and say… are they going to, are they going to mock my hair? Are they going to mock my shirt? Is it going to be my general appearance? And I was wearing a mask, too, so I just saw I heard the kid kind of like go to their grown up, “Mama, is it a boy librarian or a girl librarian?”

 And you could see, like the grown-ups’ eyes get wide like, oh, how is he going to react to this? But I think the grown-up did a great thing that they were just like, “Oh, let’s let’s ask him. I’m sure, I’m sure he’ll let us know.” And so the kid is like, “Are you a boy librarian or a girl librarian?” And I was like, “Oh, I’m a boy librarian.” And then I shared, I shared that video and then just so many people resonated with it. I think my message behind that video is just to applaud the grown up for saying, ‘Let’s teach my kid something new. Let’s teach him that it’s okay to ask people questions, to be… to be vulnerable.’ So just a kid having the courage to ask, a grown up being like this isn’t a taboo subject, let’s find out if this person is a boy librarian, a girl librarian. Let’s give them the space to say what they are, what they identify with. And then again, I thought that video was going to get maybe a thousand views. And it’s been- just been seen by over a million people now.  

[Music]

Marisol Medina-Cadena: Do people in Fairfield, like when you’re at the grocery store or the gas station, do they recognize you? 

Mychal Threets: A few people do. It’s actually… it’s actually more so outside of Solano County that more people seem to recognize me. I went on a trip to Hawaii and several people were like, Oh, you’re the library guy. You’re that guy from social media. Or I went to like, an Oakland A’s game. And I think like… I think five people, like, made me take selfies with them. But it does happen here in Fairfield. I’ve gone to like, Safeway and people are like, It’s you. I just want to say hi. Or even like I live in an apartment complex not too far from here. I like, I ran downstairs yesterday. The person waiting in the car was like, Oh, it’s you. I’ve seen your videos. I can’t believe it. So I have been recognized. It’s very awkward. It’s very strange. I think I’ve actually, I’ve had like an older library user coming here before, say like, “I have to take a picture with you to show, to show my granddaughter.” But she didn’t know how to take the selfie, so I had to take a selfie for the person, of her and I. So that was probably like the most like, adorable but awkward encounter I’ve had thus far. 

Pendarvis Harshaw: You mentioned a couple of these before, but when people think of the library, it’s often just books, a place to go, study, and be shushed. I’m wondering what are some of the misconceptions that you’re looking to debunk with your work? 

Mychal Threets: Well, I think I think the first one is the one that we talked about, that libraries are more than books. And this number two is the one that you just talked about, about being shushed. I like to call like, my library, like a loud library, like you have to use like, your library voice to a degree. But I’m trying, in trying to like most to make sure people belong, make sure they’re welcome. Like a little bit of noise is acceptable. Like there have been so many times in my 9, 10 months of being a supervisor back at this library were people with kids who are neurodivergent on the spectrum, have ADHD, other fe- other things, have admitted that they don’t like coming to the library because they feel like they don’t belong, because their kids are going to get shushed. Like “I don’t think my kid will ever be able to become a library kid,” which of course makes me feel very sad.

I tell those kids… those kids and those grown ups, I’m like, ‘Just… just try it out. Like, take it, take it different times. Like you can come one visit if it’s too much, go take a step outside, come back inside, come back next week, try again.’ I tell them like if your kid is making noise, being happy, I’m like, I take that as a badge of honor. I’m like, that means your kid is having fun at the library, even if it’s not books they’re having fun with the toys. That’s the whole reason we have a children’s library is for people to, like, learn what the library’s all about. That it is for them. 

So the library is no longer a place. I mean, some libraries you are going to get shushed more than others. But my library, Solano County libraries are not ones where you’re often going to get shushed. I mean, you can’t come in and you can’t curse out library staff. You can’t like, just start playing your app videos, your YouTube videos along that as loud as you can. If we get complaints, we’ll talk to you. But there is a certain level of noise that we… that we allow in the library and we’re also doing cool things, like the Vallejo Springstowne Library did a punk rock show not too long ago. They had some punk rock concerts in the back of their parking lot. The Vallejo John F Kennedy Library had the rapper La Russell performing in… in the libraries. So libraries are doing new things. So those are the myths that I want to debunk.

[Music]

Pendarvis Harshaw: And why is it important to have someone like that, like repopularizing the brand of the public library? 

Mychal Threets: I think… I think that’s why it takes… I mean, you have so many more figures who are like who are making books in libraries popular. Like, you have like, Steph Curry has a book club and Malala has a book club. La Russell has a book. I think Amanda Gorman is a poet who is like taking the world by storm. So she’s a different type of person. But I think it’s important to have these people talking about books, talking about the importance of libraries, because there are so many young people who are listening. I mean, libraries for everybody, kids, teens and adults and grown ups. But the kids are like who we’re trying to reach, who we’re trying to make sure that the world is better for. And having these influential figures makes it so that they know if they like that, they they’re not worried about looking cool. They’re like, Oh, these people are making books cool, they’re making libraries cool. I’m a library nerd. I’ve always thought libraries and books were super cool. So it’s cool to see these cool people who are actually cool making books in libraries cool. 

Marisol Medina-Cadena: On that note of like, accessibility, I mean, that’s probably the tenets of public libraries. And you know, we live in an information age where we’re constantly bombarded with information on our phones, computers, anything. So like, what is the role of the library to, like, give quality information, if you will, or like promote media literacy or anything about that?

Mychal Threets: Yeah. There’s so much that the library does for, for promoting literacy, for promoting accessibility. There’s so many different realms, I think just for access, accessibility for literacy, that’s where like, schools and libraries have a great relationship and connection. Schools do something called AR levels, accelerated reader levels. So basically, if you’re at third grade reading level, fourth grade reading level, you’re looking for a book that falls within those levels which is very complicated. And oftentimes it unfortunately sets kids back because kids learn at different rates. So sometimes some kids may not be able to read at the grade level that they’re at. So I mentioned that because libraries don’t have weird- we don’t arrange things by that level. We have like third grade reading lists, but all of our books are just chapter books, picture books, nonfiction books. We don’t break it into first grade, second grade, third grade, because we acknowledge that everybody learns at a different rate, and we want people to feel comfortable.

We want them to fall in love with reading. That’s our important first priority is that falling in love with literature, with literacy, and then we can work on getting you to that grade level. So I think that’s that part of accessibility. But then the other part of accessibility is just making sure that, like we talked about, that there is a place that they can come to. So I think accessibility for the mentally ill, for the unhoused, which I think people don’t often think about them when it comes to accessibility, but there has to be a place for them to flock to, to go to when they have nowhere else to go. And that’s what the public library is. It is a place like we talked about, that there is no expectation. They can just come in out of the elements. They can sit. If you’re having a panic attack, you can come into the library. You can ask us for help. Or as a person who goes through panic attacks, sometimes you can just have a panic attack in peace inside of the library, which I know is a weird thing to say, but at least it is a place of welcoming. And so I think there are so many different aspects of accessibility when it comes to the library and literacy as well. 

[Music]

Pendarvis Harshaw: You’re very almost profoundly up front about the intersection of mental health and your work. And I’m wondering why is it important for you to share your story first?

Mychal Threets: So it’s important for me to share my story of mental health just because I didn’t have any such stories when I was… when I was a kid. I think.. I think I mentioned that, having anxiety at the age of eight, it’s not something I knew what it was. Being 33, mental health was still very stigmatized when I was a kid. So for me, like, I don’t… I don’t have the platform that others seem to think I do, but whatever version of platform I do have, I do want to talk about mental health, just so. just to normalize it, just to show people that it does exist and that it’s okay to not be okay. I made a silly remix of, of, of Get Low by Little Jon. And so like 369 is okay to not be fine…

Mychal Threets (in clip, singing): “369, it’s okay to not be fine, hope you can crush this day one more time…”

Mychal Threets: So, I think me talking about it just shows people that there’s other people out there that are suffering but are still persevering, that are still surviving and even being successful because I’ve been a library worker for ten years. So I have a various level of success. So I think talking about mental health just shows people that it’s okay to not be okay. You can keep on going. And oftentimes that’s why I release my library stories. Either I’m having a hard day or people message me on social media and say, ‘Oh, I’m having a hard day. I’m having a really big bout of anxiety.’ So many times the stories I release are dedicated to those people who are having a hard day, or they’re kind of like what I would tell myself on my hard days. 

I think I even made another like, mental health call for help video where I was like, ‘Oh, like if you’re watching this video, like in your bed, laying down right now…’ And so many people were like, ‘I was watching that video laying down in my bed right now.’ I even had a grown-up came- come up to me in the library that day and was like, “Hi, Mr. Michael, I just wanna let you know that I saw your video. And I came to the library. I got out of bed and I visited the library.” So, so that’s super cool to see it happening in real life.

[Music]

Marisol Medina-Cadena: The library has kind of become this de facto like support wraparound services because those services often don’t exist in our communities. And so libraries, librarians, and library staff are often like the front lines, if you will, of like mental health, cause they’re coming into contact with people living with mental health. Has there been an experience here, about that, that really crystallized like why it’s important for librarians to have those… that knowledge base?

Mychal Threets: Honestly, every day at the public library is a reminder of why it’s important that we do, we need to be aware of these services or at least have the ability to put people in touch with these services. I hear just people telling me like, how much it helps that me and my library staff say hello to them on a daily basis, or people have literally told us like, ‘Oh, you guys, you guys saved my life. Like just by saying hi. Like, you guys actually care. Like we’re actually important to you.’ Or even a day or two ago, I told the story about how there’s an unhoused person on our loading dock, and my staff was like, ‘Oh, we need… we need this person who just moved to a different area.’ That’s okay. They’re blocking the staff entrance. It makes it’s hard for them to come inside. So I went and spoke with that person. I said, ‘Oh, hey, it’s me again. Michael with the library. Just spoke with you not too long ago. I know it feels like it’s been forever. It’s only been an hour. Just seeing if you can try to just get all your stuff moved to a different area. Like you don’t have to go far. I just want my library people to be able to walk through.’  They were like “Sure, sure, I promise. Give me 5 minutes. I’ll try to move as quick as I can, get my stuff away.” And I was about to go inside, I said, ‘You know what? The library is open. You’re more than welcome to come on inside. You can just hang out inside.’ Library was open until 8:00 that day. They were very surprised. They’re like, “Really? Like, I can come inside?” I’m like, ‘Yes. Library’s for you. You belong in this library. Keep on doing your thing.’ Basically, the library is a community hub. The library exists for the community. 

Pendarvis Harshaw: My interest in talking to you is that I see you and also the public library system as an agent of change. When I think of the public library system, when I didn’t have money to go to a coffee shop, I would go to a library and send off my resume and try to get into this economy and work my way up. I also see it as a safe space, as you said, for people experiencing mental health ups and downs, as well as a way to battle some of the things that you see in the news where it’s like everything from book bans to misinformation. And so I front load that question all to ask you, like when you wake up in the morning, do you see yourself as an agent of change? 

Mychal Threets: I don’t think I am. But I do believe that every school librarian, public librarian, academic librarian, all the library workers, they’re all agents of change, working to make the world a better place.  Be it banned books, celebrating just the freedom to freedom to read. Just saying that we’re not trying to make it any, any big thing. We’re not trying to push anything on you, on your kids. We just want them to be able to see themselves, to feel seen, to feel represented, to feel that they belong. The library is happy. We’re waiting for you. We can’t wait to see you. 

[Music]

Pendarvis Harshaw: Big thank you to Mychal Threets! Thanks for the work you do and the service you provide, in real life and online. 

For all of you interested in learning more about Mychal’s work, you can find him on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram under “Mychal3ts” And that’s spelled M-Y-C-H-A-L, the number 3, TS. He’s also on Facebook under his first name, Mychal spelled  M-Y-C-H-A-L and his last name is Threets, T-H-R-E-E-T-S. 

This episode was hosted by Marisol Medina-Cadena and me, Pendarvis Harshaw. 

It was produced by Maya Cueva and edited by Chris Hambrick. Our engineer is Christopher Beale. And Sheree Bishop is the Rightnowish intern and was the camera person on this trip. Be sure to look out for that video on your social media platforms.

The Rightnowish team is also supported by Jen Chien, Ugur Dursun, Holly Kernan, Xorje Olivares, Cesar Saldaña, and Katie Sprenger. 

Thank you all for listening. 

This episode is dedicated to all of the library lovers and a special shout out to those who will soon discover the magic of the local public library.

Now, go get you a mother loving library card, fool. Until next time, peace.

Rightnowish is a KQED production.

Rightnowish is an arts and culture podcast produced at KQED. Listen to it wherever you get your podcasts or click the play button at the top of this page and subscribe to the show on NPR One, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, TuneIn, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.

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