First-Year Librarian Reaches Students, Masses Through TikTok

Posted on July 09, 2024

MLIS student Jennifer Miller holds books in a library. To the left is the ILRS department logo on a blue background.

As a first-year librarian, Jennifer Miller turned to social media, specifically TikTok, for tips from others in the field. In less than a year, the UNC Greensboro Master of Library and Information Science student has gone from someone who had never used TikTok to being the most followed school librarian on the platform with over 419,000 followers and 11.4 million likes. 

After spending nearly 20 years as an elementary and middle school teacher, Miller decided she wanted a new challenge and took on her role as the media specialist at Northern Guilford Middle School where she says she is happier than at any other point in her career. 

Miller said, “I wanted to continue to work with students. I knew I wanted to be in a school. I felt in a rut of teaching the same thing over and over again for that many years. But I wanted to take that love of reading that I tried to instill in the classroom and take it a little bit further.” 

That new role led Miller to turn to TikTok where she holds the handle of “MeetMeInTheMediaCenter.” She knew that fellow teachers had used the platform to find innovative ideas for their classrooms and wanted to do the same for this position. Miller looked at it as a version of professional development, learning from school librarians who have been successful for years. 

Screenshot of a Jennifer Miller TikTok video

She said, “I had never been on TikTok prior to last summer, so I had no experience with it at all when I was in my teaching position. So, if I join TikTok and I start following librarians who are in middle schools, or really any type of library in the school system, I’m going to use that to see what they’re doing so that I have an idea of what I could be doing in my library.  

“So, I joined TikTok in the summer of 2023. I made a page, and I was more watching than posting at first. Then I started to feel a little bit more comfortable, and I started posting. Then something happened around January, and I started becoming the (professional development) for other people.” 

It was three viral videos dealing with book repair that launched the growth of Miller’s channel, moving her from around 3,000 followers to nearly 10,000 followers in about a month. That trajectory continued and surpassed 411,000 followers in late June. Miller has been recognized while out in public, including on a recent vacation to Walt Disney World. 

“I can’t wrap my head around it,” said Miller. “I have gone from someone who was watching other librarians to see what they’re doing to becoming the most-followed librarian on TikTok.” 

Making an Impact Both In and Out of School

Her channel’s success has impacted her students and helped bring them into the library. They see someone they know posting fun, lighthearted content and think they should be a part of it and go see what is on the shelf or ask about a specific book that was shown. 

She said, “Students that were in school for half of a school year and I hadn’t seen in open circulation started popping in. I started to get new faces and then they would check out a book and would lean in and whisper to me, ‘I saw you on my For You page.’” 

Having these students want to come to the library and want to read is the most rewarding part of this social media endeavor for Miller. “I feel like through this platform I am connecting people back with books, and connecting people back with libraries, or connecting them for the first time because they’re seeing me on social media, which kind of breaks that generational gap.” 

Surprisingly, Miller’s primary audience is not fellow librarians. The most common comments or messages she receives are about what it takes to become a librarian, how to make the career switch, or what type of program they should be looking for to earn the necessary degree to become a librarian. 

Other people reach out to thank her. They thank her for rekindling a love of the library and reading. Commenters have told her that they went and got a library card for the first time in years because of the content on her page. 

Miller said, “I’m glad that there’s a positive spin for libraries and my page is very positive. I do talk about book repair and book covering, which I thought was very librarian centered. I thought my audience for that was librarians, but now people are buying scanners and they’re asking, ‘Where do I get the book covers?’ They want to cover their own personal books. People are using (my content) for their home libraries, and they want to cover books, and they want to label books, and they want to genrefy their home library.” 

Looking Ahead as a “Comfort Creator”

When you visit Miller’s page, you will see a variety of videos. Not only has she posted content on book repair, but you can find posts counting down the number of books that are waiting to be returned as the school year winds down, posts where she shelves books, and posts where she goes thrifting for books to potentially add to the school’s collection. 

The thrifting videos led to fans asking questions about how a library curates its collection and the financial support that school libraries receive. And people wanted to help so Miller created an Amazon wish list, and the result was overwhelming. 

She said, “I could not keep books on the Amazon wish list. My library greatly benefited from all of these donations that were coming in.” Miller made sure to record the unboxing of the gifts and post those to her page as well.  

Screenshot of Jennifer Miller's TikTok page

The generosity of others led Miller to encourage her fans to reach out to their local school or public library to ask where assistance may be needed. While she loves the support of her fans, she wants other librarians to feel that same appreciation. One of the ways that Miller is planning to utilize that support is by showcasing fellow librarians from around the country on her channel. 

Now that the school year has concluded, Miller will not be lacking for content. She still has many books that were gifted that need to be processed and covered and wants to help increase funding for other libraries. She will also do more posts that answer some of those most asked questions. 

Miller has seen the legislative push to ban TikTok, but feels that it can be a greatly beneficial platform. Prior to joining, she had heard the negativity regarding the social media site but has found that it has been a welcoming and positive environment. 

She said, “People refer to me as their comfort creator. It’s not all bad and it’s really sad that something that I’ve seen have this positive impact (may) go away. I’ve seen the difference that it has made. For me personally, it helped me learn how to do some of these things that I’m doing now day-to-day and kind of fills the gap between practice and education. I really love the TikTok community.” 

Miller feels her time at UNCG is already impacting her in this role. She is immediately able to take what she learns in her classes and apply it to her job.  

Classes are done online, but in a synchronous capacity which allows the students to have live conversations while learning from home. She said, “I like the platform the way that it is because we have people from all over the state and country in our classes. If I was in person, I wouldn’t be able to have those interactions and hear the experiences of other librarians from around the country.” 

When speaking of the professors, Miller said, “The instructors are so approachable. They’re so knowledgeable.” 

As she continues to work toward completing her MLIS degree next summer, Miller will not only continue to support students and help them develop a love of the library and of reading but work to help others fall back in love with books and libraries through her TikTok content.