‘So happy you’re here’: how a librarian became an advocate for mental health | California

0

Mychal Threets has spent most of his 34 years in libraries – first as a homeschooled kid finding community and refuge in the world of books and then as an adult working as a librarian.

“I grew up in libraries, raised by libraries, loved everything about libraries,” he said in an interview. “It is a place where you can just be as you are, you can come on inside, you can take joy in that as an introvert [or] an extrovert.”

Threets has become a TikTok star thanks to his tales from life in the stacks, along with affirmations and forthright commentary on mental health that have brought him nearly 800,000 followers and millions of views. His sunny attitude – the California librarian is frequently compared to Mr Rogers, LeVar Burton and Bob Ross – and openness about his own struggles have resonated in a way he never imagined.

The messages often pour in faster than Threets, the former supervising librarian at the Solano county library in Fairfield, can respond: thank you for talking about mental health. You saved my life.

“I’m always blown away. It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s pressure that I take goodnaturedly, and I have a great respect for that,” he said. “Those messages are hard to hear because it [shows] how much people are struggling, but I love that a 90-second video of a library story means so much to people.”

His videos about his interactions with library patrons highlight what he views as a crucial purpose of a library: a place where everyone is welcome and free to be themselves and can sit in solitude or find community. Threets also posts encouraging messages to his followers: you’ve always belonged. I’m so happy you’re here in this world.

He knows the value of libraries – and the power of speaking openly about mental health from firsthand experience. Threets had anxiety as a kid, and continues to deal with anxiety, depression, PTSD and panic disorder. He was also a passionate reader from an early age (today his left arm features tattoos of some of his favorite books, including Where the Wild Things Are and Arthur).

“I think that’s why the library was such a safe place for me. It was where I met my first friends in books. I felt like I actually belonged in the library,” he said. “That’s why I loved how often I was at the library as a homeschool kid. It meant the world to me to feel safe somewhere outside of my home.”

There doesn’t have to be a reason for you to be on the battlefield versus your own brain. Your anxiety is lying to you!
3, 6, 9… it’s okay to not be fine 💚

Your struggles don’t dim your light! This librarian sees you shining amongst the darkness, I’m proud of you ✨☺️

— Mychal (@mychal3ts) February 22, 2024

He began sharing library stories on TikTok last year with a video he hoped might get 1,000 views – it’s since been seen millions of times – and has made mental health advocacy a core part of his message. Now he receives constant messages from people excited to share that they got their first library card or to thank him for talking about mental health, he says.

“Those two things are the best part of what I do,” he said. “If it all ends tonight, tomorrow I will never forget those messages that I’ve received.”

Threets himself has benefited from such open conversations. He began speaking about mental health as an ode to a content creator who talked about those issues openly and, in a way, saved his life, he said.

“I was like: you know what, let me see if I can talk about mental health. More people need to be talking about it,” he said. “I just wanted to reach as many people as possible and remind them someone in this world cares about them and truly believes that they belong and that I am so happy they still remain in this world each day.”

Earlier this year, he was honored with a prestigious public service award from the American Library Association, which cited his social media and his efforts to help connect library patrons with support services.

The last year has been bizarre and overwhelming in the best way, he said, and would shock the young Threets, who practically lived at the library as a child.

“We didn’t see people of color behind the desk. We didn’t see men behind the desk and just sharing these videos via social media is something that just would have been so daunting,” he said. “And then to be compared to people like Mr Rogers, Bob Ross and LeVar Burton would be mindblowing. At eight years old, they were my heroes.”

If you need someone to convince you that you are not ugly (you are NOT! You’re beautiful 💚), please tell me which library to visit! Otherwise allow my friends Ramona Q and Junie B to hype you up in the most unhinged of ways ✨ pic.twitter.com/KUfykWbHcN

— Mychal (@mychal3ts) March 7, 2024

Threet’s notoriety also brought challenges for the librarian as he sought to balance the demands of a full-time job while promoting libraries around the world, caring for his mental health and facing cyberbullying from trolls determined to cut him down.

“That is probably the hardest thing that I’ve had to learn,” he said. “In this world of social media, people pursuing fame, so often negativity is what shines and people think that to be hateful will get them attention. I get by by giving people a second chance.”

Now, after gaining national attention for his advocacy, America’s favorite librarian has left the library.

Threets announced earlier this month that his time at the Solano county library was coming to an end. “It’s been the honor of my life to work for the library that raised me, the library where I got my very first library card,” he said in a video. “I’m experiencing so many emotions, so much anxiety, eagerness to prioritize my mental health, as you should.”

His journey with libraries is not over, he said. After months of his fans promoting Threets to PBS, home of the iconic TV series Reading Rainbow, he announced he would serve as the network’s resident librarian for a social media series. He will also keep sharing stories and promoting the joy of libraries and books, he said.

“I just use libraries and books as an anchor of hope to people that something so simple, so small, they can use to keep on going,” he said. “It can unite us. We all like something that is in books, and we can use that to come together and ultimately to remind people that we all belong in this world together. We’re better together.”


link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *