Amid record-high attempts to ban books and a harsh reality of reduced funding and staffing, libraries have a great publicist. Meet Mychal Threets, 34, a librarian in Fairfield, Calif., who has amassed roughly 2 million followers across social platforms with his videos promoting the local institution as a friendly, underrated neighborhood hangout.

Threets basically grew up in a library. For the homeschooled kid, the Solano County Library—where he would one day work—was a classroom. One of the first books he remembers reading with his mother is Maurice Sendak’s beloved Caldecott Medal winner Where the Wild Things Are. He loved it so much that he later got tattoos of its titular fanged creatures. “I’ve always found my mind wandering, almost like searching for the wild things,” he says. “The ‘wild rumpus’ is like a cry to do something. Let’s go on an adventure.”

Sporting tattoos on his left arm honoring not just Sendak but also Marc Brown’s Arthur series and illustrator Richard Scarry, his sunny expression framed by an Afro held back with a headband, he posts TikTok videos that guide young people to books he hopes will spark what he calls “library joy” and a lifelong love of reading. He also speaks to his adult audience, pointing them toward lesser-­known library resources like free tax help, legal help, and rentals for video games, board games, and musical instruments.

But the videos that have contributed most to carving out his special corner of the internet are the ones in which he shares memorable encounters with “library kids” and “library grownups.” In his most viral TikTok, which racked up about 22 million views and was shared by celebrities like Jennifer Garner, he tells a story about a kid at the library reading a book in Spanish to two other kids who wanted to read it but didn’t speak the language. In one of his PSAs, he explains how to turn on a special font for dyslexic users in the popular free e-book app Libby. In an especially moving video, he talks about an unhoused adult and child who regularly come to the library to watch YouTube videos and laugh together, offering up a breach of quiet library code that he sees as a win—two people who see the library as a safe space to enjoy time together. But then, as he says of his videos’ viral reach, he jokes, “For a quiet library voice person, I have a very loud voice on the internet.”

Clara Mokri for TIME

Many of Threets’ TikTok videos are about mental health and his own struggles with anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. He hopes that because of his openness about these subjects, people facing similar challenges will feel less alone, and remedies like taking medication will be destigmatized (a message he reinforced in an April video in which he shakes an orange pill bottle and exclaims, “Live, laugh, Lexapro!”). They might even take a page out of his book and go to the library to take their minds off their troubles for a while. In fact, it was an excursion like this that opened up a door to his career: When he was especially depressed as a young adult, in 2012, he would go to the Fairfield library to try to figure out his next steps. One day, he asked a librarian there for a job—a step so seemingly simple they don’t bother to suggest it in most self-help books, but one that set him on the path toward becoming the librarian he is today.

After a decade-long career at that library, Threets stepped down earlier this year to deal with some mental-­health challenges. While he has been attacked by trolls on X (formerly Twitter), he denies reports that cyberbullying had anything to do with his decision. Library workers regularly deal with harassment from patrons, so much so that he says, “If I were going to leave because of bullying, I would have left years ago.” Now, he hopes to dedicate his next chapter to advocacy, working to promote libraries nationwide. Named PBS’s resident librarian in February, he’s been making videos for social media with iconic characters, with many of his fans online billing him as a spiritual heir to LeVar Burton, of Reading Rainbow fame. There is even a petition calling for a TV reboot of that show with Threets as the host.

Whatever his medium might be, one of his chief messages is to dispel the notion that all librarians are strict schoolmarms in cardigans telling people to be quiet. As he puts it, “I love the children’s library section where there is noise—that means kids are having fun.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Write to Olivia B. Waxman at

Poet Mosab Abu Toha Is Documenting War in Verse
Simone Manuel's Mission to Get Everybody to Swim
The Young Billionaire Using AI to Secure the Future of Japanese Businesses
RAYE Can’t Escape Her Success
The New Face of ‘Doctor Who’