Is TikTok the New Frontier of Flipped Librarianship?

TikTok offers librarians a new way to learn from students.

Social media platforms are reinventing the wheel and innovating traditional practices. They have also penetrated the professional landscape, where some individuals have fully embraced and taken advantage of their benefits. Libraries are not an exception, and librarians have since held the bulls by the horns and leveraged this platform to change the narrative and showcase what their organizations offer. I started using TikTok during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 for pleasure and never realized its potential for teaching and learning until I saw other librarians making fun and educational videos for marketing and advocacy purposes. I later stumbled on BookTok, a TikTok channel popular among avid readers. As a founder of a book club at our campus library, I saw BookTok as an opportunity to enhance the collection development of fiction books for the book club and get new ideas for enticing and engaging our club members to read more, for instance, by joining trending BookTok challenges. 

Let’s look into the pros and cons of TikTok usage among academic librarians. 

🌟 More on TikTok: “Why Your Academic Library Should Be on TikTok”

Pros of TikTok for Academic Libraries

Relevant to all ages

Millions of people worldwide have embraced TikTok. Academic libraries serve users across all age groups, and what better way to engage them than TikTok? Age is just a number, while content and creativity are everything on the platform. The recent global TikTok usage statistics show that the plurality of the users (38.4%) were those between the ages of 18 and 24. This is the primary age group of most college and university students.

Increased engagement

TikTok offers a way to actively engage with the users and allow them to give their feedback and opinions through content. For example, using the library’s TikTok channel to conduct polls and surveys to evaluate services, facilities, and resources can be an innovative method for achieving quality assurance objectives. Libraries can also look into having students as their TikTok influencers for content marketing. Using trending TikTok challenges as background sounds may also add a fun element while enhancing engagement.

Marketing and advocacy tool

TikTok continues to top the charts as a marketing platform where millions of people around the globe can be reached. It provides multiple ways to share content with individuals and organizations alike. Libraries can market their new collections and unique artifacts and spark interest. Libraries are now developing into digital hubs and can share innovative objects and projects created in makerspaces and virtual reality hubs on TikTok. I was recently impressed during one of our campus book launch events by one of the students, with a large TikTok following and who is also a book club member, going “live” on TikTok to share the event. This clearly shows there is an opportunity for academic libraries to engage students in becoming “TikTok Library Influencers.”

Reinventing librarians as influencers and content creators

There is always some sort of fear that technology will take over and make some roles obsolete. Nonetheless, opportunities are also created where roles can be reinvented to align with the changing landscape of our field. TikTok has seen an enhanced presence of librarians, and librarians have assumed the roles of content creators and influencers. This can further enhance the development of a new role in the library, such as “social media influencer,” where the individual will be responsible for all library social media presence as a brand. This can eventually lead to the monetization of the library’s social media channels for third-stream income.

Showcase the latest trends and developments

TikTok provides an environment where people can engage in new trends. What better way to learn than while indulging in entertaining content? I have since seen various videos on ChatGPT, where students are sharing ways to use it for their academic projects. This trend presents an opportunity for librarians to find ways to provide support and guidance on using it ethically. Librarians can also use TikTok as a benchmarking platform to see and get a feel of what other academic libraries are doing, particularly with new trends and developments in the field. 

User needs analysis (quality assurance)

There is nothing as fulfilling as being able to ascertain the needs of users using multiple indicators. TikTokers are now sharing their experiences and reviews on the platform about the services, products, and facilities they are using. As I indulged on TikTok the other day, I came across a video of a student sharing how they spent their day, and interestingly, they took a video while in the library and commented on how beautiful it looks after the construction process. As academic librarians, we always look forward to hearing “from the horse’s mouth,” and such reviews contribute to quality assurance. There is nothing as powerful as word-of-mouth marketing.

Cons of TikTok for Academic Libraries

Skills gap

It is quite tedious to create innovative and engaging content with limited skills. This can hinder librarians from finding their feet in this fast-evolving platform. For librarians to fully embed themselves on TikTok and use the platform effectively, they need good communication skills (written and verbal), content creation, video editing, viral content sourcing, the ability to track trending hashtags (to join challenges), and data analysis skills. Well, some of the challenges may also need one to have some cool moves (dancing) and singing; if librarians can do both, it can be a bonus. Not everyone wants to be in the spotlight on TikTok; however, there are ways to share informative and educational content. For example, identifying librarians who are already creating and sharing videos in their personal capacity and engaging them to do the same on behalf of the library can also be helpful.


Librarians may find it time-consuming to create content, especially if they need to embed unique elements. This can be a challenge, especially for those with a lot on their plate.

Fine line between education and pleasure

Though TikTok can enhance teaching, learning and research endeavors, academic libraries can find themselves in situations where their main presence on the platform is blurred. This happens because creating educational and informative content also requires adding a fun element to entice and engage users on the platform. 

Limited or no buy-in from academic institutions

TikTok has penetrated various industries; some academic institutions are yet to fully embrace and adopt it as one of their social media platforms. Librarians in such institutions may find it difficult to fully embed themselves professionally on the platform. 

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