You might not know her as Kate Tkacik, but if you’re involved with Tumblr’s library scene, you’ll know her by her username, thelifeguardlibrarian. In 2011, Kate began to build a network of librarians on Tumblr, now known as Tumblarians. In addition, she is a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and a contributor to Library Journal.
We spoke with Kate via email about building the Tumblarian community; why it started, how it grew, and all of the great things that have come (and will continue to do so in the future) from connecting such a widely spread group of people with just a few hashtags.
Togather: What inspired you to create a community of librarians? What made you decide to find them on Tumblr?
Kate: Inspiration! A few friends know this, but I was very skeptical about Tumblr—I didn’t get it and I didn’t see much within it. At first glance it was a confusing mass of pretty visuals, memes, and selfies.
But when I was halfway through library school and headed into the job hunt, I needed to find a way to stretch my legs a bit online, and I wanted to do so without all the responsibility of a traditional blog. From my first sputter-start weeks on tumblr, I had no thoughts of creating a librarian community. I was just trying to scrape up some followers. About six months in, I started to get into the rhythm and vibe of tumblr, and I started connecting with folks in the #lit and #education communities.
I recognized an opportunity in the space for librarians to do what these groups have been doing for quite a few years. And I started understanding tagging and how tags could (and would) create a sharing community. After gaining some confidence through the #lit group, I decided to start posting up as much as possible to get librarians to use a standard set of tags (#libraries, #librarians, and eventually #tumblarians) on their posts so we could find each other. And it worked!
Togather: What did you do to ensure that the Tumblarian community would grow? How did you prevent it from losing momentum?
Kate: One thing I’ve tried my best to do is keep the call out there for tagging. I like to shout about it as loudly as the Internet will allow. New users are joining every day—we (myself and other early adopters) shouldn’t assume librarians joining the platform already knowing what’s up and where to find us. Just try to pull me down from my #libraries #librarians #tumblarians soap box. I’m surprisingly scrappy.
The momentum has taken care of itself thanks to the community and to tumblr itself. Molly McArdle of LibraryJournal, Erin Shea of Darien Library, and Daniel Ransom of ThePinakes have been particular advocates of #tumblarians—and they were all using tumblr well before me. Beyond that tumblr is my very favorite of all the internets because they really give a hoot about what their users are up to. It wasn’t long before Rachel Fershleiser, Literary and Non-profit Outreach at tumblr, reached out to me to say hi and get me involved with a meet up in Chicago. It was encouraging to hear from Rachel and validated the work we Tumblarians had been up to for so many months.
Togather: Has the Tumblarian community changed or benefitted the library profession? How? What do you think it could accomplish?
Kate: I would say we’re definitely making an impact, though on a small, personalized, and individual scale—which should not discourage the community in any way. Tumblr has led me to solid IRL friendships and professional relationships. And I know with certainty I’m not the only librarian on tumblr who would say the same. We’re sharing news, advice, opinions, job opportunities, best practices, reading lists, book reviews, lesson plans—and heaps of GIFs and geeky effusions. I can only assume connecting in these ways in of benefit to the profession.
What can we accomplish? I’ll think of that more as “what can we do next?” Something that’s very important to me is to continue to diversify our ranks and create an inclusive space for challenging conversations. This has started to happen a bit here and there, but I want more (MOAR!). Tumblr, as a platform, attracts a vast range of users, many of whom are young and are seeking a less traditional online space away from Facebook and blogs. I really want to capitalize on how wonderfully varied the tumblr community is already and invite as many perspectives as possible into the dialogue around librarianship. Many of us know well what the current demographic of our profession looks like—that doesn’t mean the tumblarian community should look just the same.
Togather: What was the most difficult part of building the Tumblarian community?
Kate: Tumblr has only been fun! I thought a good deal about this when I first heard I was nominated for Movers & Shakers. What a funny thing to be rewarded for doing something that is so enjoyable! Usually we get payout on what takes all our energy and effort—writing a long paper, completing a difficult project, whatever. Tumblr’s just fun. Maintaining the list and staying caught up on ask’s and emails is a little more time consuming now, but it’s great to have so many people reaching out.
Togather: Do you have any advice for someone new to Tumblr who wants to get involved with Tumblarians?
Kate: Introduce yourself and tag that first post #tumblarians. We’ll find you.