There’s a librarian who works in our Popular Library department. His name is Steve Kemple. He sometimes wears bright white-framed glasses, loud shirts, and occasionally dresses in a gorilla suit. He takes frequent photos of the sky and is researching death in Victorian times for a book he’s writing. He’s insanely smart and creative and I mean that in the best way possible.
You may remember Steve as the guy who live tweets for our library during the series “The Librarians.” He’s tuned in to pop culture and a great partner for our marketing department.
Recently, an idea of Steve’s to create a “holiday” celebrating the indispensable librarian went viral. With nothing more than a vision and the hashtag #High5aLibrarianDay, Steve started Tweeting and posting on Facebook with a simple call to action–find a librarian and give them a high-five. What happened next was nothing short of phenomenal–and fun to watch.
I recently de-briefed Steve about his idea in hopes of getting some insights that could help you.
Where did this idea come from?
This was actually part of a larger project called “We’re in this Together,” which was a part of my six-month residency for the national library advocacy oriented political action committee EveryLibrary. Earlier this year, EveryLibrary’s executive director, John Chrastka, invited me to be their first artist-in-residence. They wanted me to create a series of virtual art installations and participatory happenings that could take place at libraries everywhere over the course of six months. I decided right away my audience would primarily be people who work in libraries.
I planned a series of events ranging from silly to profound. Okay, they were all pretty silly, I guess. Some of the projects involved dozens of libraries quietly playing submarine sound effects behind their reference desks at the same time, displaying the world’s smallest public sculpture (it’s so small no one can see it), cataloging the sunset, inviting library directors to bring flowers to a nearby cultural organization with a note that says “thinking of you,” etc.
For this one, my original plan was just to have librarians high-five each other all day. A few days prior I was making the Facebook event page, and started inviting my friends who work in libraries. As I was scrolling through the list of faces, it dawned on me — why limit it to library staff? I wanted to make it a day where people working in libraries could all just be really excited about what they’re doing — and what better way to accomplish that than to get everyone excited about libraries? #High5ALibrarianDay was born.
Did you have a plan for how you would promote it?
Yes, but originally it was only aimed at librarians. I would promote it via a Facebook event page and posting about it on the ALA Think Tank Facebook group. A handful of people had been following along with my artist-in-residency project, and I would occasionally send them email updates, but that was the extent of my plan. When I shifted the focus to everyone, I decided to be really ambitious (which, I realize, is very uncharacteristic of me). I decided I wanted it to be a trending topic on Facebook AND Twitter. I wanted local news channels all over the country to show throngs of people lined up at their libraries. Like, Black Friday without the consumerism and stampedes. I wanted the President of the United States to high-five the Librarian of Congress. I wanted ISIS to stop blowing stuff up for a few minutes to high-five a librarian. World peace would actually be realized. How to accomplish all this? I’m pretty good at building hype, but I needed this to go beyond my own sphere of influence. So, I went on a limb and messaged Neil Gaiman through his website. Within 2 hours, he had tweeted about it. (!!!!!).
I waited until the middle of the night on Tuesday and started tweeting at all the authors and literary-ish celebrities I could think of. The reason I did it in the middle of the night because I was basically copying the same tweet to all of these famous people, and I didn’t want someone looking at the hashtag to be all like, “oh, look at Spammy McSpammerson here.”
Were you surprised by how popular it became?
Thanks in part to Neil Gaiman’s boost, by morning it was already all over Australia and New Zealand. It helped that there was a major library conference happening in New Zealand. Then LeVar Burton tweeted about it!
I kept an eye on analytics throughout the day. By the end, on Twitter alone, #High5ALibrarianDay had reached more than 11 million people. I have no idea how many it reached on Facebook or how many people actually participated. But 11 million… I still can’t wrap my head around that. Sure, I had lofty ambitions, but I was still surprised.
What was your favorite Tweet/Retweet/Post about #High5aLibrarianDay?
LeVar Burton’s ranks pretty high. And the Smithsonian made a video about it, which was amazing. But my personal favorite is this one:
Mind = Blown. City Council members taking time out of their day to show their appreciation for everyone in their libraries. I’m getting really emotional about this right now.
What advice do you have for other libraries about creating these kinds of promotions?
Be weirder than you think is permissible. Think bigger than you assume is possible. Don’t make it too complicated. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do something awesome.
Have you had an idea that’s gone viral or a question for Steve about his idea? Share your experience or questions in the comments. I’ll pass them on the Steve and post his answers.
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