Photos by Summy Lam, Club Director of Marketing;
Keith Kesler, Social Media Librarian, Los Angeles
Public Library; Martin Wong; and courtesy the Library
Meet the Library team behind two of the world’s biggest social media viral hits during the pandemic, and why that matters.
Wander over to YouTube, Twitter or Instagram, and type in The Linda Lindas. Maybe you’ve heard of the local teenaged punk rock band. Maybe you’ve even seen their videos already.
Then take a look at the posts of the band on the Los Angeles Public Library accounts. Look behind the teen punkers and you’ll see stacks of books – those are the stacks at the Cypress Park Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Those LAPL stacks have been viewed something like 30 million times.
Then search on Twitter for Amanda Gorman, the young poet who electrified the nation at the inauguration of President Joe Biden, and you’ll see another post from the Los Angeles Public Library. That post alone has drawn more than 20 million impressions. Combined with The Linda Lindas posts, that number of impressions rises to approximately 50 million. Fifty million people have seen the Los Angeles Public Library on social media through just those two subjects. Those posts are among the world’s biggest social media hits during the pandemic.
It’s not by accident. By their own words, the trio of Library professionals who produced the social posts – Keith Kesler, Social Media Librarian; Kadie Seitz, Youth Services Librarian; and Kevin Awakuni, Adult Librarian in the Exploration and Creativity Dept. –had no idea they would go that viral. But posting innovative, cutting-edge content on the Library’s social media channels in support of the Library’s mission and during a pandemic is by design. There’s a lot more to the Library than walking into a branch and checking out a book, as fundamentally excellent as that is.
Inside, hear from the trio and why they think new ways of reaching out to Angelenos is so important.
Inside, hear from the trio and why they think new ways of reaching out to Angelenos is so important.
The Linda Lindas in Worldwide Media
During the pandemic, when all of the Los Angeles Public Library’s locations were closed to the public, and continuing after the libraries had limited openings, the Library created multiple programs online every day on Facebook and YouTube. The programs, most of which existed in person before the pandemic, ran the gamut from children’s storytimes to musical performances, to author talks, home gardening exhibitions, arts and crafts tutorials and much more.
The Linda Lindas concert was one of those programs.
Some of the programs were held outdoors and in person when space and protocols allowed.
Here’s a sample of just some of the hundreds of programs hosted online by the Library during the pandemic:
Loud Library Love
On July 1, Club COO Robert Larios and Alive! editor John Burnes interviews members of the Library team that put together the now-viral program with The Linda Lindas – Kevin Awakuni, Adult Librarian in the Exploration and Creativity Dept., 5 years cols; typically they both work out of Central LIbrary downtown. The interview with the third member of the team, Keith Kesler, who oversees all of the Library’s social media postings, follows this one.
Alive!: Kadie and Kevin, thanks for telling us about the Library’s post about The Linda Lindas, and how it came about.
Kadie Seitz: Sure.
The Linda Lindas became the Library’s most viral post ever. But let’s start more broadly and talk about the virtual program where they appeared. I know it was part of Asian American Pacific Islander Month.
Kadie: Right. It was part of our TEENtastic Tuesdays series of programming we’ve been doing more or less since the pandemic started. I don’t think it was labeled TEENtastic Tuesdays until later, but we started doing online programming for everyone in about April or May of 2020, and then it evolved.
TEENtastic Tuesdays is a series of programs we do every Tuesday aimed at teens, covering a variety of different subjects and topics. For example, we had a vogueing workshop. We did tarot. We did a panel of people talking about their experience at HBCUs [historic Black colleges and universities]. We’ve done virtual reality. We’ve done all sorts of topics, all over the place. The Linda Lindas concert was part of that series.
For the concert, we partnered with Kevin’s department, Exploration and Creativity, and their LA Made program as co-sponsor. Another librarian had approached us with the connection to the band, and we thought, “Absolutely. Like, yes.” It turned out many of us have connections with them: One of Kevin’s kids goes to school with one of the band members. Kevin’s boss also has a kid who goes to school with another one of the band members. It ended up being this happy LAPL kind of coincidence.
When it came up initially, we thought about doing the concert from one of their houses. But they told us that they had had some issues with noise complaints from neighbors when they played in their yard before. So we thought, “Hey, the Library is still kind of closed.” Some of our locations are still closed to the public from going inside. So we thought, “This might be a nice opportunity to try something kind of different in terms of doing a punk show in the middle of our Library.” We worked it out with the Cypress Park branch; their staff was totally into the idea and very accommodating. The concert was a culmination of many different departments coming together to make it happen relatively quickly too; that day or the Monday before was our first day open for many of our locations for in-person services.
Then it aired. But we had filmed it two weeks prior to that, something like that. It was a long day of filming.
Had you ever done a concert as part of your program?
Kadie: Not as part of the teen programming, but LA Made has done a lot of music programming. And we’ve done music programs for younger kids.
Kevin Awakuni: I’m pretty new to this position. The ball had already started rolling before I got here. It just so happened that my son and Eloise Wong, the lead singer, are in the same class. Before I transitioned into the position I had already talked with The Linda Lindas because I know the parents. I thought, this would be good. And then I learned, through their other Librarian friend, Angi, that they had already approached the TEENtastic Tuesdays folks about doing something, whatever we wanted them to do. Everything was already rolling when I got here.
I don’t recall a punk rock show being filmed in an empty library, either. The concept was super cool. And then the fact that the The Linda Lindas are such heavy Library users – I knew that because I’ve hung out with them before. It was one of the things we talked about when we’d get ice cream with our kids or whatever – they would talk about how much they love the Library. And then a few months later, they did the show. It was just kismet. It was a lot of work, but we said, “Let’s just do it and have a good time with a positive attitude. We’ll see what happens.”
Kadie: Keith Kesler, our Social Media Librarian, is really good at filming things, and he has all the equipment and the eye for it.
Kevin: The girls had such a great attitude about everything.
Kadie: They were skipping around.
Kevin: Holding hands and skipping. Dancing and joyful.
Kadie: It was very cute.
Kevin: That attitude really helped because we had already done another program that morning – TLC Showcase – Teens Leading Change, a civics-minded program for teens. It was a lot of hours, but all part of the job.
From civics to punk.
Kevin: For sure.
Was that the loudest event that ever happened in a normally quiet place like the Los Angeles Public Library?
Kadie: I think so. Unofficially!
Kevin: I’m assuming!
A Metaphor for Library Love
I’m looking at this as a metaphor for how excited they were for the Library and how much they love it. They really couldn’t be contained.
Kevin: A couple of them are heavy Library users, like 20 books at a time. They’ve always enjoyed the Library. Eloise lives right around the corner from one of the branches, and the sisters, Lucia and Mila de la Garza, live close to another branch. They’re incredibly heavy Library users.
With its success on social media, is this bigger than anything you’ve done at the Library?
Kevin: The concert was posted on social media May 1, and it was fine. It had good numbers of views and everything that I was hoping for.
Kadie: It was strong.
Kevin: And then Keith Kesler tweeted out the clip of the song, “Racist Sexist Boy.” I woke up and Kadie had just sent out an email saying, “Guys, this clip is, like, really popular.” It was a Friday morning when I looked, and the views were like, 325,000. I thought, “That’s bananas.” By the end of the weekend it was at 4.1 million. It went crazy. The Linda Lindas already had a certain level of status and celebrity, because they were in a movie, and they opened for Bikini Kill at the Palladium. They already had a following.
I don’t know what the correct metaphor is, but the post was like a supernova. It just went crazy.
We enjoyed it all day. We shared it. And then we saw it on the CBS Morning News and on a ton of news sites, NPR, and then of course the band was on Jimmy Kimmel.
Kadie: When it first started going viral, I think it was the Thursday toward the end of the week. I said to my husband, if this hits half a million, I’m going to die happy. And then he said, “Yes, it’ll grow.” It just kept growing and growing.
And now it’s past 30 million.
Kadie: I didn’t think other people would take video clips of it and post it on their own channels without crediting us. I would say, “But that was the Library.” Most of it ended up being credited back to us, which is fantastic. But that’s not something I would have thought about; I was just happy it was being shared.
By the next day, that’s when the news stories started picking up, and that made it grow and grow and grow. I think first it was shared by Rolling Stone or Variety and then it was the New York Times and NPR and all these places. These are journals I read. It’s going to be hard to beat that, for sure.
It was the right song at the right time with this incredible fresh energy. The story she says about being inspired to write “Racist, Sexist Boy” made it all come together.
Kadie: Friends of mine from Milwaukee posted about it. Then my mom emailed me. “Did you see this?” she asked me. And I said, “Yes! That’s my program!” That was like a true viral moment.
Kevin: Their parents had a really long conversation with them about wrapping their minds around fame and the level of scrutiny that accompanies something like that. They told Eloise that there are haters in the world. It doesn’t matter how pure or authentic your art is, people hate on it just so they can stand out from a crowd. It’s something I’ve never experienced before. I’m a City employee. I don’t expect worldwide fame. They’re still just kids. But that song really struck a chord.
Kadie: The band has a very good support system.
Kevin: I know that parents, grandparents and sisters were there. The band comes from a very authentic place.
Kadie: They actually did a couple of takes of that song.
Kevin: Right. They wanted to make sure that the quality of the song and the intro were right. They’re professional performers.
Rocking the Mission
How do you think the Library’s programs online and on social media support the Library’s mission? Why is it important that the Library does this?
Kevin: I feel like when something really resonates with people it’s because it’s a reminder that the things that they feel and the experiences that they have are not unique. Art makes them feel not alone. A lot of times the art that really resonates with people, whether it’s music or a painting or a movie, reminds people that they’re not the only person who feels that way. I’m all about trying to give a platform to voices so that everybody can also have these kind of similar experiences. That’s what I strive to do, and that’s what the Library looks for.
Kadie: The programs are just like our books and how we collect our materials – they’re windows to things that are new or different for us. They are mirrors that reflect back our own experience. That’s a standard Library thing, and programs work the same way. We really try to represent the City, which is so incredibly diverse in so many iterations of diversity. We try to reflect that in our programming so that we can be representative. So for example, for our children’s programs, we’ve done them in more than 14 different languages. We know that there are so many people who speak so many different languages here. We want them to feel like the Library has something for them, and we do.
Kevin: We try to be the most useful resource we can be to the City and provide everything. We’re a non-transactional institution. We don’t require anything. You come in and you take as much as we allow you to take. And we don’t charge fines. We want to give you the most and ask nothing in return. It’s cool to do good for the sake of doing good and not for any monetary value, but simply feeling joy from helping people.
That’s what public service is all about.
Any return engagements? Any talk about doing an encore engagement?
Kevin: I hadn’t even thought about it.
Kadie: Not with them specifically. I’ve thought about using potentially other music down the road. But it’s a little bit complicated. And all of our locations are open.
This was only one of many, many programs we offer. The Linda Lindas happened to come at the right time and go viral, but we have so many programs. We have other programs on YouTube and Facebook, but also on Zoom, too, and we’re starting to produce outdoor programming. In the fall, we hope we’ll be able to move indoors.
But we’d welcome The Linda Lindas back. They’re welcome back whenever they want!
Kevin: They’re awesome.
Kadie and Kevin, thank you for your time.
Kevin: Thanks for having us.
Anatomy of a Viral Hit
On July 1, Club COO Robert Larios and Alive! editor John Burnes interviewed Keith Kesler, Social Media Librarian, 6 years of City service, via Zoom due to pandemic protocols.
Alive!: Keith, thanks for joining us. Did you come to work for the Library with your title – Social Media Librarian – or were you promoted within the Library?
Keith Kesler: I worked at the Cahuenga Branch Library. I was there for about a year. A Social Media Librarian position opened up, and I transferred.
And so your place of work is the Central Library?
How did you come to be involved with The Linda Lindas post?
Keith: Two people in the Library have the capability to make videos. Some projects I work on, some projects he works on. They asked me to work on this project and to record this performance. So, I put it in the calendar.
At the time, I hadn’t heard of them, so I looked them up. I thought, “Oh, this is kind of an up-and-coming band. This should be fun. They’re good.” For a lot of people, they were brand new, but once I looked at it, they had already done a good amount of stuff. It wasn’t their first show, and they had their music available in Apple Music. I thought, “This isn’t just a middle-school band that happened to be playing at the Library.”
So you’re more involved in the production of the post, not the choosing of the subject.
Keith: Yes, exactly. We met at Cypress Park and scouted it out, and thought, “We should record this in the library.” I think this was one of the first ones that was shot on location. A lot of the virtual programs have been recorded in the performers’ houses. I don’t know when the decision was made, but I remember talking to Kadie Seitz, and we decided, “Let’s try to get this one in a library and filmed in a way so that it looks like it’s in a library. That would look pretty cool to have a band playing with the books framing it so they’re playing with the book stacks behind them.”
That’s the first thing that I noticed. How did you go about producing this? Were you worried about the sound and the lighting?
Keith: Not too much. None of the expectations were terribly off the charts when we did it. The library was closed. It seemed like a big enough room that it was going to be okay. There was a nice window there. The natural light looked okay. I brought one of my own lights to make sure that there was enough lighting. We had a big enough space, once we moved some tables, and I figured we were good to go. And then they showed up.
One of the parts we had to figure out was recording the sound. I didn’t do the sound. One of the band members’ father was the sound engineer. He’s in the business. I have the equipment to mic up one person for an interview, but there’s a big difference between that and miking up a band and engineering that whole thing properly. They were able to do the sound, and then I felt good about the video aspect of it all.
How often are you involved in production that heavy for Library programming?
Keith: This one was somewhat a challenge. It’s nearly 20-something minutes of music, so getting that all figured out was kind of cool. That’s the first time I recorded a band like that. Most of the other production work I do is interviews with staff members, talking about programs – promotional videos and things of that nature. I’m working on a longer project now that’s a children’s program, maybe 15 minutes long.
The Viral Progression
So you produced it and then you posted it.
Keith: Right. We did the program. It aired. By our standards, it had a good amount of viewers, and it kind of sat there for about two weeks with nothing happening that was off the charts. At that point I cut up one of the songs and reposted it on social media, and it got a good amount of views. But in the back of my head, I kind of thought, “This other song – the “Racist, Sexist Boy” song, was also part of the bigger program. I thought that if I pulled that one out, too, and posted it, I felt like that it was going to resonate and could be pretty popular. So I cut that one and posted it on Instagram. I think it posted around 5 p.m. or so, and it was doing really well. But I went to bed thinking it was a pretty successful post. I woke up in the morning, and I was like, “Holy moly, this has gone all over the world.”
That’s when I saw it – “Racist, Sexist Boy” had been re-tweeted. Once that got released, it picked up steam pretty quickly, I would imagine.
Keith: Yes. One account picks it up that’s bigger, and then another bigger account picks it up, and it just spirals.
I know it was all over North America and Europe. Was it all across the world?
Keith: Yes. I would see posts in many languages. Sometimes videos like those can lose their attribution pretty quickly. People take it and separate it from its original source, and it lost its association from us. I saw one popular account had taken it, and then people were sharing it from there and giving them credit. I messaged that account. I said, “Look, hey, I’m glad you’re sharing, but please, just attribute it to the Library.” That guy was in Australia.
How do you manage to keep hold of things that go viral?
Keith: There’s only so much of it you can stop. But that also fuels a success, so you’re not going to be too protective.
I saw it as a re-tweet from the musician Beck. I thought the band in the post was really good. I think Beck’s sentence was, “The greatest thing you’ll see all day.” That’s when I started really looking at it, and I said, “Wait, that looks like it’s in a library.” The re-tweet said, “LAPL.” I thought, “Hey, I know those people.” That’s when I wanted to do this.
Keith: That’s how it works.
Counting The Linda Lindas … And Amanda Gorman
Do you have a sense of what the current numbers are on the different platforms, whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, or YouTube?
Keith: It’s a little tough because the metrics from Instagram don’t always match up with Twitter. There have been something like 4.3 million views on Instagram, and 27 million impressions on Twitter. [The post on the Library’s YouTube channel has nearly 700,000 views. The share on Epitaph Records’ YouTube channel drew another million. Plus there are many other shares. – Ed.]
That’s incredible. Is The Linda Lindas post the biggest one you’ve worked on?
Keith: It’s the most popular across all of our platforms. The only one that comes close was Amanda Gorman, who performed at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January. She read her poetry when she was 14 or 15 at the Youth Poet Laureate event at the Library. I grabbed a photo from that event, and snapped a photo of her from the inauguration. “How it started/how it’s going” was kind of a popular meme theme on social platforms at the time. I put the two photos together and posted it. That one reached more than 20 million on the Library’s own Twitter account alone.
I saw that. I didn’t realize it had gone that big. It was great. Congratulations.
Extending the Mission
How do you feel about extending the Library’s mission on social?
Keith: It’s creative – you end up in situations you never thought you would be in. All of us were really excited for The Linda Lindas at the time, just because we hadn’t seen an actual live music concert in more than a year. My job is highlighting what the Library’s doing. Because the Library’s doing so many great programs, my job is really interesting as a result of it.
It was done as part of the Asian American/Pacific Islander Month. How does that spread the message of the breadth of diversity that exists here in L.A.?
Keith: The diversity in L.A. is just everywhere in the community. One of the guys at the Library knew the parents of one of The Linda Lindas because their kids are school mates. You almost don’t even need to try – if you’re part of the community like the Library is, you’re going to find such diversity. Of course obviously you keep it in mind, too, but just being in Los Angeles and looking for great content and stories, you’re going to run into diversity. It’s everywhere.
Do you anticipate this phenomena happening again? Everybody wants a viral hit. Can you plan for viral?
Keith: I don’t think you can really plan for it. It’s kind of lightning in a bottle. You could spend your time chasing after that again, but it might not happen. Or it might. The thing is, you just keep trying to be open to opportunities that might be interesting in producing content that resonates with the community. If you do it right, sometimes it’ll take off like that, and other times it’ll still be successful. That raised the level of success to a level that’s really hard to duplicate.
What do you love about producing content for the community?
Keith: I like taking a program or something we’re doing and package it so people can understand something that they might not have been able to wrap their head around if they just read about it. I did one recently for a program called BioBlitz, which is about looking for nature in your neighborhood. I met up with a family at the L.A. River and got some footage of them exploring. Seeing that should help somebody understand what BioBlitz is, way more than just reading a Webpage.
There are some really emotional stories out there about how the Library has changed people’s lives. Recently, I met up with someone who had graduated from our Career Online High School program during the pandemic. She had done an online graduation but nothing in person, and she wanted to take pictures in the Library. I met her at Central Library, took photos, and then we told her story online. It was really powerful to see the pictures of her and her family, and talk about how graduating high school was a lifelong dream of hers.
One of the best and most understated things about the whole The Linda Lindas post was their enthusiasm for the Library. Young people are crazy about their library. Is that joy something that you were happy to convey?
Keith: When I’m producing content about one of our programs, sometimes performers are just okay with being in a library, and then there are other times when the people are really hard-core library users. In the case of The Linda Lindas, it was clear they were library users and avid readers. Even during the pandemic, they were picking up books at the library.
When the content went viral, there were comments that went something like, “Why is this at a library?” I have a feeling a lot of people thought it was like a staged music video. A lot of people assumed that right off the bat. It was done as part of the TEENtastic Asian American Heritage Month program, but people who just watched the songs might have missed that. A lot of people had no idea we were producing virtual programming during the pandemic.
But they learned.
Keith, thanks for your time and talking to Club Members.
Keith: Okay, thank you.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Club Director of Marketing Summy Lam (left) photographs (from left) Kadie Seitz, Youth Services Librarian; Kevin Awakuni, Adult Librarian in the Exploration and Creativity Dept., Club Member; and Keith Kesler, Social Media Librarian, in the Central Library.