Sophomore Camryn Phelps poses with one of her #BookTok reads, “We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart. This is one young adult novel among many to go viral on TikTok in 2021. 

Students are embracing a newfound interest for reading through #BookTok, a community on the app TikTok where young people share their favorite reads with others. Local bookstores and libraries are actively keeping up with the influx of new customers, one local bookstore owner said.

Camryn Phelps, a sophomore marketing major from Salina, Kansas said the books she chooses to read now are ones she never would have heard of if not for TikTok. 

“I was not a big reader at all,” she said. “And now, we’re all on TikTok for hours every day and seeing all of these book recommendations. People talking about why they like these books makes me so much more inclined to read.”

Phelps has found TikTok allows her to build a pastime around something beneficial for her mental health and well-being. 

“I definitely do feel like I’ve built a healthy habit,” Phelps said. “Instead of watching as much Netflix or YouTube at night, I try to read a couple chapters of my book and I feel like it helps me wind down much easier and de-stress.”

With new readers being influenced to buy books, bookstores and libraries are seeing a rapid increase in customers, local bookstore owner Danny Caine said.

While the #BookTok trend is exciting for local bookstores like The Raven, it can be overwhelming for a store’s supply, owner Danny Caine said. #BookTok has created a new revival of putting older books in high demand, Caine said. 

“The general book publicity machine that we’re used to and BookTok aren’t always focused on the same titles,” Caine said. “So we’re often surprised and like, ‘Why are we selling so many copies of ‘Song of Achilles?’”

With this rush of new customers and readers comes a desire to keep up, Caine said. 

“If everyone all of the sudden wants a paperback from 2007 and the publisher runs out really quickly, it might take a little bit of time to get our hands on that,” Caine said. “It’s so easy to hit like or share on a TikTok and want to read that book, but getting it into our hands as a bookstore is another thing.”

However, the appetite for reading is not a hindrance, Caine said. The new interest in physical books is something to be excited about.

“I’m really encouraged and excited that these young adults aren’t looking for ebooks,” Caine said. “A lot of them are coming here and looking for a paper book, which to me is great news for the future of the physical book itself.”

Christy McWard, the executive director of communities and advancement for KU Libraries, said she has also noticed student excitement surrounding reading at the libraries on campus.

“We’re back at all of our gate counts and attendance and working in the libraries at fall 2019 levels - all pre-pandemic,” McWard said. “One of the things that tells me is that students are ready to be back in the library.” 

KU campus libraries try to engage Gen Z readers in their own way, McWard said. The Jayhawk Book Club is one option in which KU libraries and KU students and alumni can interconnect.

“What’s great about the Jayhawk Book Club is that readers and Jayhawks - they may be alumni or they may be students, they may be just friends or fans of the University - all enjoy reading and can come together in this online [Facebook] platform and discover new books together and discuss them,” McWard said.

There is comfort in settling down with a book, especially in such intense times, McWard said.

“I have found that throughout this pandemic it’s been so difficult and challenging on so many levels, and I have found that students have discovered some solace while enjoying physical books,” McWard said. 

Erin Markel, a journalism major from Parker, Colorado, feels that the time she usually spends on electronics is now dedicated to books, thanks to #BookTok recommendations.

“It’s something that motivates me to get off my phone,” she said. “I also feel a lot more productive with my time and day if I read.”

Markel said #BookTok has helped her find an escape in her busiest times.

“Reading always puts me in a good mood. It’s a break from everything busy going on in my life or any social media, so it’s a nice mental escape,” Markel said.