Tumblr’s Meme Librarian Knows Where to Find the Best Cat Pictures

And tarot advice. And pop-punk communities. And seltzer discussion.

Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Emoji and Amanda Brennan. Amanda Brennan surrounded by emojis and the Tumblr logo.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Emoji and Amanda Brennan.

At its best, the internet is a never-ending cocktail party, to which we each bring our own special libations. (Its worst is some other column’s problem.) This is How I Internetwhere the web’s most interesting personalities share what’s in their punch bowl.

This installment’s subject: Amanda Brennan, meme librarian, officially a senior content insights manager at Tumblr, the social network and blogging platform popular with teenagers and superfans.
Age: 31
Location: At work, the Tumblr offices in New York, and at home, “way deep in the Jersey suburbs”
Hardware: MacBook Pro, iPhone 6S Plus, Apple Watch
Representative tweet:

Slate: How did you wind up at Tumblr?

Amanda Brennan: I got my master’s in library and information science from Rutgers University. I realized I loved the information science side of things but not so much books. I love books, I love reading, but I didn’t want that to be my career. I took a course that was an independent project where you could take any aspect of social media work and analyze it. I ended up doing Tumblr tagging. If you’re familiar with Tumblr, people will use tags as more than just metadata. So it’s not just a normal “cat,” “tuxedo cat,” “meow,” “purr”; they’ll also tag something like “this is the best cat I’ve ever seen I want to hug it,” a whole sentence as a tag. I had this hypothesis that if people used these tags as a kind of a show of community, solidarity, kind of speaking the language of Tumblr, they would have more followers.

After I graduated, I worked at the website Know Your Meme. There, I really focused on fandom and community and Tumblr. I had been an active Tumblr user since 2008. I was already really embedded in the community. In 2013, a position opened at Tumblr, and I was like, “Yes, this is my dream.” I’ve been there ever since.

What do you actually do all day in your job?

Oh man. I run Fandometrics, which is Tumblr’s ranking of fandoms, and we monitor what people are talking about, what trends are up and coming. We have a series, called In Depth, where we’ll take one fandom and dive deep and pull data on it. Mostly, my hands are in the data, and I’m trying to learn something about what Tumblr is doing. There’s a really good one on shipping. Shipping is one of my favorite things to talk about, and we did a year-over-year analysis from 2013 to 2017.

Do you remember your first experience on a computer or the internet?

I, like, grew up at my computer. I remember some time in grammar school I got in trouble for being on the internet because I was role-playing. I had my profile set up that I was a dragon, and my mom found it, and she yelled at me. I remember a lot where she was like, “You can never tell anyone on the internet who you are,” and I was like, “Cool, so I’m saying I’m a dragon, and clearly I’m not a dragon.” My mom was not having it.

I used a thing called the Palace, which was this pixel-editing system that made those cartoon dolls. I met my very first internet friend on there that I still keep in touch with, two of them actually. One of them, when out to California a few years ago, we met up and ate doughnuts together. Wild memories!

I joined a message board for the band Ozma in maybe my freshman year of high school. They kind of blew up when they opened for Weezer on a tour. I spent so much of my teenage years on that forum. I still am friends with a lot of those people. We have a private Facebook group where we keep each other updated. So many of them have babies now. I was also really into the website Audiogalaxy, which is basically a giant catalog of music and that’s where I found a lot of the bands I was interested and still am, a lot of niche emo. A lot of message boards here and there—the Pop Punk Message Bored was one that I was on for a long time. I think the Ozma board, definitely because so many of my friendships were forged there, and I grew up with them, I still talk to a lot of them pretty regularly online. I feel like I learned a lot of how to be myself there.

Is there a part of the early internet, or the past internet, that you miss?

In some ways, I miss being able to turn it off. There’s a lot of FOMO and a lot of “I do this for my job and my personal enjoyment, and when do I have time to step away and not have to be online?” Over the past year or so, I’ve really been learning how to mitigate that. I took up CrossFit because I just needed something that would get me away from a device, and I ended up really loving it and falling in love with lifting heavy things. Something that I never had interest in, but I knew someone who owned a gym, and she was like, “Come try it out,” and I was like, “Cool. This is not a phone. This is not a computer. I will go do it.”

I miss smaller communities. The Ozma forum was kind of like a high school, in that everyone knew each other, and it was very small and very niche, and now the thing that brings me the most joy on the internet is private Facebook groups that are very small, where everyone knows each other. It’s a lot more casual and no one cares that I’m a professional internet [person] there. My favorite group is called Now Fizzing, and it’s for seltzer enthusiasts, but everyone’s kind of equal. … There’s barely any trolls. It feels good to go online and see what seltzers people are drinking.

What other Facebook groups are you in?

I’m in Catspotting, but Catspotting is too intense because there are so many people and so many posts. I have a librarian fashion group called Buttery Soft Librarians. So the Pop Punk Message Bored, I was on that for a long time, and a lot of bad things happened, and I quit the board completely, and then a few years ago, all of the girls from the board formed a private Facebook group, and I love that group. It’s just the Pop Punk girls, and there’s way less drama, there’s no dudes being awful, and it’s just this very nice space with all these girls that I’ve known for years and years from being on that board. Also, local Facebook groups are very good in suburban New Jersey.

Did you use any regular handles online or screen names?

The one that stuck was IHeartMittensss. I do not like mittens. But that was just the handle that stuck with me, and that was what I was all through high school. Then in college I thought I was going to go into linguistics because I was really into language. I had this whole plan to go to grad school, and I thought, “Well, I want to have this linguistics persona, so I’ll use the handle Continuants,” which is fancy word for vowels. Then I ended up breaking my leg in half my senior year of college. I went to Drew University, which is very much like a forest, and I was walking through campus one night, and I just fell, and freak-accident broke my leg in half. It was my fall of my senior year. So I had to drop my honor’s thesis, I had to not apply to grad school because I spent the whole semester trying to relearn how to walk, and it just kind of threw this wrench into this big plan that I had to become a linguist.

I couldn’t even have imagined the work that I’ve gotten to do and how much I would love it at that time. So cool, world, for course-correcting me. I’m now stuck with these linguist handles, but I’m definitely not a linguist.

I want to ask you to do Fuck, Marry, Kill with—I guess I won’t include Tumblr—so just with Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

I would probably kill Facebook because even though I love Facebook groups, I can find those people at other places. Fuck Twitter, because there’s different iterations of that sentence. It’s good for watching TV, and I can put it away. And marry Instagram because I really love looking at cats.

Do you have a favorite person you follow?

I really love Jeffrey Marsh, and I follow them everywhere. They’re nonbinary. They make these amazing videos that are just based on telling you, “You are worthy of love. You will get through this.” They are the most positive person I follow online, and every time I see their videos, or their posts in my feed, it’s just exactly what I need to hear at that moment.

Guilty-pleasure follow?

I love Food Network, and I unabashedly love Guy Fieri. I follow him everywhere. Give me that gross Guy Fieri content.

What about listservs or newsletters? Are you on any of those that you like?

I’m really into tarot and stuff. There’s this person, Lindsay Mack. She has a podcast called Tarot for the Wild Soul, and she just launched a paid newsletter that’s twice a month and that gives you deeper study into the tarot and things to really learn and deepen your practice. I will always read anything she sends.

Also, Lil Bub makes incredible newsletters. Mike Bridavsky, her owner, I’ve never met another human that has loved anything as much he loves that cat. He’ll always include bonus Bub pictures at the end.

And Adam JK. His newsletters are not as frequent, but when they come, they’re always full of beautiful pictures, and he’s just another one of those must-follow people for me. I’ve done his journal every year since maybe 2014. It’s very grounding because he understands internet culture, and he understands what it’s like to feel that fear of missing out on the internet but also gets that you have to be present in your life, you have to be here, and everything we do should honor what you need to do to be a happy person.

You said you’re engaged. How did you meet your fiancé?

Originally on OkCupid. We talked very shortly, and I ended up getting mono that summer, and I deleted my OkCupid. Then about a year later—we had followed each other on Tumblr that whole time—I finally messaged him and was like, “Hi. Remember me? What are you up to? I like your blog!” We talked for hours that first night, and we’ve been together … it’ll be six years in March.

What would you consider your biggest time suck online?

I will always have one phone game that is the thing that I am doing for a few months. So right now, it’s Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. I can’t get enough of Pocket Camp right now.

Like everyone, I had a Candy Crush phase. As I commute, I always look for games that don’t require internet connection, because trains suck. So I got really into Gardenscapes for a while. Cooking Craze I recently had to break up with. I’m like, “I can’t deal with this rapid-fire game anymore.”

What was the last rabbit hole you went down on the internet?

A few days ago it was Furbies. Furbies are still really big on Tumblr, and I was just reading all these Furby blogs for an hour.

Do you have your phone handy? What is the last screenshot you took?

Oh! So I was reading Instagram Stories, and someone said to keep your gas tank above half-full before the snowstorm, so I screenshotted it and sent it to my fiancé.

That’s a good one. What is your most frequently used emoji?

It’s the sparkle heart, the pink one with the sparkles.

Do you have a favorite meme?

Oh man. I have a favorite instance of a favorite meme that someone has called me out on Twitter for saying it too much, but my favorite meme, it’s old now, but it’s “the signs as.” The user’s name is celestialonlooker on Tumblr, and she put together “the signs as fat chefs in my mom’s kitchen,” and it’s just so absurd. It just brings me so much joy every time I see it, that I don’t think anything could top it. It only has 7,000 notes. What the hell? I’m Aquarius. So I am the chef who holds the towels.

I’m into [astrology] for real, but I’m also into it for the signs as kitchen utensils, or the signs as really silly things, because it’s all about figuring out your identity. People are just trying to find their identities through these arbitrary things, and it’s just fun. In a world where there’s so much stress on the internet, yes, I want to know what my sign is “as winter aesthetic.” It’s so silly. You’re like, “yes, I do identify with this weird thing.” I do identify with the chef that holds the towels. It’s useful, and I want to feel useful in my life.