Patrick Sweeney, a 2007 iSchool alumnus, spends his hour-long train ride to and from work each day thinking about libraries.
An administrative librarian with the Sunnyvale Public Library, a role equivalent to assistant director, Sweeney oversees all of the public services librarians (adult, children, and teen) and develops programs and partnerships, reports and budgets. He’s following the path he first discovered during his iSchool days, when he served as cochair and web coordinator for the school's award-winning ALA Student Chapter. “When I got into librarianship,” Sweeney says, “I knew I wanted to be on that administrative track.”
But that’s not all. Sweeney is also a founding member of the ALA Think Tank, an informal librarian discussion group, and EveryLibrary, a nonprofit political action committee (PAC) created to help libraries win bond and ballot measure funding. Recognizing his tireless work as a library advocate, Sweeney was named a 2015 Mover and Shaker by Library Journal.
“Libraries need to be there.”
Sweeney is always considering what more he can do to further the case of public libraries. One day he realized something quite surprising about the state of library funding: no one group was in charge of it. Further research showed that only 2 percent of library funding is federal, with 98 percent coming through local tax and bond measures, from voter action. But who provides information to voters about key library funding issues? “It turns out,” Sweeney explains, “that [library] associations legally can’t tell people to vote 'yes' or 'no' on anything: they can’t do any get-out-the-vote work because they’re 501(c)(3) [nonprofits] and have to take nonpolitical sides. It’s the separation-of-church-and-state issue. But a 501(c)(4) can do all of that work.”
EveryLibrary is the response to that issue, declaring itself “the first and only national organization dedicated exclusively to political action at a local level to create, renew and protect public funding for libraries of all types.” Sweeney explains, “When we were talking about this we thought, someone has to be doing this type of work! But there's nobody helping local elections. So we stepped in to fill that void.”
An all-volunteer organization, over the last two years EveryLibrary has helped libraries win $60 million dollars in funding. “For every dollar that we spend on elections we help libraries get about $1,600 back,” Sweeney says. “Now that we’ve proved there’s a huge need for this, we can start expanding and growing more. People are really willing to give to it because the money goes to ensuring libraries exist, in a really dramatic way.” Their next step is to venture outside the library ecosystem for funding.
“If you think of something: write about it.”
Sweeney had a similar realization about the state of LIS writing in civilian publications several years ago: we weren’t doing enough of it. And if we’re not writing about library issues, how is anyone outside of the LIS community to know what libraries really get up to? What they need? “I’m not a very good writer,” Sweeney says, “but I know how important it is to be able to write to magazines that aren’t library related about the kinds of things librarians are doing.”
The Great Librarian Write Out is a friendly competition that Sweeney started in 2011 with $250 of his own money to encourage librarians “to get out of the echo chamber and put their writing skills to good use in nonlibrary publications.” Now a part of EveryLibrary, the goal is “to get people talking,” Sweeney says. And the contest is open to everyone writing about libraries, not just LIS professionals. “The first year an 18-year-old kid won for an editorial he wrote in the San Jose Mercury News,” Sweeney remembers, “It was an amazing piece.”
“There’s a million things that I want to do!”
Inspired by a New York Public Library book-seeding project to help build advocacy for their libraries, Sweeney wanted to do something similar in the San Francisco Bay Area—and he wanted to do it by boat. “People give me a lot of books because I’m a librarian,” Sweeney laughs, “and I was living on a boat and didn’t have anywhere to put them.” Realizing he had the means, opportunity and precious cargo readily available, Sweeney sailed off into the sunset with Story Sailboat, dropping off book donations through guerilla libraries and book seeding (placing books in widely populated or highly trafficked areas) just for fun.
At Fishermans Wharf, a flashy tourist destination akin to New York’s Times Square, a kid discovered a donated Toy Story book, and the rest was history. “Overall it’s just a fun thing to do when I go sailing, and it makes me feel good,” Sweeney says. “But the highlight was, the kid made their mom stop, in the midst of all this chaos, and sit down and read him a book. And I thought—that’s it right there.”