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Patrick “PC” Sweeney of EveryLibrary: “I believe that really great leaders work for the people who they are leading and not the other way around”

For me, leadership seems to be a lot more about getting out of the way of good people doing good work and supporting them by ensuring that they have access to the resources they need to do their best work. That often means trusting the people that I hired and trained to do their jobs […]

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For me, leadership seems to be a lot more about getting out of the way of good people doing good work and supporting them by ensuring that they have access to the resources they need to do their best work. That often means trusting the people that I hired and trained to do their jobs while doing the background work of establishing organizational structures like budgets and strategic plans and building networks and connections that they can use to truly excel. I believe that really great leaders work for the people who they are leading and not the other way around.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick “PC” Sweeney, Political Director for EveryLibrary.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Thanks for having me!

I originally came to libraries because I grew up in them. I still remember my childhood librarian’s name and going to the library every single week with my parents. When I graduated college I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and I spent a year just kind of figuring it out until I volunteered at a school library and realized that being a librarian was what I wanted to do with my life.

It was about 3–4 years later, after I got my Masters in Library and Information Science and worked in a public library that I realized that I wanted to get involved in library advocacy. That was the year that the recession hit and I was a library manager and I had to lay off half of my staff. We also had to take furloughs and cut the hours of the library nearly in half. What I learned during that time is that nobody teaches librarians how libraries are funded in library school and there aren’t any courses on building the political power and influence that libraries need in order to retain their funding. So I started taking courses, classes, and workshops in advocacy and politics and I learned how far behind libraries are in understanding building support for library funding.

During this time I met John Chrastka who was working for the American Library Association and he had this idea to start a national Political Action Committee for libraries because around 98% of library funding is political. Today John is the Executive Director of the PAC and I’m the Political Director. In the last 8 years we have helped libraries earn over 1.8 billion dollars in stable funding through supporting library legislation and helping libraries win the local campaigns and elections that fund them. People that are interested in ensuring that libraries can continue to serve their communities can find out more about our work at everylibrary.org.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We have a lot of amazing stories from the campaign trail. One of my favorite was the time that a Parish Leader in Lafourche Parish in Louisiana tried to close libraries in order to pay for a prison. But, the week before the vote he told a reporter that he’s closing the library because the only people that use it were drug dealers and criminals and then used a few racial epithets to really try to make his point. So we were able to help the local campaign fight back and save the library.

Of course, we’ve repeatedly seen things like this all over the country and it’s really astounding that anyone wants to shut down a library when so many people are helped by libraries every single day. Overall, I think the thing that I find the most interesting is that there are groups that are specifically attempting to shut down libraries. For example, we’ve seen groups like Americans For Prosperity fight against communities that want a new library. We’ve seen President Trump try to eliminate federal funding for libraries and we’ve seen organizations and political leaders try to shut down library funding at the state level through legislation. You wouldn’t think that people would want to close libraries, but we’re seeing it all over the country.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made so many mistakes over the years and especially when I was just starting out. I don’t know which ones would be funny. What might be funny is just the number of times that I’ve made a mistake. It has to be in the hundreds. I’ve made simple mistakes like spelling and grammar on an email that went to hundreds of thousands of people. That never looks good when you’re an organization representing libraries. I’ve set up FB ads and forgotten about them and accidently spent 1,000 dollars that I didn’t mean to. That’s always tough on a young and new organization. I’ve also spent time working on projects that didn’t return as much to the organization as I thought they would. I know none of those are funny but I will say that the thing that I’ve learned from each of these mistakes and some of the larger and smaller ones is that the most important thing you can do is learn from each other them and use those mistakes to make yourself better and many times they’ll even teach you what you don’t know that you needed know. So don’t be scared to take some risks!

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our biggest social impact is keeping the doors of libraries open by supporting initiatives that fund libraries so that those libraries can continue to serve their communities. We typically support libraries with their funding initiatives through providing pro-bono tools, data, consulting and direct contributions to those local campaigns. We know we’re effective at this work because we’ve worked with over 100 library ballot initiatives and through those we’ve helped the libraries earn over 1.8 billion in funding. We’ve also helped keep a few dozen school and public libraries stay open when they were threatened by local political leaders.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

The people who are probably most directly impacted by our work are library workers who do the hard work of serving their communities. That’s because our work centers on the funding structures of libraries that allow them to hire and employ qualified library personal. But the reason that we do that work is because we know that millions of Americans are positively impacted by the work that libraries do every single day in the country. For example, when I was a librarian we helped a second grader learn to read through an afterschool reading program. This student was failing school because he didn’t know how to read. After enrolling in the library’s program the student became a highly proficient reader and gravitated through our history fiction and non-fiction books, came back later to tutor other children who were struggling with reading and eventually wound up with a scholarship in a history program at an Ivy League school. This is the kind of thing that we want to ensure continues to happen throughout the United States through our work building support for library funding.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

There are a number of things that people can do to help us support libraries and ensure that libraries can continue to serve their communities. The first is very basic and easy and that is simply to vote their local public library and for politicians who support libraries. They can even take the pledge to commit to supporting libraries at action.everylibrary.org. The next thing people can do is contact their state and national representatives and ask them to support libraries. They can do that at action.everylibrary.org/emailreps. Finally, if anyone would like to get involved in supporting libraries across the country, we have plenty of opportunities to get volunteer or donate at everylibrary.org.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, leadership seems to be a lot more about getting out of the way of good people doing good work and supporting them by ensuring that they have access to the resources they need to do their best work. That often means trusting the people that I hired and trained to do their jobs while doing the background work of establishing organizational structures like budgets and strategic plans and building networks and connections that they can use to truly excel. I believe that really great leaders work for the people who they are leading and not the other way around.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement that I would want to inspire is a movement around science, inquiry, and education. I think we are seeing one of the most dramatic declines in support for experts and professionals and that will be one of the biggest hurdles for America as we compete with other countries. We have to have a strong foundation in science and learning and education if we want to secure a future of American innovation. We have to throw away our obsession with fake news, false information and conspiracies and exchange them for truth, facts, and learning.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“People don’t do things for you because they like you, they do things for you because they perceive that you like them.”

At one point, in our early years, we were asked why it was that we thought people did things for us. For example, why would my friend help me move? Was is because my friend liked me? Well, the psychological research actually suggests that my friend is more motivated to help me move because he perceives that I like him than simply because he likes me.

This idea has helped shape all of our work. What this means is that if you want to inspire people to take part in your movement or activity then you have to put forth the perception that you like the people that you are trying to inspire. What is most interesting about this is that it puts the entire responsibility of relationship building on ourselves. We have to work to ensure that the people that we are leading understand that we are there for them.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would have lunch with just about anyone who is interested in helping us fight for libraries across the country. I’d love to spend some time chatting with political leaders, foundation and non-profit directors, or with for profit executives about different ways that we can work together to ensure that Americans aren’t denied access to such a critical and valuable resource. But, on a personal note, I’d love to sit down and chat with Dolly Parton because I think she is doing some amazing work around literacy and I think it would just be an incredibly fun and positive experience to meet her.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Right now we are trying to find one million Americans who love libraries on Facebook. I would ask that everyone who cares about libraries and literacy go to facebook.com/everylibrary and like our page and then invite all of their friends.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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