As we all know, COVID-19 has vastly impacted the world, including libraries. We recently chatted with Patrick “PC” Sweeney, the political director of EveryLibrary, a non-profit companion organization that commits to securing public and political support for library funding. Sweeney, a recipient of Library Journal’s Movers & Shakers award and the 40 Under 40 award by the American Association of Political Consultants, has raised more than $1.7 billion dollars in stable funding. The entrepreneur, lecturer, speaker, and co-author with John Chrastka (Winning Elections and Influencing Politicians for Library Funding and Before the Ballot: Building Support for Library Funding, both published by ALA Neil-Schuman) details how the pandemic has impacted libraries, his role at EveryLibrary and their HALO Fund, how the masses can support libraries, how being a latchkey kid influenced his career, his advice for those in the book world going forward, and more!
So Booking Cool: What are some of the ways in which libraries have been affected by the pandemic and why?
Patrick “PC” Sweeney: Libraries have been affected in a wide number of ways. Of course, our buildings are closed to the public and many libraries have attempted to pivot to online services with databases, ebooks, and videos. Library staff continue to expand access to digital resources, launch virtual programs, coordinate local services and information, adapt in-person programs such as online delivery, and coordinate services with local government agencies. Many libraries subscribe to platforms that let you download and watch movies and television shows like Netflix except it’s free.
The most substantial way that libraries have been impacted though is through the loss of tax revenue. Most libraries are dependent on sales tax or property tax revenue to keep their doors open. In fact, about 98% of library funding is tax revenue from the local community, the state, or the federal government. With the significant loss of sales tax, many libraries are going to have to lay off or furlough staff, reduce the hours that people can go to the library, or even shut down. This is going to impact school libraries the worst, and we are already seeing hundreds of districts eliminate their school library programs because so many schools have lost so much revenue.
The worst part about this is that millions of Americans rely on libraries to apply for jobs. That’s because almost all jobs require internet access to apply. Right now, Internet Service Providers have committed to not cut off people’s internet access, but when America re-opens that deal is over and millions of Americans will lose internet access. So, how will they get themselves back to work? There are more libraries in the country than Starbucks or McDonald’s, and almost every town in the country has a library, which makes it the largest social and educational infrastructure in the country and in most small towns in rural America, it’s the the only place where someone can get in-person job application help or access to the internet to even apply for jobs. Americans are really going to struggle without this critical lifeline.
SBC: Tell us about the Help a Library Worker Out (HALO) Fund.
PS: Library workers tirelessly support their communities through the provision of resources, programming, and materials and especially job and career help. As we discussed, millions of Americans are out of work and that includes thousands of librarians.
The Help a Library Worker Out Fund (or HALO Fund) is a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to help support library workers, librarians, and staff who are facing unexpected financial difficulties because of the Coronavirus and resulting economic slowdown. This isn’t enough money to cover all of life or anything like that, it was designed as a stop-gap measure because unemployment and other benefits were taking 4-6 weeks to be processed because so many Americans were out of work. So far we’ve given out nearly $70,000 in small cost of living grants of around $200-$250 each. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough for things like groceries.
The response has been incredible and so many people have made contributions to help support this program. We couldn’t do it without them. The more money we raise the more people we can help. In fact, here are some things that people are saying:
This is groceries for my family until unemployment starts.” – SC
“This will help me cover the cost of my medications while my library is closed. I’m only part-time so I don’t have insurance to help.” – DB
“This donation will be such a blessing in my life this week. I truly appreciate it.” – KS
Donations for the charitable HALO fund can be made on the EveryLibrary Institute website at: http://www.everylibraryinstitute.org/halo.
SBC: Is there anything the masses can do to help build library support?
PS: There are many things that you can do to help us build library support. The quickest and easiest thing you can do is like us on Facebook and invite your friends. If we can find one million Americans who love libraries on our FB page, that would really show that Americans love libraries. It will also help us reach more Americans like you who care about libraries, and when a library is threatened we’ll be able to reach more people with petitions and actions to help push back against library cuts. Of course, you can always donate to us! Donations to EveryLibrary contribute to local library campaigns and enable EveryLibrary to provide services to libraries at no cost.
Money from donors is used to provide national voter education about the importance and impact of libraries, helps us support library campaigns and ballot measures, and ensures that we can pressure government officials to fund out nation’s libraries. Your donations really contribute a lot. For every $10 we raise, we can reach 1,000 Americans with petitions and calls for action to support libraries. For every $1 spent on a political campaign for a library, $1600 is returned to the library industry. That means that if we raise $100, we can ensure over $160,000 in stable library funding. Donations can be made on the EveryLibrary website at action.everylibrary.org/donate where donors can give a one-time pledge or a monthly amount.
EveryLibrary has provided donor-supported pro-bono advising and consulting to 113 library campaigns, helping them win over $328 million annually in stable tax funding.
SBC: As political director, what is your role at EveryLibrary?
PS: My role at EveryLibrary is to help libraries run successful political campaigns and initiatives. To date my role at EveryLibrary has helped libraries establish over $1.7 billion dollars in stable funding.
SBC: How are you holding up and managing during the COVID-19?
PS: Actually surprisingly well. My wife bought a house and we closed about 2 days before the shut down and made it out just in time. We’re on a weird island on the Chesapeake so we’re very secluded. Before this we lived in Brooklyn so we’re lucky to have gotten out. I also travel so much for work that it makes it hard to get to a lot of things and its easy to fall behind when youre on a plane or on your way to and from the airports 10-20 hours a week. This hiatus on travel has really allowed us to catch up on so many things that I think, as an organization, we’ll come out stronger on the other side of this crisis. We’ve really refocused on a number of areas that were falling behind before.
SBC: When and how did your passion for libraries begin?
PS: When I was 6-7 years old I was a latchkey kid and many days after school I would find myself in my library in Tucson AZ. My childhood librarian was named Bobbi Bargs and she is really the one that introduced me to a lot of the things that I’m passionate about now. She even put me “in charge” of the Reading Rainbow collection and I was absolutely sure that it was my job to make sure that the books that were on Reading Rainbow had one of those stickers on the spine.
But then what really made me love the library was that I could always check out dozens of books and it was like a real feeling of responsibility. Plus, I found a couple of things in those books that wound up shaping my life choices. For example, I read something about sailing, I can’t remember which book it was, but I immediately fell in love with the idea and later in life, I wound up getting my captain’s license. So really, I think libraries are so important because they really help shape people’s lives and help them understand the thousands of options that are available to them later in life.
SBC: What advice do you have for people in the book world at this time and going forward?
PS: My biggest advice for people in the book world is really around ensuring that we keep these resources open. Libraries are one of the largest purchasing agents of books whether that’s eBooks or print and there are many books that became popular almost entirely because of the library and librarians recommendation. If you are an author and you want to get your book into libraries, don’t just start messaging librarians on social media and asking them to carry your book. We get thousands of those requests a year. I get 2-3 a week on Linkedin and I don’t even work in a library. You’re going to have to build real relationships with librarians. But even then, it’s going to be difficult.
You also have to get to know a library’s collection development policy. Most libraries don’t carry self-published books because they are typically poorly edited and there’s no way to ensure that the information in the book is of high quality. That’s why libraries prefer to purchase from trusted publishers. Becoming an author is a lot tougher than it sounds and a better way to get published and into libraries would be to start building your networks of other authors and publishers. It’s really just about who you know.
SBC: What has been your journey as an author and what have you learned along the way and as you reflect now?
PS: I thought writing a book and getting published was going to be a lot easier than it was. It was a long journey, and the first book took years to complete. Even then, I had strong relationships with publishers and it still took longer to get published than I thought it would. The second book was easier because my business partner was the lead writer on that one. But unless you have a best seller, it’s not really a way to make money.
It took countless hours to write the book and if I look at how much I’ve made and how many hours I spent writing, I would guess that I’ve made about 80 cents an hour for my work. Of course, I’m writing for a very tiny market. But I thought I would at least hit minimum wage by now. Even so, I would do everything exactly the same because I really enjoyed writing and the whole process. So I would say something cliche here like, you have to love the process if you want to be a successful writer.