November 27, 2015

Story Sailboat Takes Books to the Bay

PC Sweeney at the helm

PC Sweeney at the helm

Librarian Patrick “P.C.” Sweeney has found a way to combine his ruling passions: books and boats. By day he manages the East Palo Alto and Portola Valley Libraries for the San Mateo County Library; by night (and weekend) he and partner Joey Elle Lehnhard live on one sailboat–the Surprise Me Too—and sail another, a smaller Santana 22 named Sailboat Jerry. (Lehnhard, a science and math teacher in East Palo Alto, previously worked with the African Library Project.)

Sweeney said he got the idea to turn the Santana into the Story Sailboat from a confluence of conversations. He’d discussed the idea of bookmobiles by water with fellow librarian and 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker Andrea Davis a couple of years ago. He liked the idea of “guerilla libraries and libraries in unexpected places” which has been popping up all over the place, and then he read about the Urban Libraries Unite doing a book seeding. “I put all those things together,” he said, and the project was born.

Though the long term goal is “an epic project to travel the world by sailboat collecting the stories of coastal people and relaying them to the world while providing literacy training to the local people,” the first iteration sticks closer to home: Sweeney and Lehnhard plan to travel the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento Delta, including some otherwise hard to reach coastal communities, giving out 1000 books and installing 100 guerilla libraries throughout the summer of 2012.

Though Sweeney already had the boat and the books (people give him books, he said, as soon as they hear he’s a librarian), the Story Sailboat needed new sails to be safe for longer trips and rougher weather, so he put up a campaign to raise $2000 on crowdsourcing site Indiegogo. (Indiegogo is similar to Kickstarter, but permits fundraising for awareness campaigns, which Kickstarter does not.)

Sweeney wasn’t sure what kind of response he’d get, but as it turned out, the campaign reached its goal in only two weeks. With 30 days still to go, Sweeney says any additional funds could be used to fix up other things about the boat and to buy new books instead of using donated ones.

The books are marked with a Story Sailboat sticker on the cover and literacy facts on the inside but there is, alas, no similar marking for the boat itself. “It would be cool to put something on the sail so they see a big sign,” said Sweeney, “but that kind of custom printing on sails is really expensive.”

In the future, Sweeney wants to expand the Story Sailboat into a “full-fledged non-profit” and to get a bigger boat that people could come on board like a bookmobile. “Andrea and Joey and I have talked about different ways to do that a bunch of times. It’s definitely a big long term goal,” he said. Another long term goal is to rebuild the ocean-going Surprise Me Too for longer voyages. But in the meantime, though they hope to hit their goal numbers by the end of the summer, there’s no end in sight for the smaller Story Sailboat. “We just want to keep doing it,” said Sweeney. “There’s no real end to giving away the books.”

Sweeney also plans to bring his crowdsourcing experience to bear on his work for San Mateo. “I have a couple ideas for projects with the library system,” he said, “but I didn’t want my first Indiegogo experience to be a failure with the library’s name on it.”

This isn’t Sweeney’s first time traveling for libraries: he accompanied LJ’s Josh Hadro and 2010 LJ Mover & Shaker Lisa Carlucci Thomas earlier this year for the Great Library Roadshow.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz ( is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. Soooo excited to see this project funded and on the way to reality. Many good evenings spent on deck discussing options, and now here’s the living proof of #makeithappen – high5!

  2. Best wishes to P.C. and Joey! Looking forward to hearing more about the Story Sailboat.

  3. Outtasite!

  4. Congratulations!!!