Libraries Old And New, Big And Small, At The Core Of Communities

Cover_The_Public_Library_bookThis book by Robert Dawson pays attention to one of the institutions we care most about, libraries–specifically public ones. Why do we care so much about them? Because of the essential role they play in so many communities, both small and large, with regard to education and egalitarian opportunity.

Toni Morrison’s assessment of the book is that “Robert Dawson’s work is an irrefutable argument for the preservation of public libraries. His book is profound and heartbreakingly beautiful.”  From the author/photographer’s own website the text that introduces the work is a mix of promotion and fact:

This project is a photographic survey of public libraries throughout the United States featuring essays on libraries and the public commons from prominent American writers. The book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay will be published in April, 2014 by Princeton Architectural Press. ISBN 978-1-61689-217-3

Smallest library, now closed, Hartland Four Corners, Vermont

There are over 17,000 public libraries in this country. Since I began the project in 1994, I have photographed hundreds of libraries in forty-eight states. From Alaska to Florida, New England to the West Coast, the photographs reveal a vibrant, essential, yet threatened system.

For the past two centuries public libraries in America have functioned as a system of noncommercial centers that help us define what we value and what we share. The modern library in the computer age is in the midst of reinventing itself. What belongs in a library?

Library built by ex-slaves, Allensworth, California

In what form do we want to preserve information and culture? More books are being published than ever before, yet library budgets are shrinking and many local branches operate under a constant, very real threat of closure. More is also being demanded of our libraries, as they move beyond their role as centers for books and knowledge to becoming centers for community.

A public library can mean different things to different people. For me, the library offers our best example of the public commons. For many, the library upholds the nineteenth-century belief that the future of democracy is contingent upon an educated citizenry. For others, the library simply means free access to the Internet, or a warm place to take shelter, a chance for an education, or the endless possibilities that jump to life in your imagination the moment you open the cover of a book.

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First Carnegie Library, Braddock, PA

For more information, press inquiries, or to join the mailing list, please email Robert Dawson at landscape@igc.org. For further information about the book contact Diane Levinson at Princeton Architectural Press at diane@papress, 212 995-9620 ext. 214. Princeton’s address is http://www.papress.com

6 thoughts on “Libraries Old And New, Big And Small, At The Core Of Communities

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