The Public Library

The Public LibraryThe Public Library: a Photographic Essay, by Robert Dawson. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2014. 192 pp.

This book was eighteen years in the making. That is how long it took Dawson to photograph hundreds of public libraries all over the United States as he traveled around on other photographic jobs or on his family vacations.

His purpose was to capture the overwhelming variety of our nation’s public libraries, from the high tech to the one room library, from the urban to the mountaintop, from the architectural beauty to the renovated strip mall.

Surrounding all these photos are brief essays by writers and librarians discussing the relevance of public libraries. Some explain their relevance in the larger sense to the country in historic, cultural, democratic and economic terms. Others explain the relevance of public libraries in the personal sense of what they meant to them as they were growing up. Particularly poignant and humorous are the essays by Barbara Kingsolver, “How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life”, and one by Dorothy Lazard, “Practicing Seva”.

A beautiful visual tribute to a great American institution.

Reviewed by Bob Sibert