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Book review — How do we love thee, public library? Robert Dawson counts the ways


[Roberta reviews a photographer’s attempt to document American public libraries. The resulting tome provides a good public service for all. — the Artblog editors] the public library, robert dawson, book review

Dawson’s citizen-archiving

Robert Dawson‘s photo book, The Public Library, is a wonderful example of citizen-archiving. Dawson is not an academic; he’s a photographer and a library-lover, and his 192-page hardcover book trumpets its library love with straightforward joy and ownership, like a volunteer marching band playing a Sousa march in your neighborhood Fourth of July parade. The many color and black-and-white photos taken by the photographer over the last 18 years of traveling around the US are great. And short essays and reflections by notable reader/writers like Bill Moyers, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, and others echo Dawson’s drum beat of enthusiasm.

My only complaint is that each photo deserves to be on its own photo plate page. A large number are–and some are even allowed to bleed to the edge of the page, giving you the richness some of these architectural spaces deserve (the dome of the Milwaukee Public Library on p. 117; the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Civic Center Library in San Rafael, CA on p. 118.)

The book is like an encyclopedia

This isn’t an art book or an architecture book, or a scholarly textbook. It’s a hybrid that feels more like an encyclopedia or atlas–more utilitarian than gorgeous, kind of like its subject. It’s an act of generosity to document these great and modest buildings with their collections of so much more than books these days. (I hear there is a library-kitchen–Culinary Literacy Center!–in the Philadelphia Free Library main branch, for educating people about nutrition and how to cook!)

Libraries as democracy in action

Free for all, a repository of our literature, scholarship, and even ephemera, a meeting place; a place where children can learn to dream big and escape the sometimes chaotic world outside–is there any doubt the public library is one of the most amazing pieces of our democracy?

The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson, Foreword by Bill Moyers, Afterword by Ann PatchettPrinceton Architectural Press, New York, 2014 ISBN 9781616892173, Publication date 03/15/2014, 8″ x 9″ (20.3 x 22.9 cm), Hardcover 192 pages, 100 color illustrations, 75 b/w illustrations