A man, his camera and the library: Robert Dawson and the American Commons

the public library dawson

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.  –  Robert Dawson

It is being billed as the most comprehensive visual survey of American libraries ever published. Since 1994 Robert Dawson has been photographing the public libraries of America. Over the years he has traveled to 48 states and imaged hundreds of them.

the public library dawson San Joaquin Valley, CaliforniaSan Joaquin Valley California

Now, thanks to Princeton Architectural Press many of those are gathered in a new book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson. Aside from the powerful images the book features contributions by the likes of Bill Moyers, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Amy Tan, E. B. White, Isaac Asimov, and Dr. Seuss among others.

And it immediately takes its place next to Candida Hofer’s Libraries as a classic in the field.

the public library dawson Brooklyn Public Library, New York

the public library dawson Hartland Four Corners, Vermont.Hartland Four Corners Vermont

the public library dawson 1


the public library dawson Fairhaven, MassachusettsFairhaven, Massachusetts

the public library dawson Shooting guns behind the library, West Wendover, NevadaShooting guns behind the library. West Wendover, Nevada

the public library dawson Gay and Lesbian Center, San Francisco Public LibraryGay and Lesbian Center. San Francisco Public Library

Note: There are 100 color & 75 b/w illustrations in the books. For this post I leaned black-and-white.