Robert Dawson

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Here’s Why We Need to Protect Public Libraries

We live in a “diverse and often fractious country,” writes Robert Dawson, but there are some things that unite us—among them, our love of libraries. “A locally governed and tax-supported system that dispenses knowledge and information for everyone throughout the country at no cost to its patrons is an astonishing thing,” the photographer writes in the introduction to his book, The Public Library: A Photographic Essay. “It is a shared commons of our ambitions, our dreams, our memories, our culture, and ourselves.”

But what do these places look like? Over the course of 18 years, Dawson found out. Inspired by “the long history of photographic survey projects,” he traveled thousands of miles and photographed hundreds of public libraries in nearly all 50 states. Looking at the photos, the conclusion is unavoidable: American libraries are as diverse as Americans. They’re large and small, old and new, urban and rural, and in poor and wealthy communities. Architecturally, they represent a range of styles, from the grand main branch of the New York Public Library to the humble trailer that serves as a library in Death Valley National Park, the hottest place on Earth. “Because they’re all locally funded, libraries reflect the communities they’re in,” Dawson said in an interview. “The diversity reflects who we are as a people.”

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Rudy’s Library in Monowi, Nebraska – one of the many soul-warming photographs in Robert Dawson’s visual love letter to public libraries:

The entire population of this town consists of one woman, Elsie Eller. It is the only incorporated municipality in the United States with such a demographic. She acts as mayor and runs the only business in town, a local roadhouse. Over the years she watched all the other town residents move or pass away. When her husband, Rudy Eller, died in 2004, she became the town’s last resident. Because Rudy had collected so many books, she decided to open Rudy’s lLIbrary in a small shed next to her home. This memorial to Rudy is free and open to all. Patrons can check out books by signing a notebook. A wooden sign in the corner simply states “Rudy’s Dream.”

More such treats here.

Not my photo // My edit