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The Public Library: A Photographic Essay Hardcover – April 8, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"For book lovers, library denizens, and fans of architecture or Americana, The Public Library is a delight." - The Christian Science Monitor

"This collection of photographs and texts of and about libraries--grand or dead, faded or sumptuous--make up a narrative that combines the public sphere with private memory. Robert Dawson's work is an irrefutable argument for the preservation of public libraries. His book is profound and heartbreakingly beautiful." -- Toni Morrison

"This beautifully crafted book celebrates public libraries across the U.S. in both color and black and white images captured by photographer Dawson over an 18-year period. Artfully arranged in such chapters as 'Civic Memory and Identity' and 'Literature and Learning,' the book includes a foreword by Bill Moyers and an afterword by Ann Patchett.. Dawson goes beyond the physical structures and touches on how viscerally and nostalgically Americans feel about public libraries, and suggests that, as a culture, we depend on them more than we know." - Publishers Weekly

"The Public Library is absolutely wonderful in its entirety, at once an ode to the glory of our most democratic institutions and a culturally necessary prompt to defend them like we would defend our freedom to live, learn, and be-a freedom to which the library is our highest celebration." - Brain Pickings

"Rich imagery of libraries across the national and cultural map, from cherished landmarks of the heartland to a Death Valley trailer parked in shade to lessen the heat. Add thoughtful text from the likes of Barbara Kingsolver to Amy Tan, and Dawson's subject goes beyond buildings to celebrate the civic realm." - San Francisco Chronicle

"If you think all public libraries look pretty much the same, well, you need to take a look at this book. Oh, sure, there are plenty of grand ones, such as Philadelphia's own Central Library on the Parkway. But we also have the Fishtown Community Branch, featured in this volume, which used to be a firehouse and, before that, a stable. There's also the log cabin library in Cable, Wis. And many, many more, both grand and humble." - Philadelphia Inquirer

"A book for anyone with a deep and abiding love of libraries. Dawson's latest project is a powerful argument for the continued relevance of our public libraries as information and community centers, even as libraries adapt to changing technological and budgetary landscapes." - Library Journal

"Dawson's project makes a powerful case for how public libraries serve communities in every corner of the country." - The New Yorker's Page Turner blog

About the Author

Robert Dawson's photographs have been recognized by a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize. He is an instructor of photography at San Jose State University and Stanford University.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 161689217X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616892173
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #102,004 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Betty A. Scherrman on April 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bought this with intent to donate it to my local library. Now I am going to buy another copy....well, really, two copies....one for the major donor to the library when we were building it....and,,,one for me. Best coffee table book ever. I am going to put a picture of the James Kennedy Public Library inside the back cover.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Smokeyinsf on April 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I know my level of literacy is very low, but this has been a fantastic read! This book should should be in every public library across the country! What an incredible project.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Robert P Cabaj on April 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Too poor to ever own a book, public libraries were my lifeline through the boredom of grammar school and high school in Mid-West. What a treat!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Patrice Fagnant-macarthur VINE VOICE on July 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
"The Public Library: A Photographic Essay" by Robert Dawson" (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014) is more than simply a collection of beautiful photographs of libraries from around America. While that in itself would make an attractive book, this particular volume contains many reflective essays regarding the history of libraries and their current place in American society.

To complete this project, Dawson spent eighteen years taking pictures of hundreds of libraries in 47 states. He writes, "My photographs capture some of the poorest and wealthiest, oldest and newest, most crowded and most isolated, even abandoned libraries." On a personal note, one of the libraries included is Storrs Library in nearby Longmeadow, Massachusetts - my copy of this book came to me via inter-library loan from that very library.

In the Foreward, Bill Moyers writes that "when a library is open, no matter its size or shape, democracy is open, too." It is a place open to all where knowledge is free for the taking. Because they are open to anyone, libraries frequently become de facto shelters for the homeless. This puts librarians in the difficult position of acting like social workers, trying to help these poor and/or mentally ill get the assistance that they need.

Stuart A.P. Murray offers a historical perspective on how public libraries came to be in this country. There are also essays about the economic challenges libraries face. Ironically, as David Morris, relates, "not a single library closed its doors during the Great Depression [yet] nineteen states cut funding for public libraries in 2011. More than half of the reductions were greater than ten percent." Some of the most heartbreaking images in this book are of closed, run-down libraries.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sleepy Jim on May 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Dawson's lovingly and painstakingly produced photographic survey of a disappearing but tenaciously surviving public resource -- the local public library -- is a testament to its enduring value as a cultural resource, as an open-access storehouse of human knowledge and wisdom, and as a bastion of democracy. Bill Moyer's nostalgic, informative, and inspiring foreword; reflections by literary luminaries such as E. B. White, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Philip Levine, Isaac Asimov, Dr. Suess, Anne Lamott, and others; and Ann Patchett's afterword provide a rich context for viewing Dawson's 18-years-in-the-making photographic survey, which records the incredible depth, breadth, and sheer variety of libraries that, together, comprise "An American Common" ever threatened by budget cuts and the vicissitudes of culture. To quote Bill Moyers: "Who knows where the emerging new commons will take us? But Robert Dawson shows us in this collection what is at stake: when a library is open, no matter what its size or shape, democracy is open, too."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Niki on June 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover
As a Children's Librarian in a public library, this book felt like an old friend! The heartbreaking photos of abandoned libraries struck a deep chord with me. Don't miss this amazing read!!!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sandra Noren on May 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nice collection of pictures and comments on US Public libraries .I plan on donating it to our local library soon.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By groundie on July 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you love libraries, you must get this extremely well-produced book for your coffee table.
There are many pictures of all kinds of libraries across America. We've already picked out several we wish to visit in our travels.
In between pictures, there are short essays by various people including librarians.
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