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

4.7 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"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

"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

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

"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

"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

"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

"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

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; F First Edition edition (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: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #320,851 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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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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As a retired public library and academic library employee, and bibliophile, I found this book to be quite satisfactory. The author and his son spent years locating and documenting libraries around the country - immense and tiny, traditional and modern, city and country. The Library of Congress considered the work to be of such value that it purchased his entire collection of images, negatives, digital images, and notes for its archive.
The photography is excellent. The texts by prominent personalities and popular authors are thought provoking. The reproduction is superb.
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Gave as a gift to a librarian who appreciated and is enjoying it. That it is divided into topic categories seems perfectly suited for librarians. I've enjoyed reading it too since libraries have been such an important part of my life.
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