Monday, October 24, 2011

Saving Public Libraries in Pictures: Photographer Robert Dawson's Library Road Trip Across USA

Mark Twain branch, Detroit, MI--CLOSED
I wrote in my recent post on bookstores closing that at least libraries, though suffering, still remain. Apparently, not all. Photographer Robert Dawson has been documenting hundreds of the 17,000 public libraries across the United States since 1994, some open, some shut down, some endangered. It's a journey he chronicles in pictures and words on his website Library Road Trip. This past summer he and his son Walker traveled through 23 states, completing 17 years of fieldwork on what he calls "this precious American resource."

 With plans to exhibit and publish his work, Dawson has photographed everything from the grandest architectural treasures that evidence our nation's history to the humblest of dwellings that shelter our shared intellect. And just in time, too. Some of the structures he surveyed may soon no longer stand, such as Oakland's plan to close down 14 of its 18 libraries in public trust. "The 'All Cuts' proposal calls for 198 full time library jobs to be eliminated out of 367 citywide," according to the Save Oakland Libraries coalition. Well that statement speaks volumes about what Dawson calls "our culture's relationship to libraries and their role in contemporary American society"!
Photographer Robert Dawson blogging at Howe Library in Hanover, NH
"In the nineteenth century there was a strong correlation between the public library movement and the movement for public education. People understood that the future of democracy is contingent on an educated citizenry. They also felt that every citizen should have the right of free access to community-owned resources. These ideas coalesced into today’s public libraries which function as a system of non-commercial centers that help us define what we value and what we share." -- Robert Dawson

To learn more about the Library Project, watch Dawson's lovely 2 1/2 minute video, American Commons: Photographing Libraries Across the Nation. (I'll embed it here if/when the site allows.)

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