03 March, 2015

The Public Library - A photographic essay by Robert Dawson [Ana, Central Library]


I saw this book with photos of libraries and decided to take it home to peruse it in my own time. I was glad I did. The book is interesting not only for its photographs but for the stories.

The book includes great photographs of libraries from all over America - some small, some quirky, and some grandiose. We see the classical grandness of Carnegie West Branch Library in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Central Library in Milwaukee with its dome and columns.  At the other extreme, we are introduced to Rudy’s Library in Monowi,  Nebraska, with a staff of one.  It is run by a woman called Elsie Eiler, who, when her husband Rudy died, decided to open Rudy’s Library - it is just a shed but holds 5,000 volumes.  Another community based library is the Richard F. Boi Memorial Library, the First Little Free Library in Hudson, Wisconsin. The photographs  illustrate the library as a wooden container on a post on Todd Boi’s lawn. It looks like a mailbox but is glass through which you can see the books. A key hangs beside it with the  sign “Little Free Library”.

The book has chapters on Art and Architecture, Evolving Libraries, Literature and Learning, Economics, The American Public Library and ‘Civic Memory and Identity’, with letters by famous authors with comment on what libraries mean to them. It includes  a great chapter titled “How Mr Dewey Decimal Saved My Life” by Barbara Kingsolver. She describes herself as a skinny, grumpy and not very popular girl who made up shocking stories about her home life in order to gain attention. She recalls how the school  librarian, Miss Richey, saved her from herself, when she put her on a project of cataloging and shelving the books in the library! She complained that she didn’t see any point in organizing books that nobody ever looked at, but Miss Richey just smiled. Barbara recalls the process  helped her  to make book loving discoveries of titles such as Gone with the Wind, and the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Between the images and the stories, there really is something for everyone in this book.

Title: The Public Library - a photographic essay
Author: Robert Dawson
ISBN: 9781616892173
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press, New York
Date: 2014

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