The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man.
—T. S. Eliot
This project is a photographic survey of public libraries throughout the United States featuring essays on libraries and the public commons from prominent American writers. It is slated to be published in 2013 by Princeton Architectural Press.
There are over 17,000 public libraries in this country. Since I began the project in 1994, I have photographed hundreds of libraries in thirty-eight states. From Alaska to Florida, New England to the West Coast, the photographs reveal a vibrant, essential, yet threatened system.
For the past two centuries public libraries in America have functioned as a system of noncommercial centers that help us define what we value and what we share. The modern library in the computer age is in the midst of reinventing itself. What belongs in a library? In what form do we want to preserve information and culture? More books are being published than ever before, yet library budgets are shrinking and many local branches operate under a constant, very real threat of closure. More is also being demanded of our libraries, as they move beyond their role as centers for books and knowledge to becoming centers for community.
A public library can mean different things to different people. For me, the library offers our best example of the public commons. For many, the library upholds the nineteenth-century belief that the future of democracy is contingent upon an educated citizenry. For others, the library simply means free access to the Internet, or a warm place to take shelter, a chance for an education, or the endless possibilities that jump to life in your imagination the moment you open the cover of a book.
What does a library mean to you?
Public Library: An American Commons is shot on film using large format and medium format cameras.
Book: Check back here for announcements about contributing writers.
Blog: Follow Robert Dawson on the road this summer as he completes the project: Library Road Trip
Library and Book Tour: Coming in 2013/2014
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