One of the best books I read this year and a truly important reading experience is The Public Library, a photographic essay by Robert Dawson. Published by Princeton Architectural Press, this is a gorgeously designed book of photos and essays on American public libraries, which I could not stop paging through.
Right now, you are probably thinking you know what the book is and agree with me that it's important and yet you likely have no interest in paging through it. A book like this is a good thing, but you already value libraries, right? You think you don't need this one.
Allow me to convince you otherwise.
I know public libraries matter on many levels. My hometown library had a huge influence on my life and I know that sentiment is the same for a lot of other people. So I approached The Public Library expecting an appreciation and I certainly was not disappointed on that score. But there is a lot more going on in this book, in the essays (by Bill Moyers, Ann Patchett, Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver and more) and the photos.
Dawson shows libraries in a variety of situations: urban and rural, small communities and large, in remote locations and city centers. The design differences are amazing and the closed facilities are heartbreaking but what really got to me was seeing how really useful the libraries are in unexpected ways. Also, the issue of homeless patrons came up several times and the essayists were pretty blunt on that subject.
While I was reading The Public Library and pouring over the photos, what struck me time and again was that open, free libraries are not a gift for a community, but a necessity. They are an equalizing force between the rich and poor and as significant as schools and the right to vote. They can make the difference for so much that might be missing in your life and be a game-changer in so many ways.
The best case scenario would find all of our elected officials sitting down and reading this book. It's the type of title that makes you think and inspires action. (I feel like I'm getting almost silly about libraries right now but I can't help it; just looking at these pictures touched my heart.)
The Public Library--obvious choice for book lovers but an even more important one for folks who just don't get it yet and need to be persuaded.
Listen to an interview with Robert Dawson at NPR.
[Post pics from the book.]