The Public Library: A Photographic Essay


This week (April 13-19) is National Library Week, and I just read the perfect book to celebrate it: The Public Library: A Photographic Essay. This beautiful book is comprised of photographs of public libraries across the United States, along with moving essays and reflections on the importance of libraries by notable authors (such as Amy Tan, Ann Patchett, Bill Moyers, E.B. White). The book also discusses the history and development of the public library system, and how the mission of public libraries has evolved over time but still remains vital to our communities and to our democracy.

There are more than 17,000 public libraries in the United States, ranging widely is size and style, and photographer Richard Dawson visited 48 states to photograph them in all their glory. They range from tiny one room structures to grand monuments to the written word; from historic Carnegie buildings to shiny modern architectural designs to libraries in strip malls. To whet your appetite, you can find a preview of some of the photos on Dawson's website. Even if you are already a library lover (and I hope you are), this book will deepen your appreciation for the institution of public libraries and strengthen your commitment to their future. As Ann Patchett says in her afterword: "So know this- if you love your library, use your library. Support libraries in your words and deeds. If you are fortunate to be able to buy your books, and you have your own computer on which to conduct research, and you're not in search of a story hour for your children, then don't forget about the members of your community who are like you but perhaps lack your resources- the ones who love to read, who long to learn, who need a place to go and sit and think. Make sure that in your good fortune you remember to support their quest for a better life. That's what a library promises us, after all: a better life. And that's what libraries have delivered."

Happy National Library Week! We hope to see you soon at The Urbana Free Library.