Monday, May 12, 2014

The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson | Book Review

I love this book I love this book I love this book!  Also, just a fun fact:  I checked out The Public Library from my public library, creating a small tear in the time-space continuum and leading to a fun conversation with my mom.  ("What a beautiful book!  Who gave it to you?"  "It's a library book."  "I can see that.  Who gave it to you?"  tee hee)  The Public Library is not only filled with beautiful photos of libraries all over our nation, but all filled with essays by such literary greats as Isaac Asimov, Anne Lamott, Amy Tan, and more, about how the public library has impacted them.  Finally, in the captions I found many, many fun facts about lots of libraries.

The author, Robert Dawson, worked on this photographic essay for eighteen years.  Turns out there's a bajillion libraries in America, and it can take a little bit to get around to photographing a good selection of them.  ("Bajillion" may be a slight exaggeration.  It's actually closer to 16, 415.  I got that number from the American Library Association's website, which I trust to be really close to the mark.)  There are big libraries and there are tiny libraries.  There are incredibly affluent libraries and there are incredibly poor libraries.  There are libraries in their own building; there are libraries that share space with post offices.  There are libraries of books and libraries of seeds and libraries of tools.  In short:  a library can be nearly any place where people can come together to share ideas and knowledge and materials.  

The Public Library is a gorgeous book to spend time with.  Robert Dawson mentions his camera a few times in the books as being a large format camera?  I'm not a photographer and don't know exactly what that means, but I can tell you that it leads to crystal-clear images with loads of details.

Of course there were photographs of the big, beautiful libraries:  New York and Salt Lake City and Los Angeles and Seattle.  (In fact, I've heard so much about the Salt Lake City Library that I now want to go there just to visit!  Too bad it's thousands of miles away from me, and the hubby says that a single library isn't quite enough reason to plan an entire vacation out west.)  But there's also the stories of survival librarianship.  There's a photo of a tiny little building on an Indian reservation; the only tiny library for hundreds of miles; the only library for a reservation with a population of 3,300+ people; the home of the only internet-connected computer for 3,300+ people.  And it's being threatened with closure.  There's also a library in Mississippi with a sign on the door informing the patrons that there would be no internet available that day; the librarian had turned off all the lights and the computers in attempt to curb rising temperatures, as the library's air conditioner was broken (and had been for over a year).  In Mississippi!  I want to give some kind of Congressional medal to my colleagues in those trenches.

Finally, the essays:  these eloquent essays by well-known authors intersperse the chapters, expounding on their love of libraries and their support for continuation of library sources.  They are penned by Amy Tan, Isaac Asimov, Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Barbara Kingsolver, Luis Herrara, Anne Lamott, and Ann Patchett, among others.  They're only 2-3 pages each, but they speak volumes.  I can't recommend this book enough, and am adding to my "wish list" to own myself someday.

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