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One for the books: America’s most curious, colorful libraries


  • Slideshow Photos

    The Public Library: America's heart and identity in 18 years of photographs

    Don't judge these books by their covers - even libraries come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Photographer Robert Dawson presents a visual tour of the various public libraries across America.

  • The Public Library: America's heart and identity in 18 years of photographs

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    The Public Library

    Photographer Robert Dawson has spent the last 18 years crisscrossing the United States documenting public libraries, from the big and grandiose to the small and humble. Although some may consider the subject to be mundane, Dawson believes that public libraries represent the heart and identity of American civic life, and his photographs are poignant snapshots of these endangered cultural sanctuaries. His collection of photos have been pulled together to make the book "The Public Library."

    Sculpture, cliffs and Springdale Branch Library
    Springdale, Utah, 2012

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    First Little Free Library

    Little Free Library is a community movement that spans the globe, started by Todd Boi and now codirected by Rick Brooks. Boi started the idea as a tribute to his mother, who was a book lover and schoolteacher. He mounted a wooden container designed to look like a schoolhouse on a post on his lawn.
    Library owners can create their own library box, usually about the size of a dollhouse, or purchase one from the movement’s website (littlefreelibrary.org). They're often emblazoned with the phrase “Take a Book. Leave a Book.”
    Photographer Robert Dawson notes, "The day I photographed the first Little Free Library, Boi opened its door, and it began to play “The Impossible Dream.”

    Richard F. Boi Memorial Library
    First Little Free Library
    Hudson, Wisconsin, 2012

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    Yarborough Branch Library

    This branch library is housed in the former Americana Theater building.

    Yarborough Branch Library
    Austin, Texas, 2011

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    Willard Library

    The Willard Library, built in 1885, is the oldest public library building in the state of Indiana and is housed in a spectacular Victorian edifice.
    The Willard Library has also been called America's only haunted public library. While photographing a remote, dark corner of the interior of the library, Dawson thought he saw the resident ghost. But he wasn’t sure.
    Live GhostCams are currently watching for the Grey Lady at willardghost.com

    Willard Library
    Evansville, Indiana, 2011

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    Mill Valley Public Library

    The Friends of the Mill Valley Public Library's mission statement is to provide the opportunity for knowledge and personal enrichment, to furnish a variety of library materials and resources reflecting the needs of the Community, and to encourage children to read.

    Redwoods, Mill Valley Public Library
    Mill Valley, California, 2012

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    Storrs Library

    Storrs Library
    Longmeadow, Massachussets, 2011

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    Library, Roscoe, South Dakota

    This 12 by 14 foot building was considered one of the smallest public libraries in the nation and was built in 1932 in the small town of Roscoe, Noth Dakota by a group of civic-minded women called the Priscilla Embroidery Club.
    The land for the library was donated and the women hauled the rocks for the chimney and foundation while their husbands constructed the building. The eight women of the club took turns being the librarian and maintaining the yard and building. Most books were bought by the clubwomen but many books were donated by people in the community.
    Approximately 1,500 books were in the library when it closed in 2002 when the aging members of the Priscilla Club were no longer able to maintain and operate the library.

    Library
    Roscoe, South Dakota, 2012

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    Queens Library Bookmobile

    Dawson's photo was taken after Hurricane Sandy sent four feet of dirty salt water through the plate glass windows, destroying everything.

    Queens Library Bookmobile
    Rockaway, New York, 2012

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    African American Museum & Library at Oakland

    This reference library’s collection consists of approximately 12,000 volumes by or about African Americans. Its two galleries show changing exhibitions on art, history, and culture.
    This unique public/private partnership is housed in the former Charles S. Greene Library, a historic Carnegie building that served as the main library for Oakland from 1902 until 1951.

    African American Museum & Library
    Oakland, California, 2011

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    Central Library

    Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus were principal designers for this library that opened in 2004.

    Central Library
    Seattle, Washington, 2009

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    Library built by ex-slaves

    This library is a re-creation of the original, in what is now called Col. Allensworth State Historic Park.
    Allen Allensworth was born a slave in Kentucky in 1842. He later became a petty officer in the US Navy, a Baptist minister and a Chaplin in the US Army. He founded a California Colony in Tulare County that continued for several years during the early part of the 20th century.

    Mary Dickerson Memorial Library
    Allensworth, California 1995

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson
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    George Washington Carver Branch Library

    This mural by John Fisher covers a wall of the branch library. It depicts the horrors of the slave trade and celebrates African-American culture. Black citizens in East Austin had strongly advocated for a library in their community, and this was the first branch library to serve them.

    George Washington Carver Branch Library
    Austin, Texas, 2011

    All photos are from The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson Published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2014. The book includes reflections on libraries from Dr. Seuss, Amy Tan, E.B. White and others.

    Robert Dawson / Robert Dawson


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