The Public Library: A Photographic Essay, by Robert Dawson, is both a tribute to the wonderful world of public libraries and an argument for their preservation and appreciation. I loved the stunning photos and the interesting accompanying essays. The entire time I was perusing this book, I was thinking about how much this book would appeal to my friend, Amy (a fellow blogger and writer who happens to be a proud librarian and staunch defender of the public library).
Pair beautiful photography with earnest writing about the importance of books and libraries and you've got quite a hit, in my opinion. Robert Dawson, over a span of eighteen years, toured the United States accumulating a wide collection of photos of public libraries. In these photos he captures the essence of the beauty of general access to literature. The photos include big and small, rich and poor, elegant and dingy public libraries across our nation.
The essays (by authors like Anne Lamott and Amy Tan) were equally inspiring. I especially loved the spunky essay, "How Mr. Dewey Decimal Saved My Life," written by Barbara Kingsolver (despite the final few paragraphs where she railed on about evolution and the dreadful consequences of the horrid people who believe in "Special Creation" - her premise about the pitfalls of censorship was valid). It presented a true, oft-experienced, lesson on how reading can make a significant difference in a person's life. I also loved the letters sent by Isaac Asimov, Dr. Seuss, and E.B. White to the children of the library in Troy, Michigan.
When I came upon photos of libraries in El Paso, Texas, and Key West, Florida, I wondered to myself whether my relatives who have lived in those locations ever frequented those edifaces and how often (surely they don't go to the library as frequently as I do, but what a shame if they ignored them altogether). The photos made me want to visit various libraries, the way Bob Hostetler visits various churches in his Desperate Pastor blog. Libraries are a certain kind of sanctuary to me.
While I checked this book out from my public library (a place I am so tremendously grateful for, despite having to pay almost a hundred dollars yearly for the privilege of its use since I live in another town, where we have no town library), it is a book I would happily own and place on my own coffee table. That is, if I had a coffee table. Alas, I don't. Instead, I present it here with a recommendation to seek out your nearest public library and see if they carry a copy of this fine book. If you love books and libraries, you may just run out and buy it for yourself.