Beautiful Photographs of America’s Diverse Public Libraries

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Bibliophiles and philistines alike must agree on this: libraries are beautiful shrines of knowledge, and no two are quite alike. Photographer Robert Dawson explores this tenet in his new book, The Public Library: A Photographic Essay, which features gorgeous photos of America’s libraries, big and small, alongside essays by Ann Patchett, Bill Moyers, Amy Tan, Anne Lamott, and Barbara Kingsolver, among others. From the community movement of the “Little Free Library” in Hudson, Wisconsin, where books are left for the taking in a glorified mailbox, to the Willard Library of Evansville, Indiana, which is reportedly haunted by a ghost called the Grey Lady, the libraries shown here will elicit sighs of awe from even the most casual reader.

The Princeton Architectural Press has provided a gallery of some of these word-castles, complete with lovely little stories from Dawson for when the photo alone just isn’t enough.

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

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

Robert Dawson: “Little Free Library is a community movement in the United States and worldwide 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 often have the phrase ‘Take a Book. Leave a Book.’ The day I photographed this first Little Free Library, Boi opened its door, and it began to play ‘The Impossible Dream.'”

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

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

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

Exterior, Willard Library, Evansville, Indiana, 2011.

“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 the only public library that is haunted. While photographing a remote, dark corner of the interior of the library, I thought I saw the resident ghost. But I wasn’t sure. Live GhostCams are currently watching for the Grey Lady at willardghost.com.”

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

George Washington Carver Branch Library, Austin, Texas, 2011.

“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.”

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

After Hurricane Sandy, Queens Library bookmobile, the Rockaways, Queens, New York, 2012.

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

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

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

The Globe Chandelier near Children’s Library, Central Library, Los Angeles, California, 2008.

“The chandelier is a model of the solar system. Signs of the zodiac ring the globe, along with forty-eight lights around the rim, which represent the forty-eight United States in 1926, when the building opened. It was designed by Goodhue Associates and modeled by Lee Lawrie. The mural beneath the chandelier by John Fisher is titled Sesquicentennial.”

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

Super Bingo, Family Dollar, and Mockingbird Branch Library, Abilene, Texas, 2011.

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

Library built by ex-slaves, Allensworth, California, 1995.

“Allen Allensworth began his remarkable life as a slave in Kentucky in 1842. He later became a petty officer in the US Navy, a Baptist minister, and a chaplain in the US Army. He founded the California Colony of Allensworth, which existed for several years during the early part of the twentieth century in Tulare County. The library is a re-creation of the original, in what is now called Col. Allensworth State Historic Park.”

Photo credit: Robert Dawson

Central Library, Seattle, Washington, 2009.

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