The Austin Public Library in Austin, Texas


Budget pressures have forced one of our most beloved institutions — PUBLIC LIBRARIES — to reduce services or even close. San Francisco-based Robert Dawson, a photography instructor at Stanford and San Jose State University in California, draws attention to the plight by capturing the images of 150 libraries, from the grand to the humble, in his new book, The Public Library: A Photographic Essay.

AMERICAN WAY: Why a photo-essay book?
ROBERT DAWSON: I wanted people to see the beauty and importance of the library — and what we could potentially lose.
Robert Dawson

AW: With the availability of technology, are libraries still relevant?
RD: They are a repository of knowledge of what we know in the world in one place, with people who can give us access to that information. It’s different from going on the Internet.

AW: Which ones stood out to you the most?
RD: The reading room of the New York Public Library — it sums up what that magnificent big library is all about. A library in Cass Lake, Minn., that has pictures of beauty queens from the town’s beauty contests. And a library in Austin, Texas, that used to be a nightclub and has a fancy nightclub exterior.

AW: What surprised you about the libraries?
RD: Their vitality. In some of the big city li­braries, huge crowds of people were waiting for the doors to open.

AW: What’s the best thing about a library?
RD: There’s nothing else like it. It’s a noncommercial space that you can go in and not have to buy anything. You can just go and be.