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Library of Congress Acquires Robert Dawson’s Images of Public Libraries

The Library of Congress has acquired 681 photographs from “The Public Library: An American Commons,” a photographic survey by Robert Dawson of public libraries in the United States. The photographs significantly expand the Library’s holdings that describe the American public library—as architecture, community spaces and a reflection of the contemporary social landscape.
“Robert Dawson’s extensive survey provided the perfect opportunity for the Library of Congress to represent the public library’s role in the 21st century. His photographs also offer a fascinating comparison to our interior and exterior views of libraries newly built at the start of the 20th century,” said Helena Zinkham, director for Collections and Services at the Library of Congress.
From 1994 to 2015, Dawson photographed 526 of the 16,536 public libraries in 48 states and the District of Columbia, often traveling more than 11,000 miles at a time on summer “road trips” with his son Walker Dawson. The images provide documentation of the wide range of architecture of public libraries in America, from those on small-town streets, in shopping malls, on Indian reservations, in national parks and in large cities. The photographs show the role of public libraries, not only as a source for information and knowledge but also as a public commons.