Friday, July 29, 2011

Please Get Our Best Side

Recently I was at my regular spot by the front door when Robert Dawson appeared at my desk, looking for all the world like a distinguished safari guide. "Hello," he said, "I am traveling around the country taking pictures of libraries, and I wonder if we might take a picture of the outside of your library." Inwardly, I gasped. The outside of our Library is the object of much commentary, almost all of it disparaging. I was simultaneously fascinated and mortified. I tried not to stammer. "Well," I said, "Our building is not very presentable, but-" He quickly assured me that he would take it from far enough away that the crumbling shutters and peeling paint would not show. (I couldn't help but wonder how far away that would have to be.) What did end up on his website is a picture of our front door and steps. You can see the picture and read what they wrote here. There are many fascinating pictures of every size and shape of library across the country.

I discovered that Robert Dawson is a very well known photographer, that he is from Stanford University and has published books based on various photographic projects he has undertaken. Some of them are: The New Deal Legacy Project, The Water in the West Project, the Global Water Project, and the Farewell, Promised Land Project.

When I responded to his request by apologizing for the state of our building, I am sure he must have been remembering many other similar encounters at other libraries which are struggling to maintain the condition of their buildings. This man felt that libraries are important enough to photograph and honor in a collection and book; to travel across the country documenting the diversity of communities and how they honor and preserve their libraries. What does it say about us?

He also took some pictures inside, and I was amazed to see him set up a tripod and drape his jacket over his head as a cowl to shoot the pictures with his 4X4 plate camera. Turns out Robert Dawson is famous for his photographic method, and it makes his photographs rich and timeless.

I did not know any of that as he stood before me, requesting to preserve forever the state of our library's exterior. It showed me so clearly that we never know when or how we might unexpectedly be called upon to account for our condition. How a community treats its public buildings, especially its libraries, speaks volumes about that community.

1 comment:

  1. So well said! Thank You for all that you do(and write) for our library.