Beautiful Photographs of America’s Diverse Public Libraries

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
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 ( 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.'”