The very existence of libraries affords the best evidence that we may yet have hope for the future of man. T.S. Eliot
This project is a photographic survey of public libraries throughout the United States. There are over 17,000 public libraries in this country. Since I began the project in 1994 I have photographed hundreds of libraries in nineteen states. From Alaska to Florida and from New England to California the photographs show a vibrant, essential yet threatened system.
As a photographer I have committed my life work to investigating "the commons" - the things that we share as a nation - our environment, our infrastructure, our culture - the things that keep our society civil and working. For communities across the country, libraries offer free access to information and education, a sanctuary, and hope for the future.
Libraries are local but I chose to view this astonishing system as a whole. While each library has its own unique set of needs the nation-wide system of local libraries constitutes an important part of a healthy society. In the nineteenth century there was a strong correlation between the public library movement and the movement for public education. People understood that the future of democracy is contingent on an educated citizenry. They also felt that every citizen should have the right of free access to community-owned resources. These ideas coalesced into today’s public libraries which function as a system of non-commercial centers that help us define what we value and what we share.
Starting in San Francisco on June 24, 2011 my son Walker and I will be driving for seven weeks through 22 states photographing public libraries. The work from this journey will help complete my project. The money raised through Kickstarter will fund my travel and photography expenses. The completed work will become the basis for a future, large-scale Public Library book and a traveling exhibition.
After 17 years of research, the time for me to finish this project is now. Libraries are under attack today. During the Great Depression, not a single library was closed. Now, as wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of fewer people, what is left for the rest of us? No matter our political persuasions or cultural differences, libraries connect us all. This is our American Commons. Help keep it that way.
You can follow my progress on the road at Library Road Trip.