El Rito, New Mexico
Robert Dawson El Rito, New Mexico

For 21 years, San Francisco–based photographer Robert Dawson embarked on thousands of miles of roads across the U.S. capturing public libraries with his son, Walker Dawson. During this photographic excursion, he was able to snap 526 different sites. According to the Library of Congress, there are 16,536 public libraries in the country. And while Dawson's collection may seem like only a measly fraction, it should be noted that this is the largest collection of library pictures the de facto national library has acquired since the turn of the 20th century.

The visual oeuvre, titled “The Public Library: An American Commons,” contains 681 photographs of contemporary libraries in 48 states and Washington, D.C., supplemented by negatives, scans, field notes, correspondence, maps, and other records. The subjects offer an array of architectural forms ranging from cabins in national parks, adobes in the Southwest, and Neoclassical churches in the North. Dawson gave his opus to the Library of Congress as a donation.

Right now, the archive is available for viewing in person by appointment, and will be added to the Library of Congress’ digital catalog. Last year, Princeton Architectural Press, in New York, published the collection as a book


Rainbow Branch Library, in Las Vegas
Robert Dawson Rainbow Branch Library, in Las Vegas
A library in Fairplay, Colorado.
Robert Dawson A library in Fairplay, Colorado.
Grafton, N.H.
Robert Dawson Grafton, N.H.

To see the entire collection, head over to Robert Dawson's website.