7/21/11 – Understandably, we had to go through several layers of security to be able to photograph in the Main Library in Detroit. However, it was worth it. The library was built when Detroit had the intention of being a world class city. The sudden end of that dream had left a mostly devastated city with a top notch library. According to an article in Huntington Post 50% of Detroit’s population is functionally illiterate. Miles and miles of the city are in ruins. It is the poorest city in the U.S. and one of the most dangerous in the world. Librarian Jeanne Salatheiel took me on a quick tour that brought the library to life. The grand hallways, the beautiful murals, the great collections collectively showed a portrait from another era. Today was the highest recorded temperature for any July 21st in the history of Detroit. Although the library had AC it was hot, even inside. I spent several happily hours photographing this great institution. We then plunged in to the record-breaking heat and humidity. We photographed four branch libraries throughout Detroit. Two were abandoned and two were functioning. Every library in Detroit had an armed security guard that greeted us as we entered. The Benjamin Franklin branch library was a refuge from the brutal heat and violence outside. Not surprisingly, it was filled to capacity. I spent an hour carefully photographing this tough but amazing place. One of the abandoned libraries was located next to a car wash. The owner of the car wash came out and explained that after the library closed it was a methadone clinic for many years before being abandoned. We headed back to our hostel in Windsor, Canada. We needed to escape the heat and chaos. We spent many hours working on our blogs and vlogs. Windsor surprised us for it normalcy compared to the insanity of Detroit. The two cities are only separated by the Detroit River but Windsor felt relaxed and European compared to where we had been.
7/22/11 – After doing a quick tour of Detroit’s magnificent downtown core we continued to photograph branch libraries. It was a good way of seeing a wide range of Detroit and we were amazed at the scale of the devastation. The Mark Twain branch library had been temporarily housed in the basement of a church for the last seven years. Today was slightly cooler than yesterday but the crowded library was stifling. The AC had been broken for the last hew weeks during this record heat wave so large fans moved the air around the library. We drove to the beautiful but now ruined and abandoned original Mark Twain branch. Taken together the two will tell an interesting part of libraries in Detroit.
We sadly said good by to Nick after dropping him off at his grandfather’s house outside of Detroit. Later, I photographed the beautiful library in Howell, MI. It is located in what used to be the heart of the Michigan Militia Movement. The downtown had been gentrified. We end our day in East Lansing where we stayed with the Amber family. Jake is Walker’s roommate in New York. Ben and Rachel have become new friends for us and we share a lot in common including politics.
7/23/11 – We drove east for four hours stopping only to photograph a library in Norwalk, OH. We arrived at 3 PM in Cleveland and drove immediately to the Main Library downtown. Librarian Michael Ruffing took me on a wonderfully thorough tour of the seven floors of the new and old parts of this amazing library. I was sweating carrying my 4X5 camera and tripod going up and down narrow staircases and even going to roof. His enthusiasm again brought the place alive. He turned me loose to spend the next 2 1/2 hours feeling like a kid in a candy store. Cleveland’s library is one of the best so far. The quality of the library suggests a wealthier Cleveland in the past. It has suffered through hard times losing 2/3 of its population over the last 50 years. The flight of manufacturing jobs had hurt a lot of people here. However, Walker and I really liked the city and wish it well.