7/31/11 – The Fishtown branch library in Philadelphia is special. As I am photographing outside an old biker-looking guy came over and explained that his mother helped save the library from becoming a parking lot for the nearby police station. When the library was rededicated the mayor of Philadelphia came over and offered to give his mother a ride in his limo. She refused choosing to walk the one block instead. Classic! The Kensington branch was in one of the diciest neighborhoods of the trip. My medium format color camera had died in the heat of Detroit. Because this had to be a color photograph I had to photograph with the slow 4X5 camera. Walker hovered protectively and watched my back as I went under the dark cloth. Tough looking guys were beginning to gather on all corners of the street as I quickly took the photo and jumped back in the car. We skipped another library in this same rough neighborhood and drove to The Free Library of Philadelphia. This massive, elegant Main library was also a little faded. I spent three hours photographing its beauty and the content of its character. Ellen was back in our hotel working on another Kickstarter blast to help keep this project funded. Walker and I drove over to Camden, New Jersey to photograph their closed Main Library. Camden is one of the few large cities in the country to close its entire library system. It has had a tough time recently with economic collapse and a famously corrupt city government. We saw the results of this in the closed library.
8/1/11 – As we had breakfast with out friend Stuart Rome and his family Walker took a bus to New York to hunt for an apartment for next year. Ellen and I made a quick stop in down-and-out Newark, NJ. I took what may be two good, quick shots of the exterior and then headed north to beat the traffic. We got past New York City and encountered an epic thunder and lighting storm near Waterbury, Connecticut. I skipped the library there and later we had to pull off the road to let this mega-storm pass. The last library I photographed in the fading light was in Longmeadow, Massachusetts. This was where our dear friend Leslie Leslie grew up. This small, patrician New England town was also part of the 19th Century Underground Railroad. It seemed appropriate to end this part of the project here. We then drove several more hours to our little cabin in the Vermont woods that we call the Farm arriving at 11 PM. Exhausted but happy I looked back on this amazing journey. We had photographed over 180 public libraries in 39 days. We visited 19 states and drove 9,450 miles. I will continue to photograph libraries in New England and New York over the next three weeks. But arriving at the Farm was the end of the big, non-stop push. We are off the grid at the Farm but I will continue to post blogs intermittently from the Howe Public Library in Hanover, New Hampshire. This is considered one of the best small public libraries in the country and Ellen’s family from the area has been heavily involved with the library. Walker and I both feel very positive about our public library system throughout the country despite the many problems. We will write more about these insights in the next few weeks. We also feel very positive about our country despite its problems. Most of the folks we met were hard-working people that loved their public libraries. In our divisive country this is one this we can all share.