It has been a long time since I posted a blog on my Public Library project. I wanted to bring you up to date on this amazing journey and let you know about upcoming events. My last post came shortly after my 2012 summer Library Road Trip with Walker. Later, after looking at my work from the whole project I realized that I had photographed a lot of libraries in poor communities but few in wealthy ones. Some of the wealthiest communities in the nation are right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Walker and I photographed several libraries in Silicon Valley and Marin County. It helped to balance out the project.

I soon became caught up in my normal, crazy academic schedule teaching five classes at two universities. I also came down with what turned out to be a long-term staph infection in my sinuses. I am finally over most of it. In the Fall, 2012 and Spring, 2013 I began working closely with Princeton Architectural Press producing the book. Late in the Fall we spent the Thanksgiving holiday in New York and later in New England with Walker, Ellen, her brother John Manchester and his wife Kate. We were in New York City two weeks after Hurricane Sandy had devastated the area. Our friend Stanley Greenberg took us out to the Rockaways along the Brooklyn shoreline. The branch library there had just been emptied of its water-soaked books. Parked in front was a Queens Library bookmobile. It was one of the few places around where people could recharge their cell phones, get on the internet of just get warm. I took the last photographs for the project of that sheltering mobile library.

The Spring of 2013 was probably the busiest and most stressful time of my life. In addition to my academic responsibilities and being sick I was working full-time on the book. I also applied for and received a Graham Foundation grant to work on the Public Library project. I also applied and am currently a finalist for a Creative Work Fund grant to document the library and literacy campaigns in the distressed city of Stockton, CA. If I receive the grant it could provide a new direction for my project beyond the publication of the book. Added to all this I produced a 30 year retrospective exhibition of my work for a show at the Thomas Welton Stanford Gallery at Stanford University. Whew! No wonder I felt exhausted all Spring.

Putting together all the parts of this very complex book took up all of my free time. Throughout the Spring I was literally working seven days a week. Working with my two editors at Princeton was a delight. Sara Bader and Sara Stemen are real professionals and have been very patient with all my distractions. It is nice to work with people that know the English language so much better than I do and, at the same time, penetrate the complexity of legal contracts with writers and publishers. And they did this with humor and wisdom! I know that I have been lucky working with the two Saras. Equally important was the help and encouragement from my wife Ellen and our son Walker. I literally could not have done this project without them. The production of the book involved selecting and sequencing the images; finalizing the text, labels and extended captions; getting permissions from the writers, their agents or publishers and countless little details that needed attention.

The big day arrived in mid-April when Ellen and I finished everything, put all the book parts in a box and sent it off to Princeton. Afterwards, we even had time for dinner and a much-appreciated glass of wine. Later in the Spring we received the first two edits of the book by email. We met with Princeton in New York in mid-July when they had literally just printed out the first hard copy of the book mock-up. We took it with us to our little cabin in the woods in Vermont and sent it back a few weeks later. In early September I sent back the second version of the mock-up to Princeton. After approving the cover design I have been working with Princeton’s publicity person to develop a plan to publicize the book. I have also been working on lots of little details since then.

A website and traveling exhibition are part of our future tasks. I will keep you informed as we get closer to our publication date of April, 2014. Until then, please stay tuned and stay in touch.


Redwoods, Mill Valley library, Mill Valley, CA


Bookmobile, Rockaways, NY


Print selection, San Francisco, CA


Assistant print selector, San Francisco, CA


Laying out the book, San Francisco, CA


Final design and layout, San Francisco, CA


Initial mock-up, San Francisco, CA


Last details, April, 2013, San Francisco, CA


Last proof read, April, 2013, San Francisco, CA


Ellen packing it up!, April, 2013, San Francisco, CA


Editing first print out, Vermont


Swatting flies and editing book, Vermont


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2 responses to “WORKING ON THE BOOK

  1. Lori Maslow

    Dear Mr . Dawson, Firstly I do hope that your health has returned. A staph infection is no joke. You certainly have been busy and it is exciting to hear that your boom is near publishing. I live in southern Brooklyn , NY and while I was just a few blocks out of the infamous ‘Zine A’, that night of Superstorm Sandy was scary. We were able to open our home to two families that are friends whose houses suffered extensive damage. We have two children in college so I had two empty bedrooms for them. They are close friends and live only a half mile away. My library, the Gerritsen beach branch, which cost Milton’s, which took years to build from an original storefront as community groups haggled over the design was completely inundated with water and totally destroyed. The big beautiful window in the children’s section which overlooked Gerritsen Creek gave way. Everything was destroyed. I had students last year who list everything as they lived right on the creek. The good news is that library will be reopen ing soon. A day after the storm a close colleague if mine who lives a block from the library told me not to pass it by, S she knew I would start crying. If you’d like to see the progress being made as well as the devastating photos of our bucked library right after the storm you can find it at Good luck to you and your family. I hope you win the grant. Looking forward to publication in April 2014. Find out how to get the book into the Book Review section of the New York Times. Sincerely, Lori Maslow Sent from my iPhone


  2. Marcia Schneider

    Dear Bob and Ellen,
    Love the project and am very happy to see it moving ahead! Isn’t the Mill Valley P.L. amazing? I have one daughter in New York (Brooklyn) and am pleased to see the post-Sandy photo.

    Can’t wait to see the final product. Hope you are recovering from that nasty infection. Marcia

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