Tag Archives: Robert Dawson

The Return of the Library Road Trip, Cautiously

The Return of the Library Road Trip, Cautiously

The world has dramatically changed since our last Library Road Trip post in October 2019. Fortunately, Trump is gone. Unfortunately, Covid is not. We feel that there are still many miles to go before we put this project to sleep. We are returning to the road to drive across country to our little cabin in the woods in Vermont for the month of September. While we are on the way and on the return, we will explore two themes that emerged from our last LRT in 2019. We will photograph the complicated interaction of race and segregation on libraries throughout the country. The first place we will photograph will be the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, OK. This formally thriving African American neighborhood was mostly burned to the ground by a white mob in 1921. This destruction included the segregated public library in Greenwood which is still an empty lot. We will photograph other libraries in the South that were significant in the heroic struggle to desegregate these important parts of our national civic commons.

My research has benefitted by reading two books: The Desegregation of Public Libraries in the Jim Crow South by Wayne and Shirley Wiegand and also Freedom Libraries The Untold Story of Libraries for African Americans in the South by Mike Selby. Freedom Libraries were established during the Civil Rights struggle in the South in the 1960s when the main libraries initially refused to desegregate. We will be visiting several of these during our drive through the South. It is hard to understand today how people were thrown in jail and sometimes savagely beaten for wanting to check out a book from a public library.

Police officers in Albany, Georgia carry a demonstrator down the steps of the Albany Carnegie Library during a civil rights protest.

Our second area of interest that came out of our 2019 LRT was the forced removal of Indigenous children from their homes into “Indian Schools”. We saw examples of this in our drive across Canada and have been reading more about this recently with the discovery of unmarked graves of children in some of these former schools. As much as we have championed education for all poor children as a way out of poverty, this form of education was closer to cultural genocide. We will be visiting one of the first, largest and most famous of these schools in the US called the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Ironically, it now houses the US Army War College.

Canadian Indian Residential Schools (grid)
Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania

Starting August 20th, we will be on the road for approximately two months. We will cautiously made our way through the parts of the country that are experiencing the recent spike with the Covid virus’ Delta variant. We are vaccinated and we will be wearing masks and keeping our heads down everywhere. And being very cautious!

I will be writing occasional posts from the road as a record of our journey. We would love to hear your feedback along the way. As always, feel free to opt out of receiving these posts if you wish.



Filed under Uncategorized




Lots of water under the bridge since I last wrote. Quite simply, it has been one of the more amazing times of my life! And one of the more rewarding times as well.

I mentioned in the last blog that we had applied for a large-scale Creative Work Fund grant. It is a San Francisco Bay Area based grant for people working at the intersection of art and social change. They are very difficult grants to get and to our absolute amazement we received the award last Fall for our project in Stockton, CA. Stockton is the second largest city in the country to declare bankruptcy and one of the least literate cities in the nation. My wife Ellen Manchester and I will be looking at efforts to bring literacy and hope to this very dysfunctional place. We are working with a group called the Library and Literacy Foundation of San Joaquin County and also the San Joaquin County Library system. The grant will help get this project started but we will need to raise additional funds to complete the project. More grants to write! After 18 years of looking at libraries throughout the United States we will spend the next year looking at one library system. From the macro to the micro. The following are some preliminary images from Stockton including a portrait of me with Mas’ood Cajee who is our contact with the Library and Literacy Foundation. He has a remarkable life story and his day job is being a dentist.

Ellen at Stockton Asparagus Festival, Stockton, CA

Ellen at the Stockton Asparagus Festival, Stockton, CA

Hmong videotapes, Angelou Library, Stockton, CA


Hmong videotapes, Maya Angelou Branch Library, Stockton, CA

Lightroom (DSC_0339.NEF and 5 others)

Languages, Main Library, Stockton, CA

Masood and Bob, Stockton, CA

Mas’ood and Bob, Main Library, Stockton, CA

Trivia Bee, Stockton, CA

Five hundred people supporting literacy at the Stockton Trivia Bee, Stockton, CA



We officially launched the book The Public Library A Photographic Essay in New York City in mid-March. Ellen, our son Walker and I flew back and I gave the kick-off lecture at the main library in Brooklyn on March 20th. I also gave another slide show/lecture at the Mid-Manhattan library on the 26th. Both were well attended and really gave me the idea that the book will be well received. During this week the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press, told me that they are already starting to do a second printing of the book just from all the pre-sales. Yikes! We met and had dinner with several dear friends during our time in New York. One of the highlights of the trip was meeting and delivering a book to Bill Moyers at his office in Manhattan. Ellen said that meeting him was one of the great moments in her life. The photo of her being hugged by Moyers shows her beaming! The books finally hit the bookstores at the beginning of April. After a twenty year gestation period it was nice to see it finally out in the world.

The week in New York began a long series of interviews and articles about the book and the project. These include stories in the New Yorker online, the Wall Street Journal, the Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, The Christian Science Monitor, ArchNewsNow, Goodreads, New York Journal of Books, Seattle Pi, Book Page, Design Observer, The Morning News, SF Gate blog, FastCompany, Gizomodo, NPR Books tumblr, Architecture and Artisnas, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Bob Edwards show on NPR, the Scott Simon show on NPR, CNN, radio station WICN in MA, BYU Radio, the Los Angeles Times, Parade Magazine, Lost at E Minor, Scratch, Lonny, The Dish at Stanford, the Paris Review blog, Shelf Awareness, Next City, the Findery, etc. This is certainly my fifteen minutes of fame! I am sure that there will be more to come.

Book cover

Bob at NYPL

Bob at the New York Public Library, New York, NY

Bill Moyers and Ellen

Bill Moyers and Ellen, New York, NY

Books for sale, SF

The Public Library A Photographic Essay on sale at Folio Books, San Francisco, CA

One of the strangest things to come out of all this shows the reach of the media. I received an email from a retired lawyer in Texas saying that he had heard my NPR interview with Scott Simon. He asked if I had ever photographed the library in Deer Lodge, MT. I sent him a photo of the Kohrs Library in Deer Lodge that I had made in 2000. I explained to him that my mother came from an old pioneering family that had first settled the area in the 1860s. He wrote back and asked me her name. It turns out he is a long-lost cousin from a branch of my mother’s family that I was unaware of. Talk about six degrees of separation! When I had a reception at the University of California at Santa Cruz of a show with Joel Leivick and David Pace another long-lost cousin showed up and we met. Here is a photo of Alan Burns from Missoula, MT (brother of Dennis Burns, the retired lawyer from Texas), my sister Jane Dawson and I at a coffee shop in Santa Cruz.

Alan, Jane and RD

Alan Burns, Jane Dawson and Bob



During the same week that the book was officially launched it was announced that I had received a Guggenheim Fellowship. I had known about the Guggenheim for about a month before they announced it. I had wanted to jump up and down and let everyone know that I had received it but they have a policy of waiting until they officially announce it. The following week one of my former Stanford photography students, Josh Hanner received a Pulitzer Prize in Photography. Needless to say, April was a very good month. A friend of ours, Greg Conniff had received a Guggenheim Fellowship several years ago. More importantly than the fame or money associated with the Guggenheim was the energy receiving the Fellowship gave him. I am very humbled by knowing the long list of great photographers that got this award in the past. I hope that the work I do over the next year will be worthy of this endorsement.



This has been a period a great transitions and accomplishments, large and small. One large effort that I was a small part of is the new exhibit and book from Stanford’s Cantor Art Center called Carleton Watkins The Stanford Albums. I have one essay in this beautiful book. In writing the essay it was nice for me to be able to combine my art history background with being a working photographer.


I finally went to one of my James Marshall high school class reunions. I was in the class of 1968 and at the reunion I was somewhat overwhelmed at talking with people I hadn’t seen in 46 years. Fortunately we all had nametags. Ellen gets the award for bravery for spending the evening at a VFW hall in West Sacramento with a room full of strangers and me. We did drive up to the reunion with my friend and classmate Nils Ohlson. Here is a photo of us in our letter sweaters. They still fit!

RD&Nils Marshall High reunion

Bob and Nils, West Sacramento, CA

One of the biggest transitions for me right now is retiring from teaching photography at San Jose State after 28 years. I’m sad to leave my colleagues there but glad to have more time to work on my projects. I will continue to teach photography at Stanford. Because of all this Ellen and I decided to take a weekend vacation to one of our favorite places, Camp Richardsons at Lake Tahoe with our friends Thom Sempere and his wife Susan. Four days of riding bikes, hiking, great conversations and doing nothing was bliss! Here is a photo of Ellen and I on the beach and me chillin’ under the pines.

RD and Ellen, Lake Tahoe, CA

RD chillin' at Tahoe

The following is a list of upcoming talks I will be giving in the Bay Area in June.


June 5, 2014

Architecture of Knowledge: A Photographic Survey of America’s Libraries

Photographer Robert Dawson in conversation with SF Chronicle architecture critic John King about Dawson’s 18-year project and new book “The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson”

Book signing to follow

7:00 pm Tickets $10-$15


414 Brannan St



June 11, 2014

Photographer Robert Dawson in conversation with Luis Herrera, City Librarian about Dawson’s new book “The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson”

Book signing to follow

6:00 pm FREE

San Francisco Public Library

100 Larkin



June 12, 2014

Photographer Robert Dawson in conversation with Dorothy Lazard, Librarian at the Oakland Public Library about Dawson’s new book “The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson”

Book signing to follow

6:00 pm FREE

Oakland Main Library

125  14th Street at Oak




Here are some other talks I will be giving throughout the country this summer and fall. You are invited to attend any of these if you are in the area.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Artist’s talk, panel discussion and book signing

American Library Association annual conference

3:00 pm

Las Vegas, NV



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

7:00 pm FREE

Howe Library

Hanover, NH



Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

92nd Street Y

12:00 noon Tickets available

1395 Lexington Ave

New York, NY



Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

Strand Bookstore

Tentative date. TBD

828 Broadway

New York, NY


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

Noe Valley/Sally Brunn Branch San Francisco Public Library

2:00 pm FREE

451 Jersey St

San Francisco, CA 94114


Friday, November 7, 2014

Artist talk and book signing

California Library Association annual conference

Oakland City Center Marriott

Oakland, CA



Walker will be leaving next month for a yearlong trip throughout South America with his friend Nick Neumann. They will be photographing, filming and blogging from the road. Ellen and I will be spending the rest of our free time working on the library and literacy project in Stockton. We look forward to hearing from you and, as always, would appreciate any feedback you may have on this blog. We always enjoy hearing from you. To be continued….

Ellen and farm worker school, French Camp, CA

Ellen photographing a school for children of farm workers, French Camp, San Joaquin County, CA

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Previous Field Work (1994-2011)

Library, Yosemite National Park, CA (2008) - The Yosemite Valley Branch Library is part of the Mariposa County Library system. It has two public internet stations and is housed in the Girls Club building near Yosemite Village.

Library, Mendota, CA (2004) - A new library replaced this San Joaquin Valley library in 2005.

Librarians, Tool Lending Library, Berkeley, CA (2011) - This Tool Lending Library is part of the regular Berkeley, CA, library system. It is an extremely popular branch library.

Katrina damaged library, New Orleans, LA (2008) - When the levees broke, all of New Orleans’ thirteen public libraries were damaged, eight so badly they could not be reopened. More than 300,000 books, CDs, and other items were destroyed—nearly half the collection. With the devastation of the city and the crippling of city government, NOPL was forced to lay off 90 percent of its employees. All libraries were closed for over two months. The 19 remaining staff members, when they were able to re-enter the city, began surveying damage and salvaging assets. The devastation was an opportunity to rebuild a better library system.

Interior, Woburn, MA (1994) - After a large bequest by Charles Winn to the town of Woburn in 1876, the famed American architect Henry Hobson Richardson was selected to design his first library. The Woburn Public Library is now a National Historic Landmark.

Heartland Four Corners, VT (1994) - The library was assembled from two office rooms from a local sawmill in 1944. It had no heat except a wood-burning stove. At the time I made this photograph it had just been closed and its entire collection of 70 boxes of books had just been sold to a local used-book dealer for $125.

Childrens library entrance, Los Angeles, CA (2008) - The Globe Chandelier is part of a model of the solar system. A translucent blue-glass globe with hand-painted continents hangs in the middle. Planets and a crescent moon can be found in the chains that suspend the globe and the sunburst on the ceiling directly above the globe mirrors the sunburst on the pyramid top of the Library outside. Signs of the zodiac ring the globe along with 48 lights around the rim, which represent the 48 United States in 1926 when the building opened.

Library built by ex-slaves, Allensworth, CA (1995) - The remarkable life of Allen Allensworth began as a slave in Kentucky in 1842. He later became a petty officer in the US Navy, a Baptist minister and a Chaplin in the US Army. He founded a California Colony in Tulare County that continued for several years during the early part of the 20th century. The library is a re-creation of the original in what is now called Col. Allensworth State Historic Park.

Ceiling, Main Reading room, New York, NY (2008) - Often referred to as the “main branch”, the Beaux-Arts landmark building was initially formed from the consolidation of the Astor and Lenox Libraries, and has evolved into one of the world’s preeminent public resources for the study of human thought, action, and experience. It houses some 15 million items including priceless medieval manuscripts, ancient Japanese scrolls, contemporary novels and poetry, as well as baseball cards, dime novels, and comic books. More than 1,200 languages and dialects, ancient and modern, are represented in the collections.

Library, Death Valley National Park, CA (2009) - This remote library in a trailer is the only library for hundreds of miles. The roof is shaded to lessen the intense summer heat of one of the hottest places in the world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

More examples of earlier work, 1994 – 2011


Filed under American Life, art, Photography, Public Libraries