By his own admission, photographer Thomas R. Schiff is totally obsessed with libraries. It all began more than twenty years ago when he noticed just how much public buildings reflect a country’s history and what their functional and aesthetic evolution has to say about socio-cultural changes and the image a society has of itself. This is even more true of edifices, such as libraries, that set out to further the spread of knowledge and promote free access to culture.
So how has the United States changed, from the first public library set up in 1790 in the state of Massachusetts to the dynamic, multifunctional spaces of contemporary buildings such as the Seattle Public Library? Schiff tells their story in The Library Book, using more than a hundred panoramic images to illustrate just how these places have become the physical embodiment of the civic and cultural values of an entire society. Modern cathedrals commissioned from great architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn or Rem Koolhaas, invited at different points in time to design spaces intended to affirm the importance of education, free thought and knowledge as a form of personal emancipation.
With extraordinary timing, The Library Book hit the bookshelves shortly after the Trump administration announced its proposal to close down the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent agency set up in 1996 to fund libraries and museums nationwide.
The book is available to order on the publisher’s website (Aperture): http://aperture.org/shop/the-library-book.
The Library Book – Photographs by Thomas R. Schiff. Text by Alberto Manguel, Aperture 2017