No Mans Land: The Library
“In the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but by what we refuse to destroy”
John C. Sawhill, The Nature Conservancy, 1990-2000
Some people spend their lives writing books. They write them under candlelight. They write them under pseudonyms so that they can write freely. They write books even though they may be persecuted. They type books. They write them freehand while walking in the woods. On parchment, clay tablets, paper, even with their own blood as the ink…for some they will write their research and their stories any way that they can. One thing we know is that those who write books are fascinated by their subject matter and they want to share what they learn, believe and imagine with others.
What makes a person keep a book? In 2021, the New York Public Library decided to forgive all late fees from the past and in the future. The result was the return of treasures of books that were decades late as people could not bear to let them go.
Books, in a way, are a metaphor for what we as a society consume and value, what we collect and what we preserve and care for. For centuries, libraries have held the world’s collective and idiosyncratic knowledge. Book stores have been an ‘outing’...a place to explore and arouse our curiosity. Books have been an instructional tool, an escape, an outward definition of a person, a culture, a country. In wars, libraries have been destroyed in order to destroy the history of a people. We gain insight into people as we peruse people’s personal libraries and book shelves.
Books are also art in themselves as beautifully constructed objects. Great care has been given to restoring books whether it’s a family bible, a beloved children’s book, or an historical document. We tend to these vessels of story and history and fact and fiction. We preserve them for the end of time.
Bookstores are disappearing to online sales and tablet reading. Libraries are shifting from housing books to becoming multi-use community centers. We are at a precipice. We can still walk through ‘the stacks’ but even those are disappearing as I photograph in real time for this project. We can still spend hours at our local book store discovering unknown writers and topics we have never even heard about. ‘Meandering’ is something to be celebrated and it is falling out of balance as ‘searching’ continues to steer our main way of being.
Walk into a library or a bookstore or your living room or wherever your books live. They are sources of unique energy. This excites and inspires me. I am captivated by their construction and their content. I am fascinated by the storytellers, especially those who may not have become famous via their first editions or being listed as ‘100 books of the century everyone must read.’ You are the audience. You have cared about a story, perhaps felt compelled to read the same book multiple times. These books. They are alive with narrative and perspective. They are relevant. I am documenting their significance and am hoping to evoke their unspoken mystery as well. These books are beautiful. Shiny and new or bent and stained.
This project is a celebration of the book. It celebrates the author, the bookbinder, the reader, the collector and the caregivers who have kept these books accessible to us today. It is now cheaper to recycle books for pulp than it is to manage them. Hopefully, this project inspires others to appreciate these wondrous objects and that they continue to read in that ‘old school’ way.