Local Institutions


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Read the story in The Atlantic  here.
A “fly-brary,” courtesy of the Deschutes Public Library, at the Redmond, Oregon, airport. (Courtesy of Deborah Fallows)

Continuing the photo essay about public libraries, which showed many examples of children’s rooms and adult spaces, this collection shows some of the multitude of activities happening at public libraries. It also includes some of the kinds of collections besides books, and some of the public places where books are available to borrow besides at traditional libraries.

Makerspaces are becoming popular in libraries around the country. Some are sophisticated, others modest. Makerspaces harken back to Benjamin Franklin’s early days in the Philadelphia subscription library, where he conducted some of his early experiments in electricity. Ben Franklin was the founder, in a way, of modern makerspaces in libraries.


Makerspace in the Brownsville Public LIbrary

The southmost public library near the Rio Grande in Brownsville, Texas, has an observatory that is used occasionally. The library also hosts movie-and-popcorn events for children who are incarcerated in detention centers alone after having crossed the border from Mexico to Texas.


Outside the Southmost library in Brownsville, Texas

The modest makerspace inside the Dodge City, Kansas, library. It was put together by a young librarian who grew up across the street from the library. He has gathered mostly people’s cast off items, like sewing machines and audio recording equipment.


The door to the small makerspace in the Dodge City Library

Learning the ropes in the maker space at the Washington, D.C., Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. The library is currently under renovation.


The makerspace at the old MLK Jr. public library in Washington, D.C.

Kids’ activities are held after a summer science program in the Dodge City, Kansas, library. The library invited a traveling program from Wichita. Middle schoolers helped herd the littler kids around the “challenges” after the program. There were hundreds of people participating.


Summer kids’ program in the Dodge City library

Here’s an entry from an art competition at the Greenville, South Carolina, public library. This was sponsored by the local Michelin company, and the requirement was to use old tires in the creation.


An art contest entry made of tires at the Greenville public library

Attention Walmart shoppers: This building is now home to the McAllen, Texas, public library. The internal space is vast, enough for exhibitions and receptions. The external space boasts plenty of parking and room for concerts, catered by local food trucks.


The entrance to the McAllen public library, with food trucks and concert set-up

Libraries catalog much more than books. When some people are looking for somewhere to donate their treasures, or others can’t bear to simply trash their memorabilia, they think of the library. At the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, California, archivist Nathan Gonzalez addresses some of the vast holdings donated by residents of Redlands. The town is in the process of building the first Museum of Redlands, populated largely from the outgrown archives of the library, and which the library will oversee. The library already oversees the Lincoln Shrine, an entire building of a nationally-renowned collection of Lincolniana, just across the lawn from the Smiley library.   


Nathan Gonzales in the basement archives of the public library in Redlands, California

The archives in the Birmingham, Alabama, public library basement will send a chill up your spine. If you are fortunate, you can see the historic collection of references to MLK Jr., whose Letter from the Birmingham Jail was written just blocks away and first appeared in The Atlantic. The librarian showed me among other holdings, the registry of the jail that recorded when MLK was booked into the jail.


The Warden’s Docket in Birmingham, Alabama, on the day Martine Luther King Jr. was arrested and jailed. See line 7.

The Winston-Salem public library is renowned for its art collection and its South Carolina room. Here is a glimpse of it.


The staircase, the South Carolina Room (left), and some of the art on display in the Winston-Salem library

Signs for early voting at the Brownsville, Texas, public library:


Voting sign in front of the Brownsville library

Everyone loves to eat, even at the library. More and more libraries are including coffee shops and dining areas inside the library. Here’s one in the main Brownsville, Texas, library.


Breakfast at the cafe in the Brownsville library

Libraries for the public come in many shapes and forms, from traditional bookmobiles, to pop-up park libraries, where librarians in Wichita told me many people stop by during their lunch hours. During the summer months in Minnesota, floating libraries lend books in watertight bags to boaters who boat by.

There are now over 90,000 Little Free Libraries around the world. We have spotted hundreds around the U.S. This one is in Volta Park in Georgetown, Washington D.C.


Little Free Library in Washington, D.C.

Here’s a Little Free Library outside Janney Elementary School in the Tenleytown area of Washington D.C., and just next door to the Tenleytown branch of the Washington, D.C., public library system.


Little Free Library outside Janney school in Washington, D.C.

A Little Free Library in Garden City, Kansas:


Little Free Library in Garden City Kansas

Libraries of a sort—take a book, leave a book—are convenient for travelers looking for a last-minute plane read. This one is at the entrance to the old concourse leading to United Airlines flights in Washington, D.C.’s Reagan National Airport.


A makeshift library at D.C.’s National Airport

In Redmond, Oregon, the Deschutes Public Library sponsors this airport library:


The airport branch of the Deschutes Public Library in Oregon