LRT 6/24/16




6/19/16 – Somehow the beautiful little German town of DInkelsbühl escaped over 400 years of destruction from the Thirty Years War to WW II. Today it is one of those impossibly cute little European towns that is a tourist trap but still retains its integrity as a connection to another time. It’s library was simply magnificent. Because of the tight little streets I wasn’t able get back far enough to gain a perspective on the whole building. Fortunately, my colleague at Stanford, Craig Weiss, had lent me his old 28mm PC (perspective control) Nikon lens that allows me to get correct perspective and still get the whole building. It really came in handy here. DSC_4054

Our next stop was the far western German town of Trier. Everything about this old Roman town was fascinating including the old funky Bulgarian owned hotel we stayed in. It is one of the oldest cities in Germany. Trier had seen some dark days including the first mass genocide of Jews around the year 1000 by the members of the first crusade on their way to Jerusalem to slaughter the Muslims and Jews there. The ancient cathedral contains plenty of ghosts from that horrible past as well as being the site of WW II Nazi speeches celebrating this “glorious” past. Trier today seems young and vital with an evening rock concert next to the Roman wall. It is one of our favorite places so far in Germany. However, the past feels close here in Europe.

Trier at night

6/20/16 – Another long day of driving from Trier to Luxembourg City to Verdun and Reims in France. The National Library of Luxembourg was odd. In one of the richest countries on earth the National Library was surprisingly modest. It’s all about priorities. As the very nice Staff member told us it is easier to fund sports arenas than libraries. The setting for the City is astonishing beautiful. Luxembourg City

I was interested in Verdun, France because of the memory of the First World War. The small town was completely destroyed during the war and it had the feeling of being suspended in time. The library was housed in a old government building and overflowed with an incredible collection. It’s main collection was medieval material but the librarian had recently been interviewed by CNN because of its WW I archive for the 100th anniversary of the famous battle of Verdun. Another place that felt filled with ghosts of the past. DSC_4130

We finally arrived in the old French city of Reims. It too had been destroyed during the First World War. The American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie had build three “front line” libraries after the war in towns that had been on Western Front. Reims was one of them and had an incredible library built in the 1920s. After dinner, Ellen and I walked with my cameras through the misty evening to the library. We could see it at the end of the fog shrouded street and after we tuned the the corner noticed it was across the street from the famous gothic cathedral of Reims. As I set up my camera to photograph the Art Deco library juxtaposed next to the Gothic cathedral the lights came on on both buildings. In the gloom of the evening I made what I think was one of the best photos of the trip so far.


6/21/16 – Most of the morning was spent photographing the interior of the Carnegie Library of Reims. The Reading Room was crowded and beautiful with great stained glass windows including one in the ceiling. I also focused on small details such as the tile panels in the lobby and a great Deco bannister. We also took a way-too-short walk through the ancient Reims cathedral. Reims cathedral

The rest of the afternoon was spent on a long drive in the rain driving to Belgium and finally Brussels. We first encountered the insane traffic of Brussels as we entered the downtown. This was the worst we had seen so far in Europe. As we neared our apartment we saw soldiers with machine guns quickly evacuating people from a building and closing streets. It showed the incredible security that Brussels is currently under from terrorist attacks. It wasn’t far from our minds throughout the time we were in Brussels. We arrived at our apartment in a downpour. We met up with Walker’s good friend Anita Willcox who helped us throughout our stay here. She was a class mate of Walker’s at the New School in New York and is now living in Brussels and is a graduate student here. She introduced us to a great dinner place and then we took a long walk through the street of Brussels that were finally free of the constant rain.

6/22/16 – Recovering a little from our constant travel over the last week we begin our photography in the early afternoon. We visit a special library called Bibliothêque Espace El Boroudi housed in a community center called Espace Magh. It was founded by a North African man named Boroudi who was an immigrant, labor activist and defender of immigrant’s rights in Brussels. The library was small and filled with a variety of Arab language books. It showed the commitment of one activist to making his community better.DSC_4291DSC_4282

We then went to the small branch library called Bibliothêque Hergé. This was named after the famous Belgium author Hergé who lived in the neighborhood. Belgium is famous as a home for graphic books and art. Hergé’s series of books on Tintin introduced generations of children and adults to travel and the world. It was important for us to see a small, well run neighborhood library after seeing so many grand or unusual libraries. DSC_4330

The Belgium soccer team was playing Sweden in the European Cup this night so as we ate dinner in an outside cafe in a little plaza we could hear the wild screams of the fans coming out the nearby bars. We saw Belgium win in the final minutes as we stood in an African run bar.

6/23/16 – The ancient Library of the Catholic University of Leuven housed an outstanding, irreplaceable archive of medieval manuscripts until it was completely destroyed by the German Army during WW I. As the idea of the Global Library Project began to form the story of this library caught my attention. The term “bibliocide” – the intentional destruction of books or libraries to punish or erase the memory of a people – is seen throughout the world and throughout history. This library was the first that I had seen that showed that concept. After a great international outcry over the destruction of the Leuven Library a great outpouring of support to rebuild the library occurred in the 1920s. Unbelievably, the Library was destroyed again in the fighting of WW II. It exists today as a monument to peace and a symbol of the horrors of war. DSC_4380Burned book, Leuven

The second library we photographed was the Bibliothêque Molenbeek. This neighborhood of Brussels became famous because of its large number of Muslim families living here and because some of the recent Islamic terrorists in Paris and Brussels came from here. In the US the name Molenbeek is synonymous with terrorism. The small Molenbeek public library had three wonderful librarians but was almost empty because of Ramadan. The photos I made outside showed the humble exterior of the library overshadowed by a massive apartment complex towering above. It showed the complexity of Europe today.


6/24/16 – After sleeping an exhausted sleep Ellen and I spent the entire day in our AirB&B room doing work and catching up on email. Walker and Anita did the laundry and got see the sites of Brussels.

6/25/16 – The Provinciale Bibliotheek in the tourist trap called Brugge was quite beautiful. While we were there we could feel the rising tide of tour busses, weddings and deep fat food filling the air. I would love to spend more time in this lovely old town but without the hoards of tourists. We finally arrive in the French seaside town of Calais. After checking in to our Ibis Hotel we head over to the most famous refugee camp in Europe called The Jungle. We meet a woman named Mary Jones who started the Jungle Books Library. Jungle Library2Located on a former smelly landfill this remarkable place is filled with desperate men (the women and children are housed in a different camp) who are trying to illegally enter into England by way of the English Channel Tunnel which starts in Calais. For many this camp is the end of the line after an arduous journey escaping from war, starvation and poverty. We meet refugees here from many parts of the Muslim world as well as many Africans. The volunteer tutors were mostly younger women and mostly British.DSC_4740 They gave me back some respect for the Brits after England’s recent stupid move of Bexiting the EU. The Jungle is a sad place and the Jungle Library is one of the very few bright lights in a dark place. On entering the Library I encountered a room made out of plastic sheeting overflowing with books and refugees. Intense tutoring sessions were being conducted on my right by a 24 year old British woman to a group of Iranian men. On my left an Indian looking woman was doing the same with a group of African men. Everyone seemed to desperately want to learn English although some of the Iranians seemed as interested in their beautiful tutor as they were in their language lesson. DSC_4614Walker and Ellen conducted an interview of Mary Jones while I photographed for many hours in this harsh place. Because most refugees did not want to be photographed I focused instead on symbols such as maps of refugee routes, hand drawn signs saying things like “I love Afghanistan” and language lessons on a chock board. I walk around the camp and photograph graffiti covered plastic shacks, an Ethiopian Coptic church and the sad little plastic covered places that the refugees call home. As I was finishing up a angry young Middle Eastern man insisted that I erase the photo he thought I had taken of him. I explained that I had not taken a photo of him and that I was using a film camera so there was nothing to erase. He still seemed angry and I could see the explosive frustration some of these refugees experience. As we were walking out we strolled down the Main Street of the camp. As we stood in front of the Jungle Book Library Kid’s Cafe (only for 18 year olds or younger) a fight broke out right in front of us. The Cafe immediately emptied on to the street with some kids carry pool sticks ready to fight. At exactly the same rime some dude came very close to pick pocketing my wallet which I had stupidly left in my back pocket. Fortunately I caught him before he could complete the heist. At that point we bailed from the Jungle. To decompress Walker nicely arranged a short drive to a spot on a cliff overlooking the French countryside and the English Channel where we ate bread and cheese and thought about our amazing day.DSC_4764


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One would think that as I retired from teaching photography at San Jose State University after twenty-eight years (and my wife Ellen retired from her long-term job at Earth Island Institute) that we would settle back and enjoy our “golden years”. But nooo. Not even close. Years ago we spent our honeymoon visiting the toxic waste sites of the American West so I guess our current crazy schedule makes some sense.

Our son Walker is enjoying his trip to South America with his friend Nick Neumann. They are taking a year trying to figure out if becoming a photojournalist can work. Here is Walker giving it his best shot in Rio. They also covered the protests outside the World Cup. Check out their blog at

Walker in Rio

I did a number of speaking engagements in the late Spring, early Summer. They included talks at Hattery in San Francisco, the Main Library in San Francisco (with Chief Librarian Luis Herrera), the Main Library in Oakland (with Librarian Dorothy Lazard), and the national conference of the American Library Association in Las Vegas, NV (imagine 18,000 librarians in Vegas!).


During our 2½ weeks of vacation and family in Vermont I only gave one lecture at the Howe Library, in Hanover, NH. (After all, I was on vacation!) After that we went to New York City where I gave a talk at the 92nd St. Y and at the fabulous Strand Bookstore. Most of the people that we dealt with there were young, wore skinny jeans and had piercing over their tattoos. But they were all self proclaimed “book nerds”. I love it when young people love books! Finally, we took the train down to Washington, DC and stayed with our friends Jeff and Suzie. We met with the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress which may collect my public library project for their permanent archive. We also met with the National Endowment for the Humanities about possibly funding a nation-wide traveling exhibition. I will let you know how these efforts develop.

Strand Bookstore, NYC

Being interviewed by my former student Diane Cardwell who writes for the NY Times, Strand Bookstore, NYC

Strand Bookstore, NYC

Bob and Ellen, Cocoran Restaurant, The Bowery, New York City

Bob and Ellen, Cocoran Restaurant, The Bowery, New York City

The Stockton project continues to be fascinating, but hard. We were working intensely there before our East Coast trip. Since we returned we have gone many times to photograph libraries and literacy efforts in one of the least literate cities in the country. Here are some recent photos from the project. I will keep you posted as the “Raising Literacy” project grows over the next year.

Astronaut Hernandez grew up nearby as a child of migrant farm workers. By showing low-income kids a film of him floating in space he is trying to promote education and literacy, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockton, CA

Astronaut Hernandez grew up nearby as a child of migrant farm workers. By showing low-income kids a film on his life he is trying to promote education and literacy, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockton, CA

Photographing future astronauts, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockton

Photographing future astronauts, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockton

Letters to Stockton City Councilman Michael Tubbs by young children complaining about the gun violence they endure, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockon

Letters to Stockton City Councilman Michael Tubbs by young children complaining about the gun violence they frequently endure, Sierra Vista Housing Project, Stockton

Bob photographing a Little Free Library, Wilson Way, Stockton

Bob photographing a Little Free Library, Wilson Way, Stockton











Little Free Libraries, Stockton

Little Free Libraries, Stockton

Democracy in action -Overflow audience at meeting defending their public library, Stockton City Council chambers, Stockton

Democracy in action – Overflow audience at meeting defending their public library, Stockton City Council chambers, Stockton



  1. 9/18/14 Napa Valley College, Napa, CA
  2. 10/9/14 San Mateo Public Library, San Mateo, CA 6:30 PM
  3. 10/11/14 Noe Valley Branch Library, San Francisco, CA 2PM
  4. 10/19/14 Long Beach Public Library, Long Beach, CA 12:30 PM
  5. 10/20/14 Pasadena Public Library, Pasadena, CA 3 PM
  6. 10/20/14 Los Feliz Public Library, Los Feliz, CA 6:45 PM
  7. 10/24/14 Main Library, Marin Civic Center, San Rafael, CA
  8. 11/7/14 California Library Association conference, Keynote Speech, Marriott City Center, Oakland, CA 8:15 AM





Filed under American Life, art, Libraries, Photography, Public Libraries, Public Services, Road trip, Robert Dawson Library

The Library Road Trip Goes to Denmark, Tucson and Back

12/2/11 – Greetings to all the new people that recently subscribed to this blog and hello to everyone else. It has been a long time since I last posted here (August 21st) and I wanted to bring you up to date on this project. Much of the last three months have been filled with my academic life teaching photography. When my teaching begins it is a little like being hit with a tsunami where everything gets swept up in the current. I now see the tide is beginning to subside and I can return to the public library project.

Even though I have been working full time quite a few things have been happening with the project. I began by developing a mountain of medium and large format film. I sent the color film out to be processed but all the black and white film I developed in my darkroom. I then began the enormous task of making contact prints of the black and white negatives and digital color photos of the color film negatives. That process took several months. It is slow and tedious but really fun to see the final results. Looking at the contact sheets is a little like opening Christmas presents. It is always exciting because I never know what I am going to get. All the images you see posted on this blog were made with our little digital Canon G-10 cameras. They are perfect for posting on blogs but the real final product are the images made with my medium and large format cameras on film. I have found that these larger film based images are still the best way for me to get the most beautiful results. I have finally picked the images I will scan into digital files. Now I am beginning to undertake the big job of scanning approximately 300 images from the Library Road Trip. I imagine that this will also take several months. With a little break coming soon with my teaching I hope to have this all done by the end of January. I have attached a few images of the process of developing film, selecting and scanning the negatives.

Many of you know that during this summer’s Library Road Trip I was conducting a Kickstarter campaign to help finance the trip. Fortunately, we reached our goal of $8,000. Many of the people that contributed got something from me for their donations. Most were prints of various sizes and books for the larger donations. In addition to everything else, I spent some time this Fall printing, signing and eventually mailing out all of these rewards. The unsung hero in all of this was my wife Ellen who helped enormously by keeping track of the 189 gifts that were mailed. I couldn’t have done it without her. Thanks Ellen! I have attached a couple of images of the Kickstarter work.

Last Spring I had an American Public Library project exhibit at the Main Library in San Francisco. After the show I received an email from Lars Olson who works for the city of Fanoe in Denmark. His daughter lives in San Bruno and while he was visiting he went to see the Library exhibit. He is a city manager in Fanoe and said that they were about to open a new school/community center/public library and wanted to have a permanent installation of my library work there. They also wanted to pay for us to spend a week in Denmark as their guests, give a few lectures and teach a workshop. Ellen and I gladly agreed and spent the first week in October on the beautiful little island of Fanoe off the southwest coast of Denmark. We also traveled to cities on the mainland where the show will be displayed in two other public libraries. It was fascinating to see the Danish public libraries where the work will be displayed.  It has been reported that the Danes are the happiest people on earth. Although they are heavily taxed they do get universal health care and free education through college. And they also have the least disparity of wealth. Do I see a pattern here? We were treated like royalty but when we got back I craved a fresh California salad!

At the end of October Ellen and I gave a presentation at the Center For Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. It was a panel on our Water in the West Project that is now housed in their archive. This was a collaborative group project with twelve other photographers and the rest of the weekend we participated in a conference on the nature of archives. While we were there we went with writer Rebecca Solnit and Water in the West photographers Sant Khalsa and Geoff Fricker to the Occupy Tucson site. Of course, while I was there I had to photograph their library.

Besides scanning the images from this summer the next BIG part of this project is producing a book and a traveling exhibition. I have begun working with Princeton Architectural Press in New York to publish the book. We are currently investigating possible writers for the book. Please let me know if you have any suggestions. We are also open to some possible connections with other groups to help produce the book. I will keep you posted on the upcoming developments. In the next post I will also include some of the new work from the scans.

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