My mother grew up in Savannah, Georgia, during segregation and came of age during the civil rights movement. Like many of her generation, education was seen as a way to overcome the obstacles that made life so difficult for Black people in this country during that time. When I was young, she frequently told me about the library that she was unable to enter due to segregation. It’s a story that’s both a cruel expression of the racism she endured as a child and a reminder that knowledge is so important that the social structure of this country was once determined to keep my mother from accessing it.
The concept of a public library is one of the most important elements of a functioning society. In the Los Angeles Public Library system, each branch is similar to a concentric ring found in the cross section of a tree trunk, representing a small, yet critical, piece of the collective whole. The investment in libraries as a public institution is in itself an empowering act, inspired by the belief that free access to knowledge is beneficial to us all. Over time, their specific role has changed and expanded significantly but still revolves around these core principles.
I attended Vine Street Elementary School in Hollywood, California, and every day after school I would walk to the John C. Fremont Library on June and Melrose. It was both a place where I could do my homework and a safe space to be until my mother picked me up after work. The walk from school to the library quickly became one of my favorite parts of the day, as I got to observe people going about their lives and daily routines. The branch itself always seemed larger than life and the architecture reminded me of a castle. It was an incredibly welcoming space and there always seemed to be reading contests and other activities to keep me occupied. My experiences back then contributed to my understanding of the important relationship between libraries and the community.
Libraries evolve and change in unison with the area around them. As one of the first Creators in Residence for the Los Angeles Public Library, I sought to document them as physical components of the neighborhood and keepers of a shared, collective history. My objective was to create a body of work that visually framed the library as a public sanctuary, with each branch operating as a specialized extension of that concept. To achieve that goal, it was important to learn about the history of the system as well as the individual branches.
For this project I selected a total of seven libraries to focus on, one representing each of the six regional areas of the Los Angeles Public Library system plus the Central Library located downtown. I photographed the branches extensively, talking with librarians and staff about their experiences working in a library. This part of the process was a transformative experience for me. I learned about the many ways each individual library is a part of their respective communities and how the programs and support they provide are uniquely tailored to their patrons. I also photographed parts of the surrounding neighborhoods, to visually portray the community served by the branches. The result is a collection of photographs that emphasize the library’s role as an enduring and accessible knowledge base within the context of one of the most dynamic cities on earth.