Whether or not you consider yourself an avid reader, there is something undeniably magical about entering a library. Perhaps it’s the cloak of silence blanketing the space, which amplifies the sound of every flipping page and muffled whisper. Maybe it’s the majestic architecture that transforms the public spaces into literary temples, or the subconscious feeling that an infinite wealth of knowledge is at your fingertips.
If perchance you are not in the immediate vicinity of a hall of books, worry not; Thomas R. Schiff will bring the library to you. The photographer’s series “The Library Exhibition” features a selection of 360-degree, panoramic photographs that mimic the feeling of entering an expansive library space. And the best part is, there’s no library card necessary.
Schiff, who has previously photographed modernist homes and cathedral ceilings with the same panoramic style, captured the image of 38 libraries around the country, from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello library to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale. Because Schiff captures the spaces before the libraries open to the public, few people are seen roaming the book-laden halls, allowing the eye to focus on the myriad architectural details and structural differences.
The photographs come together to show the history of the library in America, a space traditionally designated for community and learning. There have been, however, significant changes to the library model over time. For example, prior to the late 18th century, libraries were spaces reserved for the elites; not until Benjamin Franklin opened the first American lending library in 1790 were the spaces open to the public.
Are such ideological shifts evident in the buildings’ stained-glass windows, winding staircases, and looming chandeliers? Take a brief tour through Schiff’s favorite libraries and come to your own conclusion.