Before the pandemic my favorite Wiki activity was taking photos of the small towns in Pennsylvania, especially in central Pennsylvania among the ridges and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains. In almost every small town, I’d park my car at either a church (except on Sundays) or a library. Both were easy to find: the churches have steeples, and libraries usually have road signs (like the ones above). They also usually have free parking and interesting photo opportunities. The libraries were usually the better places to take a break: cool water, clean restrooms, free wi-fi, helpful librarians. and sometimes books on local history. Libraries have done their part in spreading the sum of knowledge from even before the founding of the Library of Alexandria in the third century BC. There’s no better place for a Wikipedian than a library!
Some of my favorite spots are shown below. I never thought I’d run into the Library of Alexandria in a town of 388 people in Pennsylvania. The Halfmoon Township library in Centre County follows the practice of combining the library with the municipal offices, and in this case also includes a pizzeria. Closer to home, the Darby Free Library is one of several libraries that claims to be the "oldest public library in the US." It was founded in 1743 as a subscription library and didn’t become a true public library until 1898. The only building the library has ever owned was designed by a church architect and built in 1872. It looks very much like a church – so I was bound to stop there sooner or later. A Carnegie library is still operating in its original building in nearby Ridley Park.
The library of Alexandria, Pennsylvania
Borrow a book, pay your taxes, and grab a slice
The date stone above the rose window reads "Darby Library. 1743 1872"
Last month’s Serendipity column by Vysotsky reminded me of my long held goal: Wikipedia should have at least one photo of every library in the world. Vysotsky insists we need two photos of each – one exterior, one interior. So be it. It won’t be much more difficult.
In general it would help illustrate articles on municipalities, universities, and other places. It would help our readers and Wikipedians find these cultural treasures near their homes as well as when they travel. In an age dominated by the Internet, it might help us all reconnect to the knowledge accumulated over the centuries in libraries.
Library photos can often be appropriately added to articles on cities, towns, neighborhoods or other geographic areas. Others might be part of historic districts. Some folks might think that some areas have too many good photos already. But if these places really exist, they are overwhelmed worldwide by the number of cities and towns that have articles with no illustrations. Photos can also be added to list articles, such as List of public libraries in Delaware County, Pennsylvania or List of Carnegie libraries in Europe. Some might also be included in articles about universities, airports, or railway stations.
Paraphrasing the great city planner and architect Daniel Burnham: "Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir our blood and probably will not themselves be realized." As part of Wikipedia, a project inspired by Jimmy Wales' exhortation to "imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge," we have no qualms about making big plans.
Of course we can prioritize: if we want to concentrate on public libraries first, that may be for the best. But nobody should turn away from a photo of a university library simply because it’s not open to the general public.
We have more specific plans, several, in fact, that can probably work together.
Plan A: Contact one or more librarians at every library and ask them to take a couple of photos next time they are at work. Contacting them through professional groups would be the most efficient method, either at the state, regional or national level. But if there is a glitch in that plan, individual Wikipedians can just contact their local libraries and ask the librarians directly.
Plan B: Of course Wikipedians can take photos themselves without asking a librarian. See if you can get a few pictures of every library within 20 miles of your home.
Plan C: there are many groups on Wikipedia like Wiki Loves Monuments and Wiki Loves Earth who have experience running photo contests. We can ask them for help, and local chapters and affiliates might also help.
Plan D: Put out the word on mass media and social media for help. We’re already exploring a social media campaign using the hashtag #1lib2pics.
No, we don’t have an organizational structure yet. Do you think we need one? Perhaps Plan A will work so well that we'll get photos of 90% of all libraries in just a few years. But if you are interested in helping to start an organization, or even in just taking a few photos, leave your user name in the comments section below, or email us ator
Now back to the whole point of this article: photos of libraries. I’ve asked Vysotsky to help pick some outside of North America.
Library at Rotterdam Central Station
15th century library in Braunschweig, Germany
Bibliotheque Nationale, Algiers
Balme Library, University of Ghana, 1950s
Johannesburg, New Library, South Africa. 1935
Stevenson-Hamilton Memorial Library in Skukuza, Kruger National Park, Mpumalanga, South Africa, 1960
Former Oakland, California Public Library
Old Jacksonville Free Public Library, Jacksonville, Florida
Carnegie library in Bryan, Texas
Montana State University library, 1904
Furness Library, University of Pennsylvania
Bowen Island Public Library, British Columbia
Richardson Library, St. Andrews University
National Railway Museum, York. U.K.