Public Libraries, and Profiling Paul Harding

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At a time when public libraries and librarians are facing budget headwinds and sometimes intense political scrutiny for the roles they play in their communities, the Times photo editor Erica Ackerberg last fall dispatched photographers to seven libraries in cities, suburbs and rural areas across the country to document what daily life in those public institutions really looks like in today’s world. The resulting photographs, published this week with an accompanying essay by the Book Review editor Elisabeth Egan, revealed libraries to be essential community centers and far more than the hushed and beloved book depositories you may remember from your childhood. On this week’s podcast, Egan and Ackerberg talk to the host Gilbert Cruz about how their article came together, and what libraries mean in their lives and in society at large.

“Books are what draw you to the library, but there are so many other things happening there that have nothing to do with books,” Egan says. “The modern library encompasses 20 other things based on the needs of its community. … What the library needs shows you what the community it’s in is all about.”

Ackerberg says: “I was actually thinking about one of the libraries, the Northtown Library in Chicago — they call themselves an ‘intergenerational community hub,’ and I felt like that kind of sums up all these libraries. Every generation, and everybody from all communities are welcome there, and hang out there, and spend time there. It’s a warm place to be.”

Also this week, MJ Franklin, an editor at the Book Review, talks to Cruz about his recent profile of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Paul Harding, whose new book is “This Other Eden.” “

What I was interested in was, What is Paul Harding up to now?” Franklin says. “What is his writing process? He has such a distinctive and singular voice, that I wanted to get closer to that.”

We would love to hear your thoughts about this episode, and about the Book Review’s podcast in general. You can send them to [email protected].

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