Remote Access: Small Public Libraries in Arkansas

Remote Access is the second Schmidt and House collaboration. Inspired by a love of libraries and the role public libraries play in their communities, we selected 21 of the smallest of the 235 public libraries in Arkansas for the project. The resulting collection of photographs and essays was published by the University of Arkansas Press in December 2021. From our project press release:

“All public libraries serve similar roles in their communities that go far beyond providing reading material. Those roles and services often don’t end up in mission statements, but they are critical in the lives of the patrons,” says Sabine Schmidt. “Small libraries in particular offer a safe, warm space with critical internet access, a research center, a home away from home. Often the librarian acts as researcher, grant writer, vocational counselor, cook, family relationship coach, child welfare monitor, community organizer, tutor, visitor information officer, living bulletin board, a friendly face, and a patient listener.”

Eureka Springs Carnegie Public Library, Carroll County. Photo: Sabine Schmidt

Schmidt, whose work often deals with ideas of place and home, concentrates on the physical community–the architecture, buildings, streets, businesses, schools, churches, and of course the library itself. “There is obvious beauty in the buildings and facilities of large urban libraries, and that has been documented in several collections of photographs over the years, but I find great beauty in the small rural library that has to make do with limited resources. Sometimes the library is housed in a building that was never intended for the purpose. Space restrictions can seem daunting. Often the library relies heavily on volunteers, with a librarian only funded with a part-time salary. The beauty that comes from labors of love is exactly what drives so many smaller libraries. It is tangible, palpable, and photographable.”

House is foremost a portrait photographer, and his interest is in the people who come to the library, who use the space and the services. He will set up his backdrop and lights and photograph anyone who uses the library (and is willing) during normal business hours. According to House, the process is quick and casual: “I’m interested in the people, their personality, what they’re wearing, what they’re carrying, why they are there. There is no posing, no preconceived notion. When I’m done, if I’ve been successful, I have opened a window on the community and the people who make it what it is.”

As a thank-you for their participation, all library patrons photographed received a complimentary silver-gelatin print of their photograph.

St. Paul Public Library, Madison County. Photo: Don House

All images and content on this site are the property of Sabine Schmidt and Don House and may not be used or reproduced without permission from Schmidt and House.

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