A project for the books: Philly photographer shoots librarians

Stephanie Aaronson

Updated: Wednesday, February 26, 2014, 3:00 AM

Librarian portraits by Philly-based photographer Kyle Cassidy.

It all started with a tweet. A Houston-based librarian named Naomi Gonzales reached out to a photographer on Twitter to let him know that librarians were coming to Philly. “We are friendly and fabulously photogenic,” she said.

Ingrid Abrams: "No one is better at fostering intellectual curiosity than children's and teen librarians." (Kyle Cassidy)
Lalitha Nataraj Lalitha Nataraj, Youth Services Librarian, Escondido Public Library (Escondido, CA): "Ideally, the library is an equalizer, where people can go and not feel judged. Even if this isn't always the case, library staff can and should advocate for libraries as equalizing community spaces." (Kyle Cassidy)
JP Porcaro, NJ Chapter Councillor for ALA Council: "I have two things I'd really like to say about libraries: The first is that libraries are a place to Make it Happen. And the best quote I found about libraries is actually by Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones. He says, 'When you're growing up there are two institutional places that effect you most powerfully: The Church which belongs to God and the public library which belongs to you. The public library is a great equalizer.'" (Kyle Cassidy)
Fobozi M. Ettarn, MLIS Student, Rutgers University: "Libraries are important because students these days are not actually competent at navigating the digital world, but we as librarians help them not only navigate the digital sphere, but become better global citizens." (Kyle Cassidy)
Leigh Milligan: "Libraries are important because they can make a difference in one's life. They are super inforrmation centers that are essential to provide accessible information to all." (Kyle Cassidy)
Dale McNeill, San Antonio Public Library "I think libraries are important because in the kind of sea of information, libraries contain and curate information and culture; they connect people with those resources; and they provide a place...I think the place is as important as the information and culture. But: contain, curate, connect and place." (Kyle Cassidy)
Tina Coleman: Libraries and librarians are important because the y can open entire new worlds to the people in their communities. Not just through books - everyone knows about the books - but libarians are super smart. They know things - and they know how to find the things they (and you) don't know." (Kyle Cassidy)
Timothy Conley, Center for Jewish History: "There's something like 2.1 billion indexed webpages on the internet and the stewardship of our cultural heritage through digital materials is everyone's responsibility. All this information is freely available at the library." (Kyle Cassidy)
Courtney Young, Penn State Greater Allegheny library: "Why libraries? Innovation, creativity, inspiration, diversity, commmunity." (Kyle Cassidy)
Erin Berman, San Jose Public Library: "Libraries are centers for knowledge that everyone in our society can access. They provide a place for discovery, creation and innovation. Libraries are our future without them our democracy is lost." (Kyle Cassidy)
Trevor Calvert, Marin Academy high school library: "I believe that libraries are vital as free access to information as a cornerstone of a healthy democracy." (Kyle Cassidy)
Gena Peone, Assistant Cultural Collections Manager of the Spokane Tribe of Indians: "Libraries and archives have a great capacity to facilitate repatriation of knowledge with respect to Tribal interests. I am looking forward to continuing this journey, locating resources and bringing them home." (Kyle Cassidy)
Megan Threats, AIDS Library of Philadelphia FIGHT "As a librarian for an AIDS Service Organization, I am able to deliver services and design and conduct projects that improve access to HIV/AIDS related health information for patients, the affected community, and their caregivers. Libraries are epicenter for access to information, and librarians have the unique opportunity to help users build digital and information literacy skills that are transferable and applicable in everyday life." (Kyle Cassidy)
Megan McFarlane, Campaign for America's Libraries: "Libraries open up a world of opportunities for all people regardless of socio-economic circumstance, age, race, sexual orientation, religion, or education. They provide a service that no other institute does and they do it for free! Libraries and librarians give back to society, humanity and culture and I am unimaginably proud to be counted among their number." (Kyle Cassidy)
Sarah Jane Levin "Librarian at the Urban School of San Francisco: Libraries are vital to the community not only because they provide free access to information, but also because we provide the tools for people to learn how to navigate the ever changing and new digital landscape." (Kyle Cassidy)
Dev Singer, Co-Coordinator at the William Way GLBT Center Library: "When I was in high school, the library was where I learned that there were other people like me. The complexities that come from being Jewish and being a lesbian were something that other people, older and wiser, grappled with. The library is a place where people like me, and anyone else who doesn't fit in, can learn that we are not alone." (Kyle Cassidy)
Clare Schmieder, Alice Paul Institute, Mt. Laurel, NJ: "I have always thought of libraries as a refuge - as places to collaborate and learn. Libraries offer people the freedom to be themselves." (Kyle Cassidy)
Mel Gooch, San Francisco Public Library: "Libraries encourage creativity and innovation and provide opportunities for life-long learning. Librarians are the ultimate search ninjas." (Kyle Cassidy)
Jenny Levine: "Libraries are the last safe, non-commercialized space that truly welcomes everyone in the community and brings them together. They're the great equalizer." (Kyle Cassidy)
Photo Gallery: Philly photographer Kyle Cassidy shoots librarians

Kyle Cassidy, a Philadelphia-based photographer, was immediately interested. He tweeted back and she directed him to the right people. A few weeks later he was setting up a portrait area at the Midwinter Meeting for the American Library Association at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

His portraits challenge the buttoned-up, stiff librarian stereotype and instead highlight the personal style of each person. Some appear stoic, while others have huge smiles. Some of the proud bookworms don funky glasses, pink hair and quirky hats.

The equally powerful quotes from the subjects highlight their passion for the work. “Libraries and librarians give back to society, humanity and culture and I am unimaginably proud to be counted among their number,” said one of the featured subjects, Megan McFarlane.

Cassidy holds a special place in his heart for librarians. His mother was a librarian, and the time he spent walking and browsing through aisles of books helped shape him as a person.

The day after the conference he contacted online culture magazine, Slate, hoping to run his photos on the site. Even before he began the project, he thought the media outlet would be perfect for publishing his work. In his interview with Slate, Cassidy said the portraits are partly a fight for those forgotten souls who depend on the libraries. It’s a fight against those forgetting the importance of the librarian. “It's easy to dismiss libraries as something superfluous if you have a connection to the Internet at home," he told the mag. "But for people in many communities, the library is their lifeline to the modern world. It's the only way they can do research, it's the only way they can apply for jobs and file taxes. This is a class of people that is easy for many of us to miss. This is who librarians are especially fighting for."

The Slate piece has been shared over 38,000 times on Facebook but the responses have been mixed. While some praised it, many objected the look of the librarians, and a few commenters argued against the need for any librarians at all. Others, including some librarians, seemed to think the diversity within the librarian community is irrelevant to their work and their cause. Cassidy disagrees. He started the project to put faces on this fight, to celebrate librarians and their hard work. He believes adding a personal element will force more people to listen and understand. “My work, for a long time, has revolved around introducing readers/viewers to people in the belief that when we see someone in front of us, we listen better to what they have to say,” he wrote in a blog post.

Cassidy plans to continue this project by attending another ALA conference this summer. You can check out more of his work on his website.

Stephanie Aaronson

Read full story: A project for the books: Philly photographer shoots librarians