The birth, growth, travails and triumphs of American public libraries, as seen through excerpts from books and articles plus over 400 black-and-white drawings and photographs. Dickson, who fell in love with his local library as a young boy, supplies the book's introduction plus lead-ins to the various chapters. The first excerpt comes from a 1984 article in The New England Magazine on the impact of America's earliest subscription library: Ben Franklin's Philadelphia Library Company. The final one is from The Futurist, which last year predicted (among other things) that libraries will one day be printing books and articles on demand, accessed from publishers' computers. In between. Melvil Dewey eschews his decimal system to expound on librarianship as a profession; V.I. Lenin contrasts the restrictive library practices of tsarist Russia with the open-door policy in the United States; Richard Wright recalls a ruse he once perpetrated to get books from the ""White Only"" Memphis library; and numerous librarians supply memoirs and diary entries. The illustrations are a delight: the Boston Athanaeum in the mid 1800's; the imposing edifices made possible by Andrew Carnegie's turn-of-the-century grants; a Dorothy Lange photo of a Mississippi shack proudly flourishing a tilting ""Public Library"" sign. There are librarians on horseback and in bookmobiles; there are libraries in restaurants, department stores, aboard ships and in railroad cars. There are children's rooms and special collections; the new-fangled technology of this computer age; scenes from movies featuring libraries or librarians; and much, much more. All told, a lavish love letter to a great American institution and the devoted people who serve it.