Just as e-readers have rendered the bound paper book nearly obsolete, the prominence of cell phones has made traditional phone booths little more than an inner-city eye sore.
The two outdated means of communication now find themselves kindred spirits, thanks to an international movement to turn former phone booths into “take one, leave one” communal libraries, with the intention to keep material books in the hands of those who read them, rather than in the dump.
John Locke, the New York City architect behind the “Department of Urban Betterment” project, recently took a cue from similar projects in the United Kingdom and Los Angeles, starting with the idea that phone booths are now a liability. Rather than ripping them out, he wanted to turn them into an asset.
“As a book lover, books are something I enjoy sharing with friends or neighbors,” Locke says. “The question was just to find the right delivery method, and once I looked at how the kiosks are structured, it seemed pretty simple to attach a shelving system to create a mini community library and try to make a sheltered place of potential – somewhere to come together and share a good book with your neighbors.”
Though, during the first run of the project, it didn’t quite go as expected. The library was ransacked, including the shelving. Now, the idea is to find local businesses that would welcome a booth in their storefront where they can look after the upkeep and keep an eye on vandalism.
Certainly New Yorkers are taking books, but will they leave them behind? Locke says the results have been mixed, and he has had to restock the books a few times to keep the system going.
“I think as the project continues and I add a more descriptive set of instructions, the sharing component will be increased,” he says.