repurposed phone booth library in NYC repurposed phone booth library in NYC
feb 17, 2012

repurposed phone booth library in NYC

the phone booth library installed by john locke in new york city

on the streets of new york architect john locke has repurposed phone booths into communal libraries or book drops, installing bookshelves within the structures filled with books for residents to take, borrow, or exchange. the phonebooth shown here, ‘DUB 002‘, is part of his ‘department of urban betterment‘ interventionist project.

adopting the same concept as james econs’s ‘phoneboox‘ in the UK, locke’s project consists of a machine-cut and assembled plywood shelf, designed with indents to hang securely to the interior of the phone booth without the need for any additional fasteners. the pay phone and all signage remains completely viewable and operable, nestled within the frame of the bookshelf. installed in manhattan valley and morningside heights, the design is easily replicable in phonebooths throughout the city.

additional and closer views of the shelving unit

passersby stop to browse the books

detail on shelving unit, imprinted with john locke’s insignia for the ‘DUB’ (‘department of urban betterment’)

construction diagram: milled from a single sheet of plywood, the shelf hangs freely from the phonebooth without the need for additional fasteners

‘even as they are rendered obsolete by the ubiquity of smartphones, I’m interested in pay phones because they are both anachronistic and quotidian. relics, they’re dead technology perched on the edge of obsolescence, a skeuomorph hearkening back to a lost shared public space we might no longer have any use for. but they can also be a place of opportunity, something to reprogram and somewhere to come together and share a good book with your neighbors.’ – john locke

all books in the project were donated by local residents. brooklyn-based fabricators kontraptionist milled the plywood for the shelving.

part of a series of poster graphics designed by locke about the project

  • … as an idea model it’s great … as an attempt to strengthen a community it’s ok, and as an art instillation it’s nice.

    Unfortunately it will become a trash cubbyhole. This story will lose its luster quickly and the project will do the same shortly after. No follow up to the project 6 months from now will take place from the media or from the designer. The best feedback will come from the men that clean these booths, who unfortunately will never be heard.

    I found it interesting also that a project hopes to revive an obsolete piece of equipment with books which are unfortunately becoming obsolete as well.

    “The road to hell is paved with good intentions “this road is traveled more frequently than not by today’s designers. There is a great opportunity to study this project and learn from its successes and failures, learn from them, and then revisit opportunities to truly engage the neighbor communities. Maybe there is a way for each booth to address and display neighborhood specific activities and events. A place for neighbors to come and read/see neighborhood news perhaps…

    o0odesigno0o says:
  • Fill with eight track tapes

    mstndvn says:
  • I don’t think books will become obsolete any time soon.

    Apart from that, I think you’ve got a point, “o0odesigno0o”.

    noonoo says:
  • It’s a shame about the spelling of “anachronism” in the graphic. Brilliant bit, though.

    Ryan says:
  • looks good! welcome to the micro library movement. up here in the hudson valley, we opened the Book Booth: america’s littlest library. it housed inside a 1960s English telephone box. check us out on facebook for more info and pics. facebook.com/thebookbooth

    claudia says:
  • won’t catch me browsing those microlibraries, no matter how cool they are. phonebooth is just another word for public urinal.

    bunnny says:
  • “the pay phone and all signage remains completely viewable
    and operable”
    That would be something. I can hardly find a payphone at all here in San Francisco anymore, let alone an operable one!

    Transister Sistor says:
  • Wet moldy books ahead?

    piggy says:
  • I believe the idea is brilliant.
    Instead to throwing books to the trash, we can try to use them to help the community.
    This is the kind of project that starts slow; however, after it takes inertia, it can be hard to stop.
    Keep going! Education is the only future this country have.

    Alejandro G. Carlstein says:
  • Cool! But I can already see McDonalds trash shoved in there instead of books. I undoubtedly agree that there should be a move to educating the street scape. But who are you/we to force an idea onto a community that is not accustomed to even going to the library, in an assumption that they need to be educated? Unmonitored, this project will fail in a few months. It’s a disconnect between what we feel, and what a neglected community actually needs. What sort of books will be stored in the cubby-holes? And how will they educate people? Reading a classic alone is not going to get someone a job and miraculously change someone’s life. Not to mention, after a week, those books can be sent to the CDC to be studied, and not read. Maybe instead of books or periodicals, put business cards of organizations that specialize in social services. Why don’t we actually pay attention to what communities need instead of a cool design that imposes a superiority.

    Orlando says:
  • I love this idea. Very simple and something that should bring a little smile to the face of all who walk by.
    It is easy to call out all the possible failures of something like this, but that pessimistic mentality is one of the reasons humanity is in such a terrible state.

    Books won’t ever die. They may go out of fashion, but there will always be a certain romanticism to print media that the internet will never capture, and to have the opportunity to walk down the street and pick up a good read will only add to that experience.

    The world needs more positive people like James Econs and John Locke. Learn from them and do something good, if only for the sake of doing it.

    sim says:
  • This project has good intentions but unfortunately many people do not. Hopefully you wont see the books torn and thrown in the floor become an eye sore, because certain people can’t see anything positive and leave it to those who will cherish it.

    Sam says:
  • You know what…I’m going to hold out that people wlll actually not turn them into trash receptacles.

    Susan says:
  • THAT IS AWESOME!!! I will peak into every phone booth I see in NYC from now on in hopes of seeing at least one of these. Brilliant 🙂 One way to make sure you always have something to read. Got my vote!

    http://www.facebook.com/YouAreWhatYouRead

    http://www.facebook.com/YouAreWhatYouRead says:
  • Looks great and it’s an imaginative concept, tho I am saddened by the negativity of some comments here. Maybe it will get trashed, but then again maybe some local residents will be inspired to maintain it and add their own books. Nor does it claim to cure all social problems or reduce unemployment. It might however add a bit of pleasure to some people’s lives.

    Jim3916 says:
  • Brilliant idea. But what is necessary is a couple of area resident volunteers to keep an eye on it. Along the Philadelphia Main Line Septa Commuter Railroad we have bookshelves inside every train station stocked by a volunteer from each town’s Library and the books just fly out of there. Very successful.

    lisbeth says:
  • jenny db, good point about “it may become a trash cubbyhole”. if i live in NYC, if i had one of these public library in my neighborhood, i will go to clean it once a week if i do not have a book to place there. how hard will that be? 10 shelves. if someone makes it, an endless group of people fills it, a few other people cleans it. that is communal, that is active citizenship.

    hsu901 says:

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