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.

repurposed phone booth library in NYC additional and closer views of the shelving unit

repurposed phone booth library in NYC passersby stop to browse the books

repurposed phone booth library in NYC detail on shelving unit, imprinted with john locke’s insignia for the ‘DUB’ (‘department of urban betterment’)

repurposed phone booth library in NYC 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.

repurposed phone booth library in NYC part of a series of poster graphics designed by locke about the project

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

more comments

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

comments policy

(4 articles)


a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

design news

keep up with our daily and weekly stories
507,314 subscribers
- see sample
- see sample
designboom magazine