Sunday, September 09, 2012

Whatta concept: The Stealth Street Library

As a part-time librarian working for an exchange library here in Mexico where English-language books aren't sold at every bookstore, I couldn't help but applaud this idea: phone-booth libraries.

Now that everyone apparently has a mobile phone, what happens to the public phone booths that remain in the cities? They've already been scaled down from actual glass-door booths to something more like alcoves in most places, and cities like New York have been haggling over ways to repurpose the 872,000 booths still standing there. Proposals for everything from wi-fi hotspots to charging stations for electric cars have been on the table, but little or no action has been taken.

Meanwhile, in New York where it's not unusual for individuals to undertake what's currently called "spontaneous intervention," a designer and innovator has begun quietly slipping pre-constructed bookshelves into phone booths, and filling them with books. Free books. Then he waits nearby to see the reaction. Most don't give it a second glance. Some stop for a second, look it over and then hustle away. Some passersby pause to browse, take away a book. Others even leave off books of their own. And a few walk up with bags, load up all the books and take them away, presumably to sell to a bookstore.
Photo: The Graceful Spoon

The bookshelves' displays are ephemeral, some lasting only a matter of hours, others a few days or weeks. But designer John Locke, who resembles a young George Clooney, keeps patiently restocking and observing the results. This morning's New York Times article about his project reports the idea has caught on sufficiently that he gets a supply of books from publishing houses, bookstores and individuals.

Locke designed his bookshelves so they need no hardware for installation and just hook in place with an open spot for the phone, which sometimes still functions. He even posted plans for them on his modest website, The Graceful Spoon. Apparently he didn't do all this work to make a quick buck. But since he's teaching a course called "Hacking the Urban Experience" at Columbia U, it's a way of transforming ideas into action in the vast human laboratory of the New York City streets. I can't wait to see if it catches on in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco, Dallas...

1 comment:

jomomma said...

Brilliant! But I don't see it catching on quite as well in the areas that you mentioned as it would in boating communities, where people like you and other boaties already know how book exchanges work.