As a kid, I loved to read. Still do. The problem for my eight-year old self was that the public library was so far away. Located at the opposite end of town, about three miles door-to-door, it wasn’t easy for me to get there with my mom, a single parent who never learned how to drive.
Lucky for me, the library sponsored a Bookmobile, a rolling library located—if my memory is correct—in a cross between an Airstream trailer and a bus. It arrived once a week, parking in the supermarket lot behind our apartment building, and I still remember the thrill of climbing on board and choosing my reading materials for the week. No matter that my choices were limited to the meager capacity of its shelves. The Bookmobile expanded my world.
New and inventive ways to share books, promote literacy, and create community are appearing all over the place: in public phone booths, in front of private homes, in underused urban lots, city parks, and farmers’ markets. Here’s a tour of some pretty spectacular ways to find and share books. Keep your eyes open: an alternative library might be coming to a corner near you.
Repurposed Phone Booths: NYC
Touted on Architizer as “New York’s alternative public library,” this snazzy invention is the brainchild of architect John Locke who is repurposing phone booths into communal libraries as part of his “Department of Urban Betterment” interventionist project. Constructed of machine-cut and painted plywood, the shelves are designed to hang securely without fasteners, while allowing phone to be used. This library allows visitors to give, borrow, exchange or take books at will.
Repurposed Phone Booths: UK
After observing a rarely used and often vandalized phone booth in Kingston, England, media consultant James Econs created the “Phoneboox” by installing plywood shelves in the interior space and filling them with some of his old books.
Along the edges of the shelves, Econs wrote: “You are welcome to take me… but please make sure to replace me!!” As reported on Designboom, “the rest of the community quickly became involved in adding their own books to the collection and borrowing and swapping others in and out.”
The Uni: A Portable Reading Room for Public Space
Designed to share books, improve public spaces, and “showcase the art of learning,” the Uni is an open-air reading room project developed by the team at Street Lab of New York and Boston. A modular system of 144 open-faced cubes (built by students at MIT), it can be adapted to any urban space. Not a lending library, the Uni is meant to bring books and learning experiences to parts of New York City that might otherwise be lacking. Working with a team of volunteer librarians, the Uni collection consists of donated new and gently-used books.
Volunteers with expertise and passion in a particular field have the opportunity to “curate” the books in one of the 16” cubes. As stated on Uni’s website: “Curated collections convey a sense of passion and depth too often missing from content chosen for public space. They also serve to include different ‘voices’ in the collection, reflecting the communities where the Uni operates.”
The Little Free Library
Two years ago in Hudson Wisconsin, a guy named Todd Bol built a miniature model of a library, filled it with books, and placed it outside his home. He did this to honor his mom, a teacher and book lover who had passed away. One thing let to another, and now his simple idea has spread to states across the U.S., and hundreds of little free libraries.
Encouraging people to take a book, or leave a book or a note, Bol hopes to fulfill his mission of promoting a love of reading and literacy through a worldwide network of free book exchanges. Anyone can do it! The website includes a link on how to build a little library of your own.
Know of any other alternative libraries in your community? Are you ready to build your own little library?
[UPDATE] *Since the original publication of this post on Beyond The Margins, NBC Nightly News has produced a feature about the Little Libraries. You can see it here.