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Quick Phone Booth Change – Into a Tiny Library


Move over, Superman – you’re not the only one who can perform a quick change in a telephone booth. According to the New York Times, an architectural designer from the Upper West Side is the real hero of this story. John H. Locke has devised a system by which he can quickly enter an empty telephone kiosk and fit it with shelves, then stock those shelves with books, then stroll away whistling, all within the space of a cool five minutes.

In 2011, Locke designed a special set of light, measured shelves that would fit perfectly into a common style of payphone booth in New York City. He assembles and paints the shelves at home, then waits for a quiet time to slip into a booth and conver it into a tiny library, filling the new space with books himself. He has completed four as of the writing of this post.

While the installations are eventually mysteriously dismantled and disappeared, the project has attracted its fair share of attention and admirers. Aside from the New York Times article, Locke has also been approached by citizens and companies and publishers wanting to be involved and to donate books to bolster the continuation of the installations.

An interesting aspect of the work is the encroaching obsolescence of the payphone. Who uses payphones anymore? But believe it or not, they are still a real source of city revenue:

Perhaps more important to the city, pay phones brought in $18 million in revenue in the last fiscal year. Of that, only about $1 million came from callers’ quarters; the rest came from advertisements displayed on the side of the phones’ cabinets. Since the agency would be loath to give up that money, it is considering the suggestions that it turn phone booths into touch-screen neighborhood maps; convert them into charging stations for mobile devices or electric cars; or use them as dispensers for hand sanitizer.

Learn more at John Locke’s web site.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

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