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It's a Happening, Who Cares About Book Theives?
September 8, 2012 2:58 PM   Subscribe

John Locke builds, installs, and creates libraries in payphone booths in New York City. “There aren’t a lot of people out,” he said. “You can just go down, find a good booth, carry it out, latch it in. It takes seconds. And then just fill it up with books and let’s wait and see what happens.”
posted by Xurando (48 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Needs more spring reverb.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:03 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, OK. I thought for a minute NYC still had booth booths.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:08 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


More about this concept here.
posted by HuronBob at 3:09 PM on September 8, 2012


Where do you find payphones anymore? I don't remember the last time I saw one.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:16 PM on September 8, 2012


Nice. I found this in my neighborhood.
posted by adamrice at 3:17 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a cool idea. I would be concerned about weathering.
posted by Glambie at 3:22 PM on September 8, 2012


Sounds like they get stolen before any weather can occur. I absolutely love this, by the way. We should be making public spaces into more interesting places to be.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:28 PM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


adamrice - Great sign in the background of that picture.
posted by bh at 3:37 PM on September 8, 2012


"Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him." --John Locke
posted by chavenet at 3:38 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now to get this hooked up with Book Crossers for self-sustainment...
posted by bleep at 3:46 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does he have any books that explain why polar bears were on that tropical island?
posted by ericb at 3:47 PM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are several Little Free Library groups who have done this with phone booths -- I think Syracuse is one of them -- who do this. Neato :)
posted by Madamina at 3:53 PM on September 8, 2012


There are certain kinds of public art that drive me up a wall with their smug pretense. This is the opposite of those. I love this. I just fucking love it and I wish I'd thought of it and then found enough drive to actually do it. How fantastic it must be to walk along and find that.
posted by Mayor Curley at 3:57 PM on September 8, 2012 [4 favorites]


There are two old style phone booths, with doors, on West End Avenue, at 100th and 101st Streets, if memory functions properly.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:43 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where do you find payphones anymore?

I only ever see them on subway platforms, which is ridiculous since a subway platform is the worst possible place to make a phone call.
posted by Sara C. at 4:46 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you don't pay your late fees Kiefer Sutherland trains a sniper rifle on you
posted by danb at 4:52 PM on September 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sounds like they get stolen before any weather can occur.

If they get caught they can throw the book at them.
posted by hal9k at 4:54 PM on September 8, 2012


Is this really about the books or about John Locke?
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:04 PM on September 8, 2012


I love this. Not to sound all woo-woo, but the juxtaposition of the hardness and closedness of the street with the softness and welcomingness of the books is lovely.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:20 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Oh look, honey. Books in a phone booth."
"How cute. We should read more."
"I'm so glad we live in a city full of interesting people and interesting public spaces."

/tweets Instagram of phone booth
/reinserts iPhone headphones
/continues walking with double tall mocha soy latte
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:36 PM on September 8, 2012 [20 favorites]


I have a radical idea for why his inspired projects are being dismantled - people might need to make phone calls.

If this guy is actually serious about making this thing work, he probably shouldn't be installing them over top of the property of a corporation.

There are 'alley libraries' all over Vancouver and Victoria - glass shelves nailed to back alley telephone polls. They've been there for years and they work fine. I regularly take a few books I don't want to keep down there and exchange them for others. Even if there's nothing I want, there's usually some ragged old copies of National Geographic to read.

Based on the article, I feel like he's more interested in getting attention than creating a viable project.
posted by mannequito at 6:00 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you look at the photos, the phones are left intact.

My guess is that the library that has been repeatedly destroyed is in a soulless non-neighborhood, like Midtown or the Financial District. Very few people live in those neighborhoods compared to the overall foot traffic, so people don't really take pride in the space in the way that they do when it's a more residential area. Also, just in bare pragmatic terms, nobody is going to haul unwanted books to Midtown in order to put them in this contraption. So it's difficult to actually do the take a book/leave a book model.

Meanwhile the streets of Park Slope, Fort Greene, and Clinton Hill in Brooklyn are almost overflowing with free books for the taking, and every apartment building I've ever lived in has had a take stuff/leave stuff area in the lobby.
posted by Sara C. at 6:07 PM on September 8, 2012


1) How much could all of those books, combined, possibly be worth to the men who stole them? $1 in aggregate? Fuck them.

2) I was kind of cool with this until I was reminded that this was the "property of a corporation" and now I'm ashamed because corporations need all of the help they can get, being under-represented in our society. Bad public art vandals! Bad!

2a) From the article, it would seem the city owns these, but point 2, the plight of gigantic multinational corporations, is so poignant and resonates so strongly with me I'm going to let it stand.
posted by maxwelton at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2012 [3 favorites]


My guess is that they were not taken maliciously by evil criminals, but that they were snapped up by people who genuinely wanted the books and didn't know there was some kind of social contract involved.

Frankly, even as someone who has participated in a lot of different kinds of libararies/book shares/take a book leave a book schemes, it's not clear to me what the "rules" are.

It's possible that people assumed the books were free. It occurs to me that this guy has not lived in New York that long and is not aware of the unwritten rules of Stuff On New York Sidewalks.

It's also possible that people assumed this was a take one/leave one thing, but had nothing to leave or intended to come back some other time with a book to donate, except that the books all got taken too fast and then some opportunist saw an empty shelf in the phone booth and snatched it. Which is shitty, but, you know, this is New York after all.

I have two ideas about this:

1. A sign with instructions in clear English and Spanish would probably help matters.

2. He's doing this in neighborhoods that are too densely populated and the books are all getting borrowed too fast, which makes the intent unclear. It's obvious from his photos that this is a "library" of sorts, but it's probably not obvious what this is about if it's an empty shelf. Again, a sign might help here, but it would probably be better in less dense parts of the city.
posted by Sara C. at 6:40 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't tell me what I can't do.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:56 PM on September 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


adamrice: Nice. I found this in my neighborhood.

I think that might be a Little Free Library, which are more long-term and less in the middle of giant public places.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:16 PM on September 8, 2012


Not to sound all woo-woo

all... architectural?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:22 PM on September 8, 2012


If you've ever walked around the Upper West Side -- pretty much anywhere along Broadway between 72nd Street all the way to Columbia, there are countless people selling books on the street--from people with fairly decent selections of fancy art books around Zabars, to sellers just spreading books likely taken from the curb/trash on a blanket or card table. If you put a stack of books on your stoop on the UWS, it will be gone before the door closes behind you. I can pretty much guarantee that the people who took those books, probably just walked a few blocks with all of them and started selling them on the sidewalk...why not? Free inventory!
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 8:27 PM on September 8, 2012


The booksellers only ever want to sell new-looking books that are popular sellers (classics, recent best-sellers, perennial favorites, stuff about New York). There's also a lot of politics and a whole other unwritten social code, when it comes to booksellers and other street vendors.

It could be that the street vendors took them (esp. the bottom of the barrel "here's some random stuff on my blanket" guys).

It could also be that this dude has a nice idea, but is way too clueless about the execution.
posted by Sara C. at 8:36 PM on September 8, 2012


I think that might be a Little Free Library, which are more long-term and less in the middle of giant public places.

Yes! We have one of ours in our neighborhood, a very charming one. I was delighted when I saw it, even though I haven't seen any books I wanted to read in there (They do always seem to be different books.) Just like having it around.
posted by louche mustachio at 8:50 PM on September 8, 2012


These amuse me. I like them. It would be really neat if ones were placed near elementary schools and filled with children's and young adult books.
posted by halonine at 9:06 PM on September 8, 2012


It's possible that people assumed the books were free. It occurs to me that this guy has not lived in New York that long and is not aware of the unwritten rules of Stuff On New York Sidewalks.

Well, my assumption was that you would take a book, and then return it later, possibly with some more books. I thought it was a library, not a book exchange.

I'd be happy with an exchange too, and would absolutely fulfill my end of the bargain (hell, I'd probably just leave some books for free), but my basic expectation was 'borrow and return, preferably with more books', not 'swap'. He would probably have counted me as a thief, even though I would have had no intention of being one. A little sign would have clued me in.

Never lived in New York, so I'm not colored one way or the other by its social norms.

And I do agree that 'swap' makes more sense, but that simply didn't occur to me, until you said something.
posted by Malor at 10:30 PM on September 8, 2012


I'd love to see something like this in lower Manhattan. I've started to amass too many books and it would be nice to have someplace to leave them.

I disagree with his assertion that public phones are obsolete. Not everyone can afford or want a cell phone, and visitors from other countries may not want to use their cell phones and get hit with roaming charges. And since mobile phones don't work in the underground portion of the NYC subway it makes perfect sense to have them there. I remember a scared German girl on the subway who was trying to meet her boyfriend out in some distant corner of Brooklyn but was panicking because the trains were rerouted that day. She got off the train and used the subway platform phone to call him.

Where do you find payphones anymore?
There are a lot of pay phones around Union Square, and I've seen them along 2nd Av in the EV, on Mott street, on Park near the WTC site... pretty much anywhere really.
posted by pravit at 10:54 PM on September 8, 2012


If anyone else is curious about the alley libraries mannequito mentioned above, I found a photo here and here. Both photos are of Commercial Drive in Vancouver. They look very well maintained. Who installed these and who cleans and repairs them? The city? How widespread is this (roughly how many have been installed)?
posted by Houstonian at 4:11 AM on September 9, 2012


Is this really about the books or about John Locke?

Based on the article, I feel like he's more interested in getting attention than creating a viable project.


Yeah, god forbid anyone try to do anything good ever. The disgusting vain attention-seeking assholes.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:17 AM on September 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


We have a couple such shelves in alleyways in my town, and it's understood that it's "take free books or leave free books for others" moreso than it is a lending library in the normal sense of the term.
posted by kyrademon at 6:00 AM on September 9, 2012


Houstonian, here's a couple (slightly different ones) located in my town. They appear to be the work of the Bürgerstiftung (Community Foundation), which was founded here in 2009 as an "independent civil society organization, funding institution, and platform for lively examination of the issues of the future of the city."
posted by kyrademon at 6:11 AM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is neat but not particularly groundbreaking. There are little free libraries all over the world.
posted by cog_nate at 6:44 AM on September 9, 2012


I was about to post a double of this, because I think it's pretty cool, but then it came up in the search, so -- whew!

Anyway, I was thinking about how this would really not work in San Francisco, because even in their heyday, payphones were rarely given an enclosed booth here, unlike NYC or, say, London. (I remember only one, but I'm sure there were more.) The vast majority were just mounted on posts with a small metal housing to protect the instrument itself. If it was raining and you needed to make a call you got wet.

Also, reminds me of the time I rescued a dog who was trapped in a phone booth in the East Village in a blizzard. Couldn't even see him because the snow was three feet deep on the ground. But I heard him howling and dug him out, poor little guy. Took him to the nearest liquor store, and the guy there recognized him and promised to return him to his person. Because of the (minor) heroics and the phone booth, I felt a little bit like Superman that day.
posted by trip and a half at 12:45 PM on September 9, 2012


In other library news: Abandoned Walmart is Now America’s Largest Library
posted by homunculus at 12:50 PM on September 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, god forbid anyone try to do anything good ever. The disgusting vain attention-seeking assholes.

Um...there IS a difference between someone genuinely interested in community building vs someone who may be doing something that's good mainly for self interest and promotion. I get the sense that this is a bit of both, in that there seems to be an element of art to it that's more about the project than about the utility of the library.
posted by jimmythefish at 12:57 PM on September 9, 2012


I concur with Sara C. that piles of books free for the taking are everywhere in Brooklyn. Just stacked on front stoops or out on the sidewalk in cardboard boxes with paper signs that say 'Free Books'. Simple. Unpretentious. Works for everyone.
posted by maggiemaggie at 1:47 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


homunculus: "In other library news: Abandoned Walmart is Now America’s Largest Library"

That is surprisingly not awful.
posted by wierdo at 2:11 PM on September 9, 2012


I miss all the used bookstores I used to spend hours and hours in. Every week. They are a reader's dream. It's a shame how many of them ... many dozens here ... have died in the last decade (the internet is certainly no replacement). I don't go the the f'ing opera or chamber concerts at $100+ a pop. I find treasure in books instead.

Used-store owners are (were) serving a very important community function. Rather than waste $$$$ on these dumb vandalizable unfiltered collections, if cities (artists, civic-minded orgs) really have the spare cash to help they ought to considering subsidizing the rent of used stores.

It's not quite too late. Before everybody is reduced to typing with their thumbs.
posted by Twang at 3:12 PM on September 9, 2012


There are a shit ton of used bookstores in New York City.

Yet another reason this project is sort of ill considered.

I think this would be a great proposal for a small, less dense city with a population that legitimately lacks access to affordable books. In New York it's beyond silly, because:

- Actual libraries are ubiquitous and well-funded here.

- There are tons of used bookstores, too, if what you need is to own the book.

- No library or used bookstore in your neighborhood? Check out the ubiquitous bookstalls that seem to pop up everywhere.

- We have a lively culture of street foraging, which means that people who have too many books are likely to leave them on the street for anyone to take.

- Because of the sheer size of the population, there are plenty of people who have too many books and want to dispose of them in any of the above well-recognized ways. Books in general are not scarce in this city.

- Because of the sheer size of the population, if you leave 50 books out on the street for "borrowing", they will all get snapped up in minutes. That's why we have libraries that take up whole buildings rather than one tiny bookshelf.

This would be a great project in a sprawly area with drastically slashed library budgets and no other good source of affordable books, where there isn't already a mechanism in place to distribute free books to the general population.
posted by Sara C. at 5:12 PM on September 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, god forbid anyone try to do anything good ever.

Yeah, that's totally what everybody in this thread and all the other threads is always saying forever.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:56 AM on September 10, 2012


Yeah, that's totally what everybody in this thread and all the other threads is always saying forever.

Oh lord, allow me a little hyperbole?

I feel that the two users I quoted were indulging in worthless kneejerk snark.

I feel that if one read the article with any degree of care, it was clear that the phone could still be used.

I feel that people should be allowed to carry out projects like this and not have to eschew all self promotion or publicity, lest some people dismiss them as objectionable egoists.

I think to do the above is incredibly damaging, not just to the person doing the particular project in question, but also insofar as it will put people of trying interesting and fun things, for fear that they too will be snarked to the ground and dismissed.

I sincerely hope I have better expressed myself here.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:05 AM on September 10, 2012


Phone Booths Shockingly Morphed into Goldfish Aquariums
posted by homunculus at 1:21 PM on September 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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