You might ask, what is a picture of a pair of phone boxes doing here? But look again – what’s that word around the top of the nearest box – not TELEPHONE, but LIBRARY!
Located in Banbury, Oxfordshire, this former BT traditional red telephone box has been fitted with shelves and converted into a micro library.
It all started in 2014 when a local resident started leaving books for strangers in a working phone box. News spread by word of mouth and soon the ‘library’ was attracting many people to borrow, take or donate books of their own. Makeshift shelves were provided for the growing collection. But then there was a complaint about a potential health and safety issue caused by falling books and shelves and BT threatened to evict the books by March 7th 2015. A social media campaign was launched and within 24 hours the phone box had got local and national media coverage.
The BT spokesman said: “There were 1,093 calls made from this box in the past year. We had a complaint about the wobbly shelving from a Banbury resident, and we can’t just ignore it. If we had ignored it and little Janet or John had been injured by a collapsing shelf and books, there would have been hell to pay.
If people want to adopt a phone box in Banbury, please contact us and we will see if we can open a new chapter in this running saga, and bookworms in Banbury can review the situation and plot a new course for a library.”
Banbury Council indeed offered to adopt the phone box. BT then offered to provide a second, decommissioned phone box to house the books alongside the original box which would remain as a phone box. This duly arrived, and was fitted with shelves by local company Hawkins Steel. The new phone box library was formally opened on July 18th 2015 and has continued to flourish since.
You don’t have to go to Oxfordshire to see a phone box micro library, as there is also one in London, which actually preceded the Banbury version. This is situated on Loampit Hill, Lewisham close to St. Johns station. However, unlike Banbury, this was set up in an already decommissioned phone box, bought from BT for £1 by Sebastian Handley in 2014, who then spent another £500 fitting it out with shelves and books. The Lewisham Micro Library has continued to flourish and even has its own Facebook page.
Banbury and Lewisham residents can rest assured that as well as their micro libraries, there are still council-run public libraries in their areas,but who knows – maybe this sort of community initiative may increase in the future.
Indeed there are several rural locations where phone box libraries have been created, sometimes replacing former library provision. Since 2009 the village of Westbury-sub-Mendip in Somerset has had a phone box library set up by local people after the mobile library ceased visiting.
Micro libraries do not necessarily have to be housed in phone boxes. There are a number of instances of bus shelters being so equipped, such as this one at Kingston on Soar, Nottinghamshire.
At several railway stations too, bookcases or shelves have been provided where commuters can take or donate books for free – Stratford is one example in London.
BT has had a programme in place for several years, whereby old phone boxes no longer required can be adopted by local councils for other uses. Amongst other uses for old phone boxes are free mobile phone charging points – called Solarboxes, housing for defibrillators, and one fitted out as an art gallery in Settle, North Yorkshire. Closer to home, Kingston on Thames has an art installation consisting of a row of phone boxes leaning against each other like toppling dominoes.