Monday, 27 June 2011

The Library in a Phone Box

**UPDATE** For a more complete and up to date list of phone box libraries, try this page here

I like libraries, I like the idea of libraries, the first ever grown up work I did was in a library. I'm a bit saddened by all these library closures going on, but I completely understand the need for the state to cut spending and cut the budget deficit. Its the way things are right now, and at some point in the future the tide will turn and library closures will cease.

I wondered has there ever been a golden age of libraries, were new libraries were being opened all the time. It appears not in my lifetime. For the past thirty years the trend has been to close down local branch libraries and move them to 'new' centralised larger ones.

So I was thinking what would a trend turning the closures round look like? Opening new smaller, hyper-efficient model local libraries?

And a little lightbulb came on in ma heid, a half remembered remembory about some village where they'd converted an old phone box into a library. So I trudged onto google, and it appears there's not just one, but loads of them, all over England.

1. Westbury-Sub-Mendip, Somerset

The earliest one I've found is was reported at the end of November 2009, and got quite a bit of media coverage, the BBC reported on it and it dominates the google search results for phonebox libraries. Apparently "A resident dreamed up the idea when the village lost its phone box and mobile library in quick succession." It looks like it could have been promoted via BT press release to support their Adopt a Kiosk scheme.

Its quoted as stocking a hundred books, and looks like its got four shelves, plus heaps and a box for children's books

2. St Margaret South Elmham, Suffolk

Over a year later reports of another one appear on the internet, this time in Suffolk. EDP reporting on one in St Margaret South Elmham, again as part of BT's Adopt a Kiosk scheme, this was amongst 'hundreds' adopted in Norfolk and Suffolk. "villagers have transformed theirs into a “swap box” – one of the country’s smallest lending libraries." One of the smallest, in that its exactly the same size as all the other phone box libraries. No figures are given as to the number of books, but it seems that as part of the scheme BT 'absorb' the £200 a year cost of the electricity for lighting. I wonder who maintains that.

From the photo it looks like at least three shelves, but no sign of stacking.

3. Marton cum Grafton, Yorkshire

At the end of summer 2010, the BBC reported on another, this one in North Yorkshire. Again this is more of a book exchange place, run by kids, and the BBC report is just of it being a three-month trial scheme. That was due to finish in December 2010, I can't find any word on whether its been continued. Perhaps if its kids from a specific school running the show then it'll be continued by each successive year.

Whilst there are five shelves, only three have books lines up, on has long photo of the village and the lowest one has the children's book box.

4. Hatton, Warrington
At the end of 2010 the Warrington Guardian spoke of a plan to convert a phone box on the corner of a pub into a library by putting shelves in, and then requesting book donations. By the end of January Warrington Worldwide was rep on it, and had a photo of it in operation full of books and being used by two locals at the same time

Looks like at least three shelves and a magazine rack on the wall, can't tell if there is a children's book box.

5. Cotebrooke, Cheshire

In January 2010, The Northwich Guardian reported on one opening, members of the parish council jumped at the chance to take over the old phone box when BT were going to decommission it.

They even managed to improve on the traditional library:-
“And the great thing is, they don't have to worry about return dates, which makes it even better than a traditional library.”
Five staggered shelves, with an initial book count of 60.

6. Apethorpe, Cambridgeshire

In the first few months of 2011, The Apethorpe News blog was reporting on the plans to open a phonebox library there. There was plea for books and DVDs, but no new news since March.

Google maps just shows a regular phone box with no evidence of books, so who knows.

7. Point, Truro

The BBC had a video report in March 2011 for the 'book stop' in Point, near Truro, which has been established in response to the mobile library service only coming round every two weeks

Five quite bulky shelves taking up a lot of internal space, only four with books, possibly some more squeezed on top. No sign of children's books box.

8. Feock, Truro

At the end of March, the In The Kernow site has a video report and the Point library and a similar one in Feock, mentioning a launch party at the start of April.

From the video it looks like this has far better shelving than Point's, around six shelves, with a audio-cassette rack too, not sure how many books though

9. Staplehay, Somerset
In the middle of April, the Somerset County Gazette reported on a phone box library opening in Staplehay, which would have been opening on the 18th of April by a councillor from Westbury-Sub-Mendip, as it was directly inspired by. They're proud of the fact that whilst local libraries are reducing their opening hours, the phone box is available 24 hours a day.

Four shelves and a magazine rack, extra points for having a notice board too

10. Horsley, Surrey

At the end of May the BBC reported on one in operation in Horsley, Surrey.

Its more of a guerilla phone box/library conversion compared to the others, less of a community involvement and more of a lone eccentric. In the BBC piece it reports that BT have no knowledge of this one.

Does this even count, looks more like someone hiding rude books I guess it could count as four shelves, but its a bit half-arsed.

11. Little Shelford, Cambridgeshire

A few weeks ago the parish council website for Little Shelford in Cambridgeshire featured a piece on their phonebox library, explaining how to use it, including the vital feedback loop

...for really popular books, if you see a book you fancy reading one time you visit and the next time it’s gone, make a note on the Post-it pad and stick it on the window asking for it to be returned as soon as the last borrower has finished reading it (in other words ‘swopped back into stock’) so that you can get your hands on it. That way the person who borrowed it will know that it is in some demand.
It looks like a clearly laid out box, four shelves of books, one shelf that looks empty and a box for children's books.

12. Thruxton, Hampshire

In the absence of any photo of the Thruxton phonebox library as reported in This Is Hampshire a few weeks ago, I thought I would go for a wee drive in the country and check it out for myself. The weather was glorious, the sky all blue and roasty toasty. We came off mighty A303, weaved our way through some narrow country lanes and there it was before us, Thruxton's own phone box library. We were told by a villager stood nearby that it had been open for about six weeks and it took a while but they've got the balance between people dropping off books and picking up new one's just right.

Its a solid three shelf affair with excess books stacked on top of the top shelf. I left a some feminist books and a Bill Drummond autobiography.

13. Shirley, Derbyshire

The one in Shirley Derbyshire is a bit of an odd story, apparently the council bought it in 2009, but it took until June 2011 for the BBC to report on it. Some neat quotes in the article though
Bill Ellis, from Shirley Parish Council, said: "Even we can stretch to a quid and so it was bought."

The Ashbourne News Telegraph has the interesting tiot-bit that the phonebox library has really taken off even though the village being serviced by a mobile library.

At least seven shelves on two sides, containing 250 books, and childrens books and DVDs.

And others:-
  • Coxley, Somerset
  • Dinder, Somerset
  • West and East Horrington, Somerset
  • Blagdon, Bristol
  • Tollerton, Nottingham
  • Timsbury, Bath
Here's a map I put together showing the approximate locations across England

View Phone box libraries in a larger map

Sure, this is all mostly as a result of BT's Adopt a Kiosk scheme and a lot of them might be little more than a book exchange scheme, more akin to finding a book left on a park bench, but these are very real examples of 'the local community' doing it for themselves.

Is there a disconnect between what professional librarians say are the services provided by libraries, somewhere quiet to read and do homework, free internet access, someone to point them in the right direction for research, etc, and what the local community want as a library which by way of phone box libraries is just access to different books?

There's three angles at work here:-
  • There's the state by way of democratically elected national government and local councils who have decided to cut back on and centralise library services as a cost saving in preferences to other things that could be cut.
  • There's the state by way of the appointed professional librarians who are paid for their expertise in librarianship who want to stop the cuts and ensure that the wider services provided by libraries are retained
  • and finally there's the state by way of people in local communities, who, regardless of other provisions and decisions elsewhere, identify the need and then establish the phone box libraries.