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A phone booth on 96th St. outfitted with a bookshelf by the fictitious Department for Urban Betterment. Image via

LOS ANGELES — His name is almost too perfect for an artist-architect engaging with urban space. John Locke, not to be confused with the late Father of Liberalism, has been marrying two soon-to-be archaic devices in a charming way. Traveling around Manhattan, he’s been carrying objects called books and placing them in spaces known as phone booths. It’s a charming result.

John Locke’s diagram for constructing the low cost library designed for New York’s phone booths. (image via

The project is sponsored by the fictitious Department of Urban Betterment, and so far, he’s outfitted two empty phone booths with shelves and books. New Yorkers, unfortunately, reacted in a very New York way: his first iteration of the project was dismantled and relieved of its contents in just a few hours. His second iteration was slightly more successful, as he added labels and moved the location to the well-trafficked 96th Street. As so New Yorkers responded in the opposite direction: they looked carefully at the books but quickly put them back.

“The ubiquity of phone booths is interesting because they are completely obsolete,” he explained in a recent interview with The Atlantic.  He noted that they’re “unevenly distributed in outlying neighborhoods and they carry a strong sense of nostalgia with me.”

Locke’s aim is to reframe the almost archaic phone booth to create a publicly-accessible, publicly-generated library. It’s similar to the concept of Bookcrossing, whose book sharing ethos has led to impromptu book opportunities around the world and informal book shelves in various coffee shops. I’d love to see more done with phone booths in different cities; Locke has a great model for artists and book lovers alike.

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