Ringing the changes: phone box becomes mini-library

Village that was set to lose its traditional red phone box and library service comes up with plan to save both

phone box The inside of the converted phone box/library in Westbury-sub-Mendip. Photograph: SWNS

When the mobile library stopped visiting, it was a blow for the villagers of Westbury-sub-Mendip. And when they found out they could lose their beloved red phone box, there was something of an outcry.

Happily a bright spark in the Somerset village (population 800) hatched a clever plan to tackle both difficulties. Why not buy the phone box and use it to set up a mini-library?

Today, the small but perfectly formed Westbury book box was doing a brisk trade. Adults were bringing in thrillers, romances and true-crime books, leaving them on the four wooden shelves and choosing another to take home. Young book fans were hunting around in the children's section – a big red box on the floor – for Roald Dahl and Horrid Henry favourites.

Parish councillor Bob Dolby, who cleans and polishes the phone box/library with his wife, Lyn, beamed with pride. "It has really taken off," he said. "Turnover is rapid and there's a good range of books, everything from reference books to biographies and blockbusters."

The scheme was the brainchild of resident Janet Fisher, who lives opposite the phone box. She floated the idea at a village tea party in August and the concept was accepted on the spot.

So the parish council bought the box, a Giles Gilbert Scott K6 design, for £1, and Dolby screwed the four shelves into place. A local business donated a sign and a wag added a "Silence please" notice. Residents donated books to get the project going and it became an instant hit, all for an outlay of just £30.

Fisher popped across the road today to swap an Ian Rankin novel. She was hoping to pick up a Michael Connelly book – "Some of the girls said there was one here" – but it had gone. She rejected the book on the life of Fred West and plumped for another American detective novel.

Fisher's neighbour, Angela Buchanan, strolled over to see what was new. She picked up a Penelope Lively the other day. Nobody has yet been tempted by the audio book she left of Laurence Olivier reading Charles Dickens. "It's such a brilliant idea. Our nearest library is Wells, four miles away, so if you don't want to go into the town but have run out of something to read, it's great you can use this. All sorts of interesting books turn up – manuals, picture books, good literary novels."

And unlike the library in Wells, the phone box library is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day – and is lit at night. There is a regular check on it to see if some titles are not moving. These are then shipped on to a charity shop to keep the phone box collection fresh.

BT has received 770 applications for communities to "adopt a kiosk". So far 350 boxes have been handed to parish councils. Ideas for their afterlife have included a shower, art installations, even a toilet. Dolby said he was just pleased that a piece of street architecture in Westbury had been put to good use. "It's very pleasing that the phone box has been saved but is also being used to provide a service for the village."

2 thoughts on “

  1. Wonderful. As an ex-librarian who is also mad about street furniture – especially letter boxes and phpone boxes – this is great. This is going to be a must for my books blog.


  2. Ditto on both! I love your red buses, as well, but perhaps that’s solely in London? And the ubiquitous black taxis. It would be a travesty to lose these phone booths. Bravo to them! Brilliant.


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