Britain’s Telephone Box Libraries

Sep 3, 2012 4 comments

The iconic red telephone boxes found all over the UK are beginning to disappear, but thanks to the effort of local communities and British Telecom, hundreds of them have been recycled into libraries.

In 2002 there were 92,000 BT phone boxes on the streets of Britain. The figure has now fallen to 51,500, while just 11,000 of these are traditional red phone boxes. During the last 20 years, the company has stripped thousands of the iconic landmarks from locations across the country as people switched to using mobile phones and Internet.

But for many towns and villages, the phone box is part of the community's history and identity. They are landmarks and an important part of the scenery and character of the village. People just don't want to have an empty space where the phone box once stood. Many communities have lobbied BT for the right to retain red phone boxes because of their historical and visual appeal.


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In order to save the telephone boxes which would otherwise be removed and demolished, BT launched a programme called 'Adopt a kiosk' in 2009. The programme allowed local communities and parish councils to adopt decommissioned telephone boxes in their areas for as low as £1 and turn them into something else. When BT receives applications for ownership, they remove just the phone and leave the box in place. Since 2009 over 1,500 have been adopted and converted into art galleries, tea rooms and florists, grocery shops, and one of the most popular reuses - the lending library. The Community Heartbeat Trust charity has even installed defibrillators in some boxes so you can save someone's life before the paramedics arrive.

Most of these libraries remain unlocked. Anyone can come and take away a book to read or a DVD to watch but they must be replaced by another item thereby keeping the stock ever replenished. The books, magazines, DVDs, and cassettes itself are donated by the villagers.

“The most fantastic thing about the Adopt A Kiosk scheme has been how communities across the country have become involved. Red phone boxes have become a focal point for all sorts of activities of real value to the local community. It's so gratifying to see our old rarely used boxes given a new lease of life”, says BT.

The red phone box has been a symbol of British culture since the 1920s and communities have been coming up with innovative uses for them, despite no longer having a phone inside.


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[via Gadling]

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