So it began in Berlin. In 2011, Konrad Kutt of the Institute for Sustainability in Education, Employment and Culture (INBAK) began the BücherboXX initiative. It involves telephone booths and books. Lots of books. Of course, public phone booths are sort of irrelevant in a world where everyone carries a cell phone. So instead of leaving the evidence of receding era to stand as skeletons on the sidewalk, let’s repurpose these little spaces as mini lending libraries.
Kutt and INBAK have been spreading the idea around Berlin for the past few years. Booths that were about to be thrown out have been outfitted with shelves and filled with an assortment of donated books. Student volunteers have painted the booths and built benches outside.
“It teaches people about reusing items, about sustainability and also about promoting learning,” Kutt explained. “The idea is, ‘why throw things away when we can just reuse them anew?’”
Or like this borrowed wisdom: “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.” Something like that.
The BücherboXX collection near Berlin’s Friedrichstraße rail station has previously included classics like Goethe’s Elective Affinities and Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum. The libraries operate on a take-one, leave-one basis, but are no sign out sheets or definitive rules, just an integral ideology of community, trust and good will. As in, maybe don’t stuff all 20 titles in your backpack and leave. But if you do, no one’s going to hunt you down.
The project has been mostly effective. Designated community volunteers occasionally have to weed out the pornos and propaganda, but the booths have otherwise delivered only desirable outcomes.
And at some point, the idea has made a leap across the pond. Outside of Houston coffee shop Black Hole, there’s this tiny library house in an old pay-phone box. You know, until the next time it rains.