They were once indispensable fixtures on our streets.
Shanghai’s phone booths are reborn as mini libraries
But like flashlights, the Sony Walkman and maybe even cameras, phone booths have been made largely redundant by the rise of mobile phones.
In Shanghai, there are about 7,000 phone kiosks still standing, left unused most of the time – and costing a small fortune to maintain.
But a new initiative is giving these old boxes new life, by turning them into mini libraries.
Together with China Telecommunications and other booth operators, the local government has unveiled six “reading booths” in the historic ex-colonial French Concession district.
“Promoting reading needs a lot of resources. If public libraries are like the main artery, social spaces [like reading booths] are like the capillaries,” says Fu Xiao, the deputy head of the Culture Bureau of Xuhui District, Shanghai, in an interview with Shanghai-based news site The Paper.
The booths have been given one other 21st-century upgrade: Wi-fi and a battery-charger are now available in each booth.
The organizers have designed three themes for the reading booths.
Two of the booths are situated by the former residences of two famous Chinese writers: Ba Jin and Ke Ling.
These kiosks have been turned into mini-museums, with a selection of the writers’ books, manuscripts and belongings on show. A video on the writers is also playing on a screen.
In two other booths, only one book is available – in multiple copies, of course. Book-lovers are welcome to read inside the booth, or borrow the title and take it home.
The two final booths are dedicated to book-sharing. A total of 300 books, each with an individual QR code, are available for borrowing, and a donation box is placed inside to encourage Shanghaiers to donate their own books.
Some people are worried that the books will be stolen, but the organizers have suggested it’s also a way of building mutual trust.
“I believe people will work together for the common good instead of destroying this [out of selfishness],” says Gan Qiming, the chairman of the Thorn Birds Book Club, which helps to run the kiosks.
Only time will tell if their faith is well placed.