This might be the only telephone box where there’s more to read than the phone directory and smutty call-girl cards. That’s because this booth in southeast London is, in fact, a library. It’s the bizarre creation of local resident Sebastian Handley, who has given one of Britain’s defunct iconic red phone boxes a new lease of life. The booth, decked out with a few dozen books, a carpet and light, is open 24/7 and is run entirely on trust.
Southeast London is known for its crime, so were you concerned about theft?
Yes, because it’s not policed at all. I wasn’t sure about how it was going to work in that area. Some of the people walking by look like they are out of ‘Breaking Bad.’ Early on, I had to go home to drill some metal and returned to find that someone had stolen two pieces of wood, so I did have a wobble.
Are people returning the books?
Most books go forever but they’re always replaced and it’s fairly full up at the moment. There have been some bizarre titles that move on very quickly like a book about boats in the eighteenth century, The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl’ and ‘American Psycho,’ which had to kept on the top shelf.
Have you thought about branching out into CDs and DVDs?
Some people leave a few and I was thinking of doing that but the reason that this works is because books have no resale value. Someone did email me and say if we take the better books and sell them on Amazon, we can use the money to buy more books. I said “No” because the currency is books. If people thought we were selling the books it would destroy the trust — no one is profiteering.
What else could you use the space for?
I’ve had great conversations about this: it could be a powder room, cafeteria, tanning salon or even a greenhouse. I know people have turned old phone boxes into aquariums. Actually, a toy exchange or clothes shop would be a nice idea.
Has it turned into a tourist attraction?
I found someone sleeping in the phone box and I left them to it… perhaps they were reading a boring book and succumbed to sleep. But yes, it’s turned into a meeting point where people get their photos taken — it’s even on Google Maps.