Dial L for Library

Phone box library in Trecastle, Powys (https://www.instagram.com/p/BKDHBCGgYUE/?taken-by=calmgrove&hl=en)

These days most people have mobile phones (‘cellphones’ to transatlantic readers) and as a result many phone boxes (‘phone booths’) are becoming redundant, in the UK at least. As it is, many of those surviving and operating don’t accept cash, only cards (perhaps to lessen attempted thefts, probably because coinage is becoming a threatened species). The classic British red telephone boxes are being sold off as novelty items, garden ornaments or whatever, but a few — and more than a few, if Google Maps are to be believed — are being converted to … free libraries.

Last year I came across the ‘library’ in Trecastle, Powys — Trecastell in Welsh — and took a couple of photos. (Needless to say, I had a quick peruse of the books too!) According to the Trecastle Community Centre’s Facebook page, “The phone box was offered to the Council for one pound, or they [BT, presumably] would remove it. We accepted the box and some discussion took place and it was decided to make it into a lending library. It has been painted blue to replicate Dr Who`s Tardis.” This must have been not long before I saw it.

Trecastle Tardis library, from the Community Centre’s Facebook page

Since then it’s been given a fresh lick of paint and signage proclaiming it as the TRECASTLE TARDIS LIBRARY. In 2016 they noted that it’s “as yet unfinished”. They just had to “fix some shelves in the box and then you can either drop books off, pick books up or take them permanently … Or just go in and have a read when it’s raining. It’s quite warm in there.” It was still there and functioning when I drove past earlier this week.


The idea of free libraries or book exchanges isn’t new, and they needn’t just be located in an old phone box. Most bibliophiles will have heard of Little Free Libraries, a concept which originated as recently as 2009, and has since spread to dozens of countries around the world. These mini-libraries frequently resemble real structures in miniature, from the original Wisconsin library (modelled on a traditional schoolhouse) to several TARDIS replicas, from a design based on a railway signal box to a book exchange housed in a reconditioned music centre cabinet. Most designs are essentially glass-fronted boxes with a door, usually with a roof structure to make the library as house-like as possible (and be relatively weatherproof!). ‘Stewards’ are encouraged to customise them for the expected clientele, whether schoolchildren or the wider community.

Variations exist, of course. New Zealand’s South Island has, at the last count, around a hundred Lilliput Libraries, centred mainly on the town of Dunedin. And of course, the UK has its phone box book exchanges, which began as early as 2009 — the same year as the first US Little Free Library — when the Somerset village of Westbury-sub-Mendip bought its defunct red telephone box for £1.00 and turned it into a free book swap shop. No doubt you know of others.

Whether called a book exchange, little free library or Lilliput library the principles behind them all are in general the same: to encourage reading among as many people as possible through free access to free books. The instructions for use are common the world over: take a book and return or replace a book (whether the same one or another).

Despite the killjoys — and be assured there are always some, and will always be some — this is a wonderful concept, especially in a world where profit and gain are too frequently measured solely in monetary terms, rather than personal and communal. Do you know of one near you?

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25 thoughts on “Dial L for Library

  1. MrsB_inthehills

    Such a good idea – actually two good ideas! A positive use for redundant phone boxes, and also a facility that is so uplifting and generous in spirit. I particularly like the quirkiness of painting the Trecastle box blue and naming it The Tardis!

    1. There are actually at least two US book exchanges that are TARDIS replicas, presumably down to Stateside Whovians! Whereas we have genuine phoneboxes we can adapt. 🙂
      As Crickhowell has both a library (yay!) and a bookshop (huzzah!), not to mention two charity shops with book sections, we bibliophiles are well enough supplied with outlets not to need a little free library. But smaller communities (like Westbury-sub-Mendip, Trecastle and maybe Llangattock?) would certainly profit from their own. I agree, such wonderful initiatives!

    1. Thanks so much, Phyllis, really pleased you enjoyed this, and really grateful for all your shares of my posts, tweets and Instagram photos on social media — really appreciated, thanks!

    1. I liked your description of the book exchanges you saw as ‘treasure chests’ because in a way that’s exactly what they are! Liked the review too. 🙂

  2. Oh if I could only get my hands on an old English phone booth! I’d love to turn one into a small lending library. Yes, I did see one just last week. A friend and I drove through an older established neighborhood, looking for a rental when we came across a small free library. Of course I immediately felt right at home.

    1. I’m sure there are websites where you can purchase these, but the shipping would cost an arm and a leg, not including the item itself.

      Yes, there’s something comforting to us about books, but for certain philistines — mentioning no names — who cut funding for the arts, books must represent some sort of threat. Unless it’s their own (ghost-written) self-promotional books.

  3. We have an informal book exchange in our church hall – it’s a brilliant incentive to get myself to church as I can dive into the books over a nice cup of tea afterwards!

  4. This is lovely Chris. I love the idea of a Tardis library – overflowing with idea in such a small space. Wonderful! None near us that I know of, though we still have some libraries open – for now

    1. I love the idea that, as with Doctor Who’s time machine, the interior is bigger — in the library’s case because of the multiple universes contained in each volume.

      I’m just spitting blood at the moment, having just received Teresa May’s letter. It’s thanks to her and her party that — under the excuse of austerity cuts to services like libraries, the NHS, social welfare, the police and all the rest have made us weak and unstable, not to mention the madness of the EU referendum. How anyone sensible can believe her weasel words is beyond me. I’m so angry I’m minded to write an open letter to her. For all the difference it will make …

      1. The ridiculous thing, when polled, most people like Jeremy Corbyn’s leaked policies (re-nationalisation, the abolition of tuition fees, repeal of the Bedroom Tax) but say they’ll still vote for Teresa May! Sadly, I fear people will swallow the old myths about Tories being good for the economy – despite the recent years of proof that this is absolutely a lie

        1. People have forgotten that this is not a Presidential election but one about peoples’ futures. Listen to her and it’s all “I, me, mine”. As another leader has said, Sad!

          1. It’s all about personalities too, isn’t it? If you don’t have charisma, don’t look and act as people expect a PM to look and act, you can have the best policies but no one will listen

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