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How an Old Highland Park Phone Booth Became a Tiny Library

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Welcome to Curbed's first-ever Micro Week, five days' worth of stories, photos, and minuscule floorplans that celebrate the grand tradition of small-space living. We'll tour small homes, explore the city's smallest neighborhood, and so much more!

For nearly 13 years, book designer and artist Amy Inouye has worked out of her Future Studio office, on Figueroa in Highland Park (also home of the giant Chicken Boy statue). Over the years, she'd walk to local restaurants and businesses on the busy street and every time she did she'd pass this same hollow phone booth on the corner of Figueroa and Avenue 56. The phone had been pulled out at some point, and so it was just kind of sitting there, useless. Then one day, Inouye got the idea to spruce up the spot and use the phone booth as her own take on a Little Free Library, the for-some-reason contentious, independently-made hutches and boxes that ask passers-by to leave and take books at their leisure. And so the Book Booth was born.

As a book designer and book lover, Inouye has a lot of titles lying around. "I get a lot of samples, I go to a lot of book shows ... I think like most people who are really into books, I like to hold onto them, and I was just ending up with these piles of books." With this in mind, she started thinking about that phone booth in a new way. "It was sort of protected: it was under the awning of a business, it was off the street," she explains. It was also next to a bus stop, and right by a restaurant—ideal for catching foot traffic. "Plus, my office being six doors down meant I could keep track of it, manage it, straighten it up. It was convenient." So, she started formulating her own "artistic intervention" for the gutted little building.

The phone booth, Inouye says, is technically off the sidewalk and on the property of the restaurant—then a pupusería that she frequented—so she just went to talk to the people in charge there. They had "zero problem with it," and in the summer of 2010, the phone booth became the Book Booth. It has signage explaining how to use it (take something if it looks good, leave books you don't want anymore), and is occasionally adorned at its base with colorful duct tape or knitted skirts to keep things exciting and also because the base is just a weird, open mess of wires.

Inouye says this is one of her favorite projects, in part because it's been outrageously popular. Without its own Instagram account or Twitter, it's just taken off. Sometimes she'll fill both shelves up in the morning and by the afternoon it's bare again. "We've had some kind of freak-out moments like, 'Where are these books going!?' We thought, 'OK, there's some crazy person that's just picking them up and throwing them away three blocks up the street.'" And she's checked. But only very rarely has she found a book abandoned nearby.

The Book Booth is also one of Inouye's favorites because it's given her and a lot of locals an excuse to interact. She says that, though her studio's been on the street for years, she'd never really talked with any of the workers at the nail salon between her office and the Book Booth. Now, when they see her walk by with books to restock, they come out to see what's new to read. "They're my neighbors; it's kind of sad [that we didn't talk before]. But now we're friends. It just gives that kind of opening to have a short conversation with someone about something really nice and positive."

About a year ago, the pupusería moved out and a bar called the Greyhound came in. They were happy to let Inouye continue the Book Booth. She says that the booth's become even more popular since then, and the titles dropped off have gotten "really, really interesting." The runaway success of the project has Inouye hooked. She says she's always on the lookout for a new phone booth to convert, and invites others to "take this idea and run with it."
· Micro Week 2015 [Curbed LA]