The "Little Free Library" that recently appeared in Manhattan's Nolita neighborhood would seem to have a major design issue: Get more than one person inside, and turning a page suddenly becomes a violent ballet of jousting arms and elbow pokes.
But such is the cost of cuteness, which this teeniest of media centers has in spades. The adorable object, which sits outside St. Patrick's Old Cathedral School at 32 Prince Street, looks like a big doughnut on stilts or, if you imagine it with a few flourishes, a peevish robot:
The curious reading hovel is the work of Stereotank, a design collaboration between Venezuelan architects Marcelo Ertorteguy and Sara Valente, who were responsible for last summer's bicycle-powered musical whirligig on Astor Place. The couple built the library at the invitation of the Architectural League of New York and the organizers of the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. It is one of 10 mini-libraries now scattered in the 'hoods below 8th Street, which will serve printed words to the public until they disappear in September. (See their locations on this map.)
So how wee are we talking? Well, if somebody tried to stock it with the complete Encyclopedia Britannica, it would likely pop at the seams. Avoid eating a garlicky gyro or lox-and-onion bagel before entering, because your face will be inches away from any other occupant as you leaf through the literature.
In the tradition of the Little Free Library movement, started by a pair of Wisconsinites in 2009, the books are provided by members of the community and you're kind of expected to put one in if you take one out. At one point, the banana-colored bookpod housed softcovers by Neil Gaiman and Danielle Steel, Samuel Pepys' 17th-century diary, journalist Neil Strauss' investigation of sleazy pick-up artists and Andri Magnason's LoveStar, a novel about a dystopian future where energy is transmitted through the air. Not a bad selection, considering the library is the size of a tub you'd use to wash your dog.
The design consisted in creating an 'inhabitable' Little Free Library, where users could immerse themselves and take the time to browse through books and borrow or exchange them. The structure is built out of an upside down plastic tank and a wooden frame. Perforations around the tank allow visitors to peek inside and preview the interior, which invites them to duck under and discover the book collection while still having a connection with the exterior.
If you want to split hairs, technically this isn't the smallest library around. That distinction might go to the original, birdhouse-sized "Little Free Libraries" that are infesting the planet with knowledge or those guerrilla libraries crammed into New York's payphones.