On the subway in most European cities, it’s a passenger habit to leave behind the morning’s newspaper. They aren’t littering (like a New Yorker would be); it’s simply a courtesy for other commuters who might want to soak up some world news while they’re getting from point A to point B. But that practice doesn’t pan out as well in parks or public spaces, where a newspaper will get blown adrift and wind up as trash in someone’s garden.
Pivot Creative, an Amsterdam-based architect and designer duo, thought it was a shame that literature-sharing only took place on the train. So they launched Ruilbank, a public project that slyly converts ten park benches into mini-libraries. Implementing Ruilbank was simple: The Pivot team snapped a red metal clip onto the benches, and then started supplying the spots with newspapers, magazines, and books.
“Public benches and reading material are used as channels to create a sense of community and enjoyment of the public space,” says Paula Colchero, who launched the initiative with her Pivot cofounder Jose Subero. “Ruilbank is meant to bring people back to the simple pleasure of reading a book, sharing with others, and enjoying common spaces.”
In order to disperse enough material, Colchero and Subero have partnered with local Dutch newspapers, public libraries, and publishers. Their design language is straightforward: a graphic pop of red that’s the same width as one of bench beams but is eye-catching enough to recognize from a distance.
So far, according to the Pivot founders, the system has been met with enthusiasm. Which makes sense; Ruilbank is a welcome offline experience in a feverishly online world. But it also speaks to the changing nature of how we find and buy literature. Bookstores, long suffering at the hands of Amazon, are tapping crowdfunding models to keep doors open.
This model may not help bookstores pay their rent, but it does create a community around the act of reading. Picking up a new book isn’t always just about the book–maybe it came from a likeminded soul, or was left behind on the “free” shelf of a favorite café. Ruilbank has that same book-club-like ethos, something Colchero and Subero saw on the project’s first day, when a woman contacted them about the book she had found. “She said she was heading back to her place to search for a book to place in return,” Colchero says. “Her question to us was, what kind of book should she place? Romance? Adventure?”