“Is there any Wi-Fi here?” “No ma’am, unfortunately we have no Wi-Fi here. Also, can I kindly ask you to put away your phone as we have a no phone policy here”, the cashier says calmly as she pointed at a ‘No Phones Please’ sign placed on the table next to her.
Lack of Internet access in shops is not something new to me; but not being allowed to use my phone was a first, especially in a commercial place of business like this one.
Librería bookshop is making drastic changes to get customers to appreciate bookshops for what they are – actual bookshops. Not places to check in on foursquare, not places with the perfect lighting for an Instagram selfie, and definitely not a place to snap about on Snapchat. The small, yet mighty space is where one can get away from the outside world and enter a whole different one once inside the four-walled Spanish designed interior.
Located on the narrow Hanbury Street in East London, the quaint bookshop is a literal diamond in the rough as it sits at the end of a street filled with graffiti-strewn walls, vintage shops, Indian stationers and various hole-in-the-wall restaurants. As I acclimatized to the zero phone policy, the surrounding shelves picked my interest as I took notice of how the adjacent walls were adorned with carefully hand crafted shelves filled with books of all genres, all shapes and sizes.
“The books are arranged by themes actually. This helps customers pick out books they weren’t necessarily looking for when they came in but now want as they leave. It helps broaden one’s interest by seeing books similar to what you want right on one shelf”, says Paddy Butler, manager of the newly opened book haven. The founders, Rohan Silva and Sam Adelton, are also responsible for Second Home, the widely acknowledged space for entrepreneurs and creative businesses. This initiative brought together a concept that marries digital media and the analogue world to bring about an experience every book lover will enjoy.
The Office for National Statistics reported a gradual rise in the sale of physical books. The average rise being 8.6pc each year since the recession in 2008 shows that readers are not giving up on paper completely despite the digital revolution in the past decade. There is something about purchasing and reading a tangible source of literature that no eBook/kindle will ever replace. Librería is a space that recognizes the amount of digital overload present in today’s society and their mission is to provide an escape from all that and allow people to explore their diverse interests in the form of literature.
As I walk around, I can’t help but notice the tiny nooks and spaces appearing within the book-laden walls with miniature lamps to match. There are a few of these around the room, creating intimate reading spaces for those who want to read a page or two of their book of choice. The wall at the back and the ceiling is mirrored to make the room look twice its size, giving readers an illusion of endless space thus they do not feel squeezed in a room that is quite small in reality.
Award winning architecture firm – Selgas Cano, is the brain behind the intricate design of the creative space. Their Spanish background and attention to detail is prominent in all corners of the room from the floor to ceiling bookshelves to the surprise reading spaces as well as the traditional feel of a vintage bookshop with a modern twist. Jorge Borger’s short story ‘The library of Babel’ was the inspiration for the design and the name – Librería, is the Italian and Spanish word for bookshop, an appreciative gesture to its cosmopolitan prospect.
The no phone policy must be something that may deter customers given society’s dependence on technology today, so I ask Butler if business has been on a positive level since they opened about three weeks ago despite the phone ban. “ Business has been great actually. We have people coming in every day and it is especially busy on weekends. Customers come in and when they learn of our policy, they don’t turn away. Instead, they say thank you. They are appreciative of the fact that we want them to unplug while in here.” A series of voxpop interviews can be heard below of what Londoners think of the phone ban initiative.
The people in the shop presently seem engrossed in the book selection process as members of staff are on hand to assist where necessary. According to Butler, the future of the shop is a bright one as plans for an in-house printing press are underway and they just put the finishing touches to the bar in the corner where a record player sits.
Far from your usual mocha latte and Starbucks setting, Librería is not only a bookshop but a space to get in touch with the creative spirit within you – a glass of whiskey and a plethora of vinyl records to spin isn’t such a bad addition either. As Sir Richard Steele put it – ‘Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body’ you can’t help but get a kick out of it.
Words: Diana Odero
Sub-editor: Jay Belmar