I was recently on holiday in the north of England, but it seems that creative citizens have a habit of following you around. Coming out of a restaurant in the tiny village of Hutton Magna, this stopped me in my tracks.
Being a nosy fellow, I had a look inside and was both pleased and excited by what I saw. Pleased because I had heard about such projects but never come across one in the wild – this was a phone box that had been bought for £1 (£250 to disconnect the phone though) converted into a community bring and swap library, much like Book Crossing. Above it were mounted noticeboards with community messages, posters and events, mostly for the villagers. In itself, it was a lovely and unexpected find.
But I was also excited by one other large factor – it wasn’t locked. The door itself was open so people could get to the books, but more importantly, the noticeboards were completely open, not under glass as we’re more used to seeing in towns and villages. Such as Mike Rawlins’ example below:
Glass covers are partly used to keep the notices protected from rain, but there’s also an element of gatekeeping, that someone within the community is in a position of power to hold the key and allow (or disallow) notices to go up. These boards have value within those communities, but they also help us understand similar online practices in hyperlocal media sites and social media. Facebook pages are owned and curated by editors in that they post their own stories, but will also allow sources and input from readers, so that citizens have voice when they’re reposted on the page. But there are those same access barriers as we see under the glass boards – the editor is essentially in control.
What I saw in the Hutton Magna news box was less like a Facebook page, and more like an open Facebook Group, where stories in the first instance can be put up by anyone. There might be someone in the community with the role of checking it is being used appropriately and correctly, but this is essentially what we can think of in blogging terms and Facebook terms as moderating reader comments after they’ve been posted. There will always be a short period whereby a new notice is unchecked. Given that this News Box has been in operation since at least 2009 (thanks Google Streetview for letting me check that), I imagine it’s been running a while under those terms, where the small village community can trust each other to behave, or come knocking on doors to find out who the offender is.