Street Smarts: The Uni Project's Outdoor Neighborhood Reading Room

The Uni is a portable reading room designed to help making books more accessible in urban neighborhoods.

How can books be more accessible in urban neighborhoods? At a time when public libraries are underfunded and bookstores are closing, the Uni Project is hoping to help get more people reading by bringing books to the streets, literally.

The Uni is a lightweight, portable structure that's part library, part classroom. 144 open cubes can be stacked together in various configurations, and filled with donated books that the local community can browse (though not check out). Volunteer librarians staff the exhibits. The founders explain their motivation:

What we see at street level in many urban neighborhoods does not reflect our aspirations for ourselves and our society. If we're serious about having a well-educated society, let's build cities where learning experiences are prominent, accessible, and enjoyable. Let's show off our best teachers, librarians, and educators doing great work, and give them opportunities to adapt their craft to a public setting. The Uni takes learning public.


There's a difference between the Uni and some other outdoor library projects, like, say, bookmobiles or phone booth libraries; the Uni is deliberately designed to be a place where people gather together and hang out, with chairs for lounging and reading. Because the books can't be checked out, people get the benefit of spending a little extra time with their neighbors. The project designers say part of their intention was to help bring people together to share stories, skills, and local news.

The first Uni installation was in Manhattan in 2011 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, and it's roamed around New York City ever since, most recently in areas heavily impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Last year, the project also sent a Uni abroad to Kazakhstan. In 2013, the team will be working with several organizations in New York to help them set up their own portable reading rooms.

This post is part of the GOOD community's 50 Building Blocks of Citizenship. This week: Get a Library Card. Follow along, join the discussion, and share your experience at #goodcitizen.

Image by Thena Tak, HY Architecture, courtesy of the Uni Project

via Barry Schapiro / Twitter

The phrase "stay in your lane" is usually lobbed at celebrities who talk about politics on Twitter by people who disagree with them. People in the sports world will often get a "stick to sports" when they try to have an opinion that lies outside of the field of play.

Keep Reading

The Free the Nipple movement is trying to remove the stigma on women's breasts by making it culturally acceptable and legal for women to go topless in public. But it turns out, Free the Nipple might be fighting on the wrong front and should be focusing on freeing the nipple in a place you'd never expect. Your own home.

A woman in Utah is facing criminal charges for not wearing a shirt in her house, with prosecutors arguing that women's chests are culturally considered lewd.

Keep Reading

In August, the Recording Academy hired their first female CEO, Deborah Dugan. Ten days before the Grammys, Dugan was placed on administrative leave for misconduct allegations after a female employee said Dugan was "abusive" and created a "toxic and intolerable" work environment. However, Dugan says she was actually removed from her position for complaining to human resources about sexual harassment, pay disparities, and conflicts of interest in the award show's nomination process.

Just five days before the Grammys, Dugan filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and her claims are many. Dugan says she was paid less than former CEO Neil Portnow. In 2018, Portnow received criticism for saying women need to "step up" when only two female acts won Grammys. Portnow decided to not renew his contract shortly after. Dugan says she was also asked to hire Portnow as a consultant for $750,000 a year, which she refused to do.

Keep Reading