Lawrence Public Library installs pay phone in effort to ‘not leave people behind’

photo by: Dylan Lysen

The Lawrence Public Library recently installed a pay phone to allow patrons to make calls. Brad Allen, director of the library, said it helps meet a need some may not be aware exists.

It’s not an announcement many would expect to see in 2019, but the Lawrence Public Library hopes the addition of a pay phone will help those who may need it.

On Monday, the library announced that it had installed a brand new pay phone within its walls to allow people to make calls whenever they need to. While the announcement received several “LOLs” and jokes on the library’s Facebook page, library director Brad Allen said the purpose of the phone is to fill a need that many people may not realize exists.

“Public libraries are in a place where we have to figure out how to anticipate new trends, and we also have to hang on a lot longer to trends that are fading away,” Allen said. “A lot of people who have the most barriers to access also don’t have the most modern, newest things. It’s important to not leave people behind.”

As cell phones became more and more integrated into American life over the last 30 years, pay phones began disappearing from city streets. In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission reported only 100,000 pay phones remained in the U.S., which is a steep drop from the two million that were available in 1999, according to a CNN report.

The pay phone in the library is believed to be the only pay phone in downtown Lawrence, but it’s a “middle-class assumption” that pay phones no longer have any use, Allen said.

“Something we’re realizing too is just because you have a cell phone doesn’t mean it’s always usable,” Allen said. “Sometimes you run out of minutes, or your phone is broken … We’re a resource for whatever it might be.”

Heather Kearns, a spokeswoman for the library, said the pay phone allows the library to avoid “policing” what people are using the phone for, much like how the library does not ask patrons what they are researching when they use other resources.

Prior to the pay phone, Allen said the library allowed patrons to use the library’s phone at the front desk. But it became burdensome for library staff, who needed to it to answer calls to the library. That proved to Allen that another option was needed.

Additionally, Allen said the library did not want to have to make decisions about whether a patron’s use of the phone was worthwhile.

“The use was varied and determining what was an emergency or whatever, we just wanted to get out of the business of deciding whether you should be able to use our phones or not,” he said. “Sometimes you just need a pay phone.”

Use of the pay phone costs 25 cents for three minutes of phone time. It is located on the bottom floor of the library, along with the computer lab.

Allen said the library wanted to keep the cost as low as possible, but it also wanted to include a monetary cost to make sure users won’t hog its use. However, teenagers and children will still be allowed to make free calls from the library by using a phone located at the youth services area of the library, Kearns said.

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