A Detroit Doctor Who fan built a replica TARDIS library for his neighborhood

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In recent years, free libraries have popped up across the country in an effort to bring access to books to local communities. Detroit is now home to a new free library in the form of a replica TARDIS from the BBC show Doctor Who.

The library is a life-sized replica of the time traveling Doctor’s famous time machine. Dan Zemke explained that he wanted to do something with the empty lot across the street from his home in Detroit, and decided to construct a free library that combined two of his passions: the BBC television show and reading.

Zemke told The Verge that a reading program called Reach-Out-and-Read at his workplace helped inspire the project. “That program ensures that every child that comes into the [Advantage Health Center] leaves with a book.” When he began thinking about building a TARDIS replica, he noted that he wanted it to be useful to the community. “It hit me to combine my work’s reading program with the TARDIS project to make a creative outlet for books in the community.”

He pitched the idea to his father, who has a workshop with “any and every tool that you can imagine.” The two began work last Labor Day, and were aided by an online building community called Tardis Builders. “Whenever we got stuck on a particular part of the TARDIS,” he said, “we would look on the forums to see what other people did.” The final structure stands almost 10 feet tall, weighs almost a ton, and its front shelves holds around 140 books.

When visitors open the library’s front doors, they’re greeted with some panels with a painted mural that depicts the TARDIS’s interior layout under the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi. “We wanted to give people a sense that they were looking into the actual interior,” he explained. “You can slide the mural panels to reveal shelves on the other side and to take [or] leave a book.”

Part of that design is practical: given the size of the box, he didn’t want it to be misused, so he “came up with the idea for this false wall at the front to stop people from living in [it]. We also put more shelving in the back to hold more reserve books and to limit space.”


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Image: Don Zemke

Once the replica was finished in early June, Zemke installed it in a lot owned by his brother on corner of Vermont Street and Warren West Avenue in Detroit. “I wanted to help make our neighborhood a bit cooler and make that spot somewhere that people would want to check out. Plus, who doesn’t want a life-size TARDIS in their community?”

Since its installation, Zemke says that the library has received considerable attention from pedestrians and drivers, with families, teachers and other fans stopping by to check it out. “Foot traffic has been pretty huge for a lesser-known street off a major road in Detroit,” he explains. “It’s been a really positive experience so far.” The library is now open, and visitors are welcome to take a book, or leave behind one of their own.

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