As It Happens

This old porta-potty has been turned into a library — and it smells 'as sweet as a nut' 

The residents of Hawksland, Scotland, really like reading on the toilet. More specifically, they really like reading on the portable outdoor toilet that's been scrubbed clean, boarded over and converted into a free community library.

The residents of Hawksland, Scotland, have dubbed the project the ‘W.C. Reading Room’ 

The W.C. Reading room is a broken porta-potty converted into a free community library in Hawksland, Scotland. (Submitted by Dorothy Combe)


The residents of Hawksland, Scotland, really like reading on the toilet.

More specifically, they really like reading on the portable outdoor toilet that's been scrubbed clean, boarded over and converted into a free community library.

"[It's] very popular. Children and adults, alike, from almost cradle to grave," Dorothy Combe, who came up with the idea, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"It's amazing. I'm really delighted."

'Fundraising and fun raising'

Combe is a member of a community organization that raises money for local charities and events. 

"We have a small group within our hamlet, which is a fundraising group, and we have fun at the same time. So it's fundraising and fun raising," she said. 

"But because of COVID-19, we're having to distance."

The porta-potty community library is the brainchild of resident Dorothy Combe. (Submitted by Dorothy Combe)

The group is possession of three porta-potties, one of which was broken.

"I thought to myself, we're all reading more. We can't go to a book shop because they're closed. We can't go to charity shops and get second-hand books because they're closed. Then why not share the books that we're all reading?" Combe said.

"And the porta-potty was sitting there doing nothing. So we thought, go for it."

The library is free to use, but inside, there's information about how people can donate to the community organization.

Combe says any money raised will be distributed among three charities — the Glasgow City Mission, the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and The Haven, a resource centre for people with life-altering illnesses and their caregivers. 

'Flush with success'

The porta-potty is set up on the side of the road at the centre of town. It's locked to prevent theft, but members of the community have the combination, she said.

It's got a fresh coat of paint, and when you open it up, you see three walls of shelving, each full of books, DVDs, board games and puzzles, all donated by community members.

There's also a bottle of hand sanitizer.

The broken porta-potty has been deep-cleaned, boarded up, painted over and converted into a library. (Submitted by Dorothy Combe)

"Straight ahead would normally be where one would sit down and do one's business. That's still there, but it's been completely fumigated, disinfected, bleached and covered over with shelving," Combe said. 

Mike Taylor, chairman of the community council, told the Daily Record newspaper the library's popularity has the community feeling "flushed with success."

The W.C. Reading Room — named for the late Willie Combe

A sign on the front welcomes porta-potty patrons to the "W.C. Reading Room" — named for the euphemism "water closet" and for Combe's late husband Willie Combe, a man who loved reading on the toilet.

Asked how her husband would feel about having a toilet library named in his honour, she said:  "He would laugh his socks off. He would be really delighted."

Like the Little Free Libraries found in many cities, the W.C. Reading Room operates on the honour system.

"It's just up to you what you want to take," Combe said. "But we would hope that you would return it when you're finished so that somebody else can use it."

It's an idea that she hopes will catch on.

"In the age of recycling, I think it's such a jolly good idea and it'd be a shame if it didn't take off," she said.

"But I'm really delighted that we've been the pioneers in this."

Of course, one of the downsides to porta-potties is their tendency to have a lingering odour, but Combe insists the W.C. Reading Room has been thoroughly pressure washed and bleached.

Asked about the smell, she said: "There isn't one. It's as sweet as a nut."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Sarah Cooper.

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