I’d heard of Little Free Libraries before, but I’d never visited one.
If you haven’t heard about Little Free Libraries, here’s some info :
A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.
Little Free Library book exchanges have a unique, personal touch. There is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community; Little Libraries have been called “mini-town squares.”
Little Free Libraries are examples of gift economy. There’s no buying or selling, no bartering or trading. People leave books they want to share, and other folks are free to take any of the books from the library. The aforementioned FAQ says,
…anyone may contribute or take books. The more the merrier! If you take a book (or two) from a Library, you do not need to return that exact book. However, in order to keep the Little Library full of good choices for the whole neighborhood, the next time you swing by the Library bring a few books to share. Little Library book exchanges function on the honor system; everyone contributes to ensure there are always quality books inside.
I was visiting my friends in Las Gatos, CA, and The Librarian casually mentioned the Little Free Library within walking distance of their house.
What? Where? I wanted to know. This was my very first chance to visit a Little Free Library.
I got vague directions from The Librarian, but almost didn’t go because it took me forever to get myself ready to leave town. But I managed to pull myself together just in time to visit the Little Library before I had to hit the road. I grabbed a couple of books I had finished reading, as well as a couple of books The Librarian was giving away and headed out to find the Little Free Library. I asked a woman pushing a baby stroller if she knew where it was. She did! Just keep going straight, she said.
Then I saw it in the distance. The closer I got, the more excited I became.
The box had a door with glass windows and two shelves. There were probably twenty books in the library, including one by James Patterson, on whom I’d been ragging just the night before. (Poor James Patterson. He’s the author I make fun of when I’m discussing not very good books read by the masses. On the other hand, James Patterson must be hella rich, so I don’t actually feel too bad about making fun of him.)
I added the books I’d brought to the library, then carefully looked through the offerings to see if there were any books I wanted to read. I found two, The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham and The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
When we were discussing Little Free Libraries, The Librarian told me there has been controversy surrounding them in some cities. I was indignant! How could anyone be against Little Free Libraries?
According to the USC Marshall School of Business,
in some cities, [Little Free Libraries are]…illegal and those cities are spending scarce resources to clamp down on them. Why?
The issue seems to be that the libraries are considered “obstructions” and “that you can’t do anything that might block emergency vehicle access, obstruct motorists’ views, impede pedestrians or make it hard to open car doors” lest you be subject to fines and penalties. And moving the libraries from city-owned boulevards to the private property immediately in front of a house doesn’t help, as it would then require zoning permits. A city spokesperson said, “that if there is no clear obstruction, it might be possible to keep the library where it is if [the owner] is willing to apply for a permit. And it’s possible that city arts funds could be tapped to pay for the permit.”
The Los Angeles Times reports of at least one instance where a resident who was served with a citation will be taking the case to court. And in Shreveport, Louisiana, public outcry and civil disobedience led to city council rewriting zoning ordinances and granting an exemption for what would have otherwise required a commercial permit.
I hope the stewards of Little Free Libraries in other cities will fight against foolish bureaucracy, because I want to visit more of these places of community sharing.