la-et-jc-little-free-libraries-on-the-wrong-si-001Indianapolis is a great city. Not only does it permit residents to have Little Free Libraries in their yards, but it actually funded its own big free library art installation project. But not everyone is that lucky. The Atlantic and the LA Times are carrying articles about communities where people who put up Little Free Library installations have been harassed by local government, including Leawood, KS, Los Angeles, and Shreveport, LA.

The particular communities seem to have local ordnances prohibiting the construction of free-standing structures, or else they object to them being located on public property.

In regard to the LA library, put up by actor Peter Cook:

[Columnist Steve Lopez] goes on to note that a city spokesman “said that if there is no clear obstruction, it might be possible to keep the library where it is if Cook is willing to apply for a permit. And it’s possible that city arts funds could be tapped to pay for the permit.” This is what conservatives and libertarians mean when they talk about overregulation disincentivizing or displacing voluntary activity that benefits people. We’ve constructed communities where one must obtain prior permission from agents of the state before freely sharing books with one’s neighbors! And their proposed solution is to get scarce public art funds to pay for the needless layer of bureaucracy being imposed on the thing already being done for free.

How ironic that in California, renowned as the most liberal portion of all America, a city wants to ensnare Little Free Libraries in bureaucratic red tape—while here in Indianapolis, a blue pocket in the heart of a predominantly red state, the local government has actually funded huge free libraries of its own.

The evidence might be colloquial, but it still tends to suggest that these Little Free Libraries help to promote literacy and a sense of community wherever they are. Steve Lopez writes:

“It has been a smash success, the scope of which I could never have imagined,” Cook said when he first emailed me. “More times than not, the library is overflowing with books. Neighbors whom I have seen and recognized over the years but never had any real conversation with now stop by to donate, chat and trade news.”

He went on:

“I have seen local teenagers gather there on their way home from school and take books. I have seen nannies and housekeepers of neighbors take books on their way to and from work.”

Really, this is the sort of thing communities should be trying to get behind, not in the way of.

I’ve said before that I feel the more widely-used e-books become, the more important alternate uses like this are going to become for print books. As there is less economic demand for them, they are going to become ever more useful when given away for free. Even people who prefer to read e-books might gladly take a print book if it’s free and available—and unlike an e-book, they can pass it on to someone else when they’re done with it.

We just need to make sure that local governments don’t get in the way.

(Found via io9.)


  1. City bureaucrats are like school principals. Both think in terms of “zero tolerance,” meaning if they let someone do X then they have to let someone else do Y. If little six-year-old Susie is permitted her Wonder Woman lunch box (a true case), the the skinheads in the high school can wear Nazi swastika t-shirts to school, that sort of thing.

    Try going to city council meeting and suggest free library boxes as a written-in exception to whatever regulation is being violated. Be persistent if necessary. Whether they care or not, they’ll change the regulation just to be left alone.

    Also, check and see if the regulations are about permanent structures. It might be legal to have a book stand that’s taken out in the morning and taken in at evening.

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