Lending library created by a 9-year-old is shut down by his city

The Collins family had set up a small lending library in their yard, but the city of Leawood reportedly told them to remove it because it was an 'accessory structure.'

David H. Curl/AP
Isabel McNamara looks at a book that is available in a Little Free Library designed to look like a robot and displayed in Oshtemo Township, Mich.

Small lending libraries have sprung up all over the world, but there’s currently one less in Kansas.

A 9-year-old boy, Spencer Collins, created a library box in his yard in Leawood, Kansas. The boy wanted to encourage those passing by to either take or leave a book. However, the city soon told the Collins family to take the library down because it was an “accessory structure,” according to local news channel KMBC.

“When we got home from vacation, there was a letter from the city of Leawood saying that it was in code violation and it needed to be down by the 19th or we would receive a citation,” Sarah Collins, Spencer’s mother, told KMBC.

Spencer had modeled his library after those touted by the organization Little Free Library, which sells kits to create a lending library and offers library builders the option to register their structures with the organization as well as offering forms and tips. Spencer had received an LFL kit from his grandfather, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The city government told KMBC that two complaints had been made about the library. 

“We empathize with [the family], but we still have to follow the rules," Richard Coleman of the City of Leawood told KMBC. "We need to treat everybody the same. So we can't say if somebody files a complaint but we like the little libraries – we think they're cute – so we ignore it. We can't do that.”

Spencer said he wants to go to the city government and talk over the problem. 

“I would tell them why it's good for the community and why they should drop the law," he told KMBC. "I just want to talk to them about how good it is.” 

He also told KMBC how much he enjoys settling down with a book.

“It's kind of like I'm in a whole other world and I like that," he said of reading. "I like adventure stories because I'm in the adventure and it's fun.”

According to the Kansas City Star, the issue will be discussed at a city council meeting on July 7.

The Collins family has some local support – the Kansas City Star posted an editorial saying that the city should change its rules to allow for lending libraries.

“Like other lending libraries popping up in neighborhoods around Kansas City, this one is colorful, friendly and a wonderful gesture to neighbors,” the editorial reads. “The Collins family removed the structure, though none too quietly, and is asking the city to amend the code. That’s what should happen. While obviously the ambiance of Leawood would take a hit if people started constructing carports or dog houses in their front yards, lending libraries are an asset. Neighbors who might be worried about them should wander over and borrow a book.”

The website for Little Free Libraries addresses the issue of city rules about creating a book structure.

“Every city will have different rules,” the website reads. “You can apply for permits, variances and approvals but it could take a long time…. The best strategy is to avoid needing to ask permission. Unless you are 'the man' (the city government, for example) that is officially sponsoring the Library, pick a spot on private property. The larger the municipality, the more difficult approval may be. Be considerate of other people’s rights. Don’t put the Library where it might impede daily activities such as walking, biking, shoveling snow, etc. Assure whoever is worried that you have a good Steward [the person who is in charge of the Little Free Library] and lots of people who will look out for it over the long term. The authorities don’t want to have added responsibilities.”

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