Why are some cities cracking down on little free libraries?

Little free libraries are sprouting up all over the world. However, some US cities are using their zoning codes to shut down these neighborly ventures. 

Ronald W. Erdrich/The Abilene Reporter-News/FILE/AP
FILE PHOTO- Little free libraries are becoming popular all over. However, some cities are making these homemade literacy hubs comply with their zoning codes, or else risk being shut down.

Little free libraries are becoming more and more common to communities from Maine to California and all over the world, according to the non-profit FreeLittleLibraries.org.

They allow for members of a community to exchange their favorite books with their neighbors. The trading of these books can generate discourse and an exchange of ideas between neighbors who may not interact often, despite their physical proximity to one another.

However well intentioned the idea of offering free books for the enjoyment of others may be, little free libraries are becoming imperiled by some cities’ zoning laws.

These libraries have pushed the boundaries over what is and what is not subject to zoning codes of late in both Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana.

Actor Peter Cook, who acts under the name Peter Mackenzie, and his wife Lili Flanders, a writer, operated a little free library at their home in Los Angeles. But one day last month, a city investigator demanded that they remove the library. The "library" was nothing more than a series of wine crates containing the books fastened to a redwood post near the curb or face a fine, according to the Los Angeles Times.

So why doesn't Mr. Cook simply move his library six feet further onto his property to get the zoning commission off of his back? Well in that instance, it would technically make the library "private," according to a separate story from the LA Times.

Mr. Cook wants a library right in the public space between his yard in the curb where anyone can "take one or leave one," as his wife wrote on the wine crate.

"More times than not, the library is overflowing with books,” Mr. Cook told the LA Times. “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."

So now, the community Mr. Cook's and Mrs. Flanders' library had come to serve is taking the fight to City Hall for the couple. And a petition that would allow the couple to keep the library in its current position already has 100 signatures, including one from their mailman, according to the LA Times’ piece.

“[The] Library has brought the community together," one signee wrote.

In Shreveport, officials took up the library matter after Ricky and Teresa Edgerton received a cease and desist order from the city council saying their library violated zoning laws, and offered them the chance to file an appeal of the ruling for $500, according to the Shreveport Times. The violation stemmed from the library being considered a commercial entity operating in a residential area.   

The Times also reported other locals have gone as far as placing books in their front yards to voice their support for little free libraries and for the city council to address the antiquated zoning code.

"There's been a tremendous amount of community support on it,” Councilman Jeff Everson told the newspaper. “We understand what the goal is here. I think it's a just matter of how to make it happened appropriately so that we don't have more problems in the future,"

There are over 15,000 registered little free libraries around the world, according LittleFreeLibrary.org, and that is a conservative estimate. Todd Bol and Rick Brooks of Wisconsin are credited with starting the movement, according to the website.

Mr. Bol wanted to honor his mother, who was a longtime school teacher, and built a model one-room school house in his front yard and stocked it with books for his neighbors to take and enjoy and exchange books of their own. Mr. Brooks was discussing social activism projects one day in 2011 with Mr. Bol. Since Mr. Brooks’ background was in community organizing, he thought individuals building bookshelves to share literature with neighbors was a great place to start.  

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