by Marion Marks
What is a Little Free Library? Little Free Libraries are small cabinets or boxes typically mounted on posts. They shelter books placed by individuals in a neighborhood where users are encouraged to share in “take one, leave one” style. LFLs have become popular throughout the country. Yet LFLs are not beyond the reach of overzealous government officials!
On the strength of a single complaint, Shreveport’s Metropolitan Planning Commission shut down a private box where people can donate and pick up books and has said it would crack down on others if someone issues a complaint. The problem, city officials say, is that libraries are only allowed in commercial zones.
I’m not one to cry overreach at the first call for restrictions. Seriously, Shreveporters, what’s the problem here? How could the possible harm outweigh the benefit of making it easier for citizens to have access to books?
For those of you hiding under a rock and who aren’t up on the concept, the Little Free Library movement is nothing more than a simple citizen effort by book lovers and sharing citizens to pass their passion, to get books in front of people’s eyes and into their hands. Sponsors range from individual families to churches to civic-minded groups. The libraries are generally little more than wooden boxes mounted on poles. LFLs function as something of an honor-system swap; you take a book, you leave one. Or don’t! Even the South Highlands Dress Police won’t give you a citation. It all works out.
Do they attract crowds, vandals, drunks, or cause parking nightmares or traffic jams, like the bars and big-box stores and strip malls that generally occupy zoning officials’ minds? Are they a blight on the landscape, like these horrid signs?
They’re mostly there to be stumbled upon on a daily walk, a bike ride or by the casual driver who see’s the simple beauty of a cute box of books calling to be read. Discovering a new LFL is pure serendipity and the imagination of some who put together themed LFLs is remarkable. Finding a new LFL unexpectedly is an experience that just might turn a non-reader into an avid reader. You might find that book that you can’t put down.
Purposeful readers can find the locations of some LFLs because they live in a social media circle that discusses the topic. There is an online registry, complete with a map that gives locations and more, and new LFLs spring up daily.
A Girl Scout Troop, number 10324, in Baton Rouge wanted to “give the gift of reading to students who may not have that option,” so they started a LFL. And, the MPC ticket in Shreveport may have helped start a number of new readers along with the rush to place new LFLs. The LFL ticket-citation may have created the “Book-Shot” heard round the reading world!
In New Orleans, one Little Free Library sits on the grounds of an actual library, the Milton H. Latter Memorial Library on St. Charles Avenue. It’s dedicated to the memory of Diana Pinckley, who reviewed mysteries for The Times-Picayune and co-founded the local chapter of the Women’s National Book Association. What a great tribute and the library certainly doesn’t feel threatened!
Actually, there’s sadly little competition these days for the eyeballs of those who love to browse. Bookstores are in trouble and some public libraries are struggling to redine themselves and capture new consumers of information – in any format. In New Orleans, the the public library’s finances are in dire shape and if voters don’t approve a new millage in May, officials warn that they may not be able to afford to keep all branches open. Shreveport doesn’t seem to have this problem, yet!
Shreveport needs to develop a practical plan to address LFLs and combat the image of being “ANTI” because we suffer too often with this millstone. Shreveport must make a clear statement that literacy, reading for those who are challenged, creates better citizens and we must acknowledgement that the more readers we foster the better chance we have of improving our city.
Shreveport to often is concerned with controlling the discussion through formal regulation rather than solving problems through leadership. The whole issue of the LFLs could have been solved with leadership from any number of people in administrative positions. But now we must make a formal determination in code for posterity. This is often called the Lawyer’s Relief Act, so let’s get an official opinion.