Little Libraries, Free at Last?
In October 2020, Tina Musich erected a small wooden box with a slanted roof on a post in her front yard in Oradell, New Jersey. The box’s glass-faced door revealed a pile of books that people were free to take, return, and trade.
Her Little Free Library soon proved a hit with the neighborhood. Adults and children alike would grab or drop off books every day. Musich would personally get compliments about the library at least once a week.
“Book drops and little free libraries allow communities to come together and share a love of reading while practicing safe social distancing in these pandemic times,” she wrote online. “They teach our children about sharing and community. With the library closed for browsing for over a year, the experience of picking out a book has been lost.”
Local code enforcement officials were less pleased. Citing an anonymous complaint, they ordered Musich to take it down in March 2021. They said the library was tall enough to be considered an accessory structure under the borough’s zoning code. That meant Musich needed a permit to build it, which she did not have.
At the next borough council meeting, Musich was told she could either reduce the height of the library to avoid the permitting requirement or go through the lengthy process of obtaining a zoning variance. Neither option was attractive. Musich worried that a library short enough to avoid the need for a permit would force elderly patrons to stoop. Getting a permit just to keep her library seemed excessive.
Musich dutifully took down the library. But she also started a petition to get the zoning code changed. Within a few days, NorthJersey.com reported, the town’s mayor and borough president reached out to Musich to say they supported amending the zoning code to accommodate amateur librarians like her.
Musich’s story is fairly typical of the disputes that periodically spring up over Little Free Libraries. Bibliophiles across the country have rushed to erect them in the decade since they first appeared. Just as quickly, busybodies and bureaucrats have demanded they be taken down.
Occasionally, the opposition is driven by the libraries’ content or symbolism. But it usually stems from fussy zoning codes that are hostile to new ideas, or to new spaces where those ideas can take concrete form.
But Little Free Libraries are both popular and innocuous, and that makes them tough to crack down on. Confronted with the prospect of ordering their removal, many local governments have instead changed their laws so the little libraries can stay.
Little Free Libraries got their start in 2009, when Hudson, Wisconsin, resident Todd Bol built one in the shape of a one-room schoolhouse to honor his late mother, a schoolteacher. The neighbors liked it, so he started bui
Article from Reason.com