Thursday, October 27th, 2016

Free the books


Gretchen Schuldt at has an article on little free libraries that people put out in their front yards to share books with the neighbors. Picture over-sized mailboxes with books free for the taking.

Little free libraries are weatherproofed boxes that provide a place for neighbors or passersby to exchange books. The official little free library mission, according to is to:

  • Promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
  • Build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations
  • Build more than 2,510 libraries around the world – more than Andrew Carnegie–and then more.

Bohl says both he and the Department of Public Works both support a neighborhood group’s proposal to put a little free library in Hartung Park near N. Menomonee Parkway and W. Keefe Ave. The park is in Bohl’s district.

Curley notes there are a number of little free libraries in Washington Heights, “the neighborhood Mayor Barrett and the City Librarian Paula Kiely call home.”

Little free libraries “have not shown up in our complaints” and have not presented problems, says Todd Weiler, spokesman for the Department of Neighborhood Services. If a little free library does become problematic, DNS has tools to deal with it, he adds.

“The key to making the little libraries a success is having someone personally responsible for maintaining each one,” Kiely explains. “That’s why having them on personal property is actually preferred.”

Setting aside the “save the world” vision of the project, it’s hard to imagine anyone objecting to sharing of books. We should cringe at the thought of an Orwellian “Department of Neighborhood Services” possibly banning the sharing of books.  And if we have any concept at all of property rights, really whose business is it if someone wants to give away their books in their own front yard?

According to an article by Jim Stingl in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the village government of Whitefish Bay draws inspiration from Fahrenheit 451,

One village trustee, Richard Foster, argued to allow little libraries in front yards, but he was outnumbered. Some at the meeting worried about policing the boxes and about the possibility of people putting pornography or white supremacist literature in there. Others missed the point by arguing that Whitefish Bay already has a perfectly good regular library.

“It’s ridiculous. This is a harmless activity. People exchange books there. If this gets to be a problem, then we’ll do something about it. But not now,” said Foster, who, coincidentally, also used to write for this newspaper.

The little free library in front of Christ Church, 5655 N. Lake Drive, went up in summer, though there was no permission requested. It was built to look like a tiny church, with its stained glass and steeple, by church member Bob Holmes from Mequon. Walnut trim used in construction came from an old barn in Illinois that was once part of the Underground Railroad movement.

Someone might put reading material in these boxes that the village trustees might might find objectionable? Forget the pornography and racist pamphlets. What about Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Animal Farm?  Imagine if the shared books caused people in Whitefish Bay to think for themselves. They might even question why a village board should have the right to tell someone they can’t give away books in their own front yards.

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