When cities aren’t forcing small children’s lemonade stands out of business or their council members aren’t calling the police on small children selling cupcakes, they’re practicing a new hobby: Closing down kids’ attempts to spread the love of reading.
Leawood, Kansas, a suburb of Kansas City received two complaints about nine-year-old Spender Collins’ large mailbox-sized free “library,” which features a small selection of books for other kids to take and return. Of course, this horrendous criminal action needed to be stopped.
Since Spencer loves to read, he took a page from the Little Free Library movement, which began in 2009. Since Todd Bol of Wisconsin built his own, many (including Collins) have followed in his footsteps. Little free libraries have been popping up all across the world.
The problem with this is that it violated the city’s zoning ordinance. According to a letter Collins’ parents received from city officials, the mailbox-like “library” was a structure. The city prohibits structures on residents’ property that are detached from the main house.
Collins and his parents were told they would need to remove the “library,” or they would be fined. Upon returning from vacation, the Collins family received a letter that read, in part, “Your take a book leave a book structure must be attached to the house.”
Richard Coleman claims their threat of fines was justified because they “need to treat everybody the same,” and that the city was unable to ignore the two complaints they had received–though they say “we like the little libraries.”
Collins isn’t going down without a fight. He is brainstorming workarounds and studying city code. His father, Richard, e-mailed Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn and requested that the city amend municipal code to allow Little Free Libraries. Dunn passed the matter on to City Administrator Scott Lambers, who responded that the ordinance was “a common prohibition for cities.”
“I would suggest that citizens who are interested in this endeavor contact the Johnson County Library to see if this is an activity that the Library would permit to occur on their premises,” Lambers wrote, missing the point of Little Free Libraries entirely, which is, of course, that they be easily accessible in neighborhoods.
“If it’s attached to the house, people aren’t going to come to it,” he said. “And why would you put a Little Free Library at a big library?” said Richard Collins.