Last year, a 9-year-old boy in a Kansas City suburb fought city council to keep a Little Free Library on a post in his front yard.
Spencer Collins’ parents had been informed that the small structure where visitors can take or leave books violated a city building code that prohibits unattached accessory structures. They moved the birdhouse-like construction into the garage to avoid a fine.
But Spencer was determined to keep his Little Free Library open, so he stood in front of the Leawood City Council — atop a milk crate so he could be seen — and read the statement he’d prepared.
“I want you to allow Little Free Libraries because I love to read,” he said. “Lots of people in the neighborhood used the library, and the books were always changing. I think it’s good for Leawood.”
The council eventually agreed, granting a temporary moratorium that exempts Little Free Libraries from the city code, and the Collins family returned the structure to their yard.
But Spencer’s Little Free Library isn’t the only one that’s been challenged by a local government.
This year, Los Angeles resident Peter Cook received an anonymous letter from "a neighbor who hates [him] and [his] kids," instructing him to take down his Little Free Library — or the city would.
Not long after the threatening note arrived, an investigator from the city’s Bureau of Street Services knocked on Cook’s door and delivered a notice of violation stating that the library, which is located between the sidewalk and curb, was an obstruction. Cook was given a week to remove it or face fines.
Cook’s situation isn’t that different from Ricky and Teresa Edgerton's story in Shreveport, Louisiana. In February, they received a cease-and-desist letter from the city, which stated that their Little Free Library violated zoning laws.
They refused to take it down, placing a chain around their book box in protest. Their neighbors joined the fight, setting up similar free libraries in their own yards.
Eventually, the Shreveport City Council approved an amended resolution to temporarily legalize the structures.
The group behind the movement, which started in Wisconsin in 2009, has vowed to help communities erect and maintain their structures. (The website has a page dedicated to dealing with zoning regulations.)
There are 30,000 Little Free Libraries around the globe. The zoning issues affect only a smattering of those, but it's interesting to see how conflict gets resolved at the neighborhood level.