Neighbors say curb appeal is more important than helping kids read

Jul 9, 2014 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Image: Erin Margolin

Have you seen a "take one book, leave one book" Little Free Library box in your town? While the idea of sharing literature inspires many, some feel the boxes are unsightly.

Sharing a love of literature

The Little Free Library program is part of a worldwide initiative to make books available to children. Little free libraries — which typically look like large dollhouses — are popping up in neighborhoods all over the U.S. "My friend has one and I just dropped books off there on Sunday," shares Liz, mom of two. "I think they're great because there's no return-by date and no pressure. If you find a book and love it, you can keep it and not feel bad. Plus, it's an easy way to get rid of books I no longer want, or the kids no longer want."

So why are communities removing free libraries?

City officials in Leawood, Kansas asked 9-year-old Spencer Collins and his parents to remove their free lending library from their front yard. He was upset, and his family and the community rallied around him in protest. He bravely went in front of the city council and successfully petitioned them to allow his little free library to stay put outside his home. "I want you to allow little free libraries because I love to read," he said at the meeting, according to the Kansas City Star. "Lots of people in the neighborhood used the library, and the books were always changing. I think it’s good for Leawood."

He was rewarded with a temporary exemption for little libraries from a city ordinance banning structures in front yards, and even more sweet, the mayor, after granting this exemption, handed him a book to add to his library.

Erin Margolin, who lives in another Kansas City-area town, has had similar problems with her beautifully-constructed little library. "I love the idea of bringing literacy to our neighborhood," she tells us. "I adore the image of a family taking a walk some evening or weekend and stopping to check out our books. I have three young daughters, and I want to instill in them a love for the written word and books. I've been a bookworm for as long as I can remember and for the life of me I can't comprehend why Fairway is stalling on this and forcing me to wait."

There's no such thing as too many libraries

Why the uproar? In addition to little libraries violating city codes or regulations, some feel that they just don't belong on a neighborhood street. One individual protested at the Leawood council meeting, saying that there was no need for the boxes because they have "real" libraries that they pay taxes for — blighted or poor areas need them, he said, but not us. Frankly, this is ridiculous.

Even if you don't have a need for one, that doesn't mean that individuals, children and families shouldn't be allowed the opportunity to use them. "I think they're awesome," says Taryn, mom of two. "My kids get excited to walk and excited to leave their old books."

The libraries foster a sense of community, and they're an excellent way to get children involved in learning how to give and take. In areas where children don't have access to public libraries or books at home, a free library lending system can make a huge difference for a child who wants to read or a parent who wants to read aloud. Have used books you'd like to share with others? Find a Little Free Library in your area.

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