Little Free Library Book Bandit On the Run

July 30, 2015

After six Little Free Libraries—usually small “take a book, return a book” gathering areas for sharing literature—in Lincoln, Nebraska, were “robbed,” Melville House contributor Josh Cohen considered whether such libraries are viable operations.

First, a little background: Little Free Library became a movement in 2009, spearheaded by Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin, who created a model of a one-room schoolhouse and filled it with books for his mother. In 2012, Little Free Library became a formal nonprofit organization, and by January of 2015, an estimated 25,000 of these “libraries” cropped up around the world.

The current outcry concerns a slew of thefts in the Lincoln area, where there are no less than fifty Little Free Libraries containing books. According to Journal Star, one owner of a Little Free Library, Megan Ockander, found that half of her inventory of forty books on two shelves was taken within the span of three hours. “It was obvious people had taken more than they could reasonably read,” Ockander said.

Now, technically speaking, since the operant word in “Little Free Library” is “free,” nobody can “steal” a free book. As Cohen points out, the FAQ section of Little Free Library responds to the question “Won’t people steal the books?” thusly:

No. You can’t steal a free book. And if you have a good steward and lots of active users, eventually someone who tries to “steal” books will realize that it’s not a good thing to do. An official Little Free Library stamp in the books will also help prevent used bookstores from buying them. If someone is repeatedly clearing out your Library, put up a sign explaining that your Little Library is a community resource for everyone to enjoy and that you and others notice when the Library is mistreated. You could even consider moving the Library to a more public location, like a coffee shop or a school, if you continue to have trouble.

For more on how to prevent and handle vandalism of a Little Free Library, peruse this handy PDF.

The bottom line is that these libraries thrive on the good will of others. “Stop harming a benevolent literary community,” Cohen concludes, addressing the “Lincoln Free Book Bandits,” “and stop making the rest of us trying to get through a single-digit reading list look bad.”

Find a Little Free Library near you with the World Map of Little Free Library book exchanges.

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