It’s good to know that people are focusing on what’s really important. Local governments in a few different U.S. cities and towns have looked past the problems of homelessness, crumbling city services and displacement, to tackle the real crisis: people are putting up tiny “take a book, leave a book” libraries.


This is clearly a major crisis in our culture, and one that can only be addressed by the full busy-bodiness of local busybodies.

As The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf explains, local governments in Los Angeles, Shreveport, LA and Leawood, KS have all tried to levy fines and other sanctions against people who put up these tiny birdhouse-like lending libraries. These are just what they sound like: tiny boxes on stilts, where anybody can leave behind a book, or take one of the books that have been left behind by others. They bring pleasure and excitement, and a badly needed sense of civic participation and shared fun, to communities, and most of all, they encourage people to notice and read books. But they violate obscure zoning and other ordinances.


In the case of Los Angeles, city officials did say that the tiny library could stay if its creators applied for a permit, which could be funded through local arts organizations. As Friedersdorf points out:

This is what conservatives and libertarians mean when they talk about overregulation disincentivizing or displacing voluntary activity that benefits people. We’ve constructed communities where one must obtain prior permission from agents of the state before freely sharing books with one’s neighbors! And their proposed solution is to get scarce public art funds to pay for the needless layer of bureaucracy being imposed on the thing already being done for free.

The power to require permits is the power to prevent something from ever existing. This lovely movement would've never begun or spread if everyone who wanted to build a Little Free Library recognized a need to apply and pay for a permit. Instead they did good and asked permission never.

In Shreveport, one woman created her own small “free range” library on her front yard, as a protest after the “little free library” was sanctioned by the city—and her civil disobedience paid off, with the city backing down and agreeing to pass a new resolution exempting the libraries from regulations. But even if they create a special exemption, it’s bizarre and ridiculous that these awesome little community projects ever needed permission in the first place.

Contact the author at and follow her on Twitter @charliejane. Top image: Elvert Barnes/Flickr.