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Monday, July 7, 2014

Little Library Causes Big Zoning Controversy

This Little Free Library in Old City, Philadelphia, is one of over 18,000 across the country. (Lulu Hoeller/Flickr)Spencer Collins, 9, with his Little Free Library that a neighbor complained was an eyesore and violated the town's zoning ordinances. (Sarah Collins)Little Free Library (Garrett Ziegler/Flickr)A Little Free Library at New York University. (panda073/Flickr)A Little Free Library at Prince St. between Mulberry and Mott St. in New York City. (panda073/Flickr)Little Free Libraries on January 5, 2014 (david silver/Flickr)Little Free Library NYC at Rivingston and Eldridge St. (panda073/Flickr)Little Free Library NYC at Suffolk near Rivingston St. (panda073/Flickr)Little Free Library in Georgetown, Seattle. (litlnemo/Flickr)Little Free Library NYC at Extra Place. (panda073/Flickr)Little Free Library in Memphis, Tennessee's Crosstown. (Memphis CVB/Flickr)A Little Free Library in Madison. (Ali Eminov/Flickr)Little Free Library #1967 (Josh Larios/Flickr)

Note: See an update on this story here.

City leaders in Leawood, Kansas tonight will take up 9-year-old Spencer Collins‘ Little Free Library.

Spencer Collins, 9, with his Little Free Library that a neighbor complained  was an eyesore and violated the town's zoning ordinances. (Sarah Collins)

Spencer Collins, 9, with his Little Free Library that a neighbor complained was an eyesore and violated the town’s zoning ordinances. (Sarah Collins)

The boy had put up a slightly larger than a birdfeeder box containing a free book exchange in his front yard, but a neighbor complained it was an eyesore and “an illegal detached structure” that violated the town’s zoning ordinances.

The city originally told the boy that the Little Free Library he had in front of his house violated the city ban on unattached buildings in front yards, but agreed to discuss the ordinance at the City Council meeting tonight.

Spencer Collins and his dad Brian Collins, who will defend their Little Free Library at tonight’s Leawood City Council meeting, speak with Here & Now’s Robin Young.

Todd Bol, executive director of the nonprofit organization Little Free Library, which sells and registers little libraries, says these kinds of zoning fights usually end up embarrassing town leaders.

Interview Highlights

Brian Collins on being told the library was an eyesore that violated city codes

“We were out of town and when we got back we got a courtesy letter from the city of Leawood telling us the Little Free Library is illegal and that we had until June 19th to take it down or receive a citation.”

Spencer Collins on the positive impacts of the Little Free Library

“It benefits reading and, as my mom says, it really benefits the community.”

Todd Bol on the major success of Little Free Library

“This has, hopefully, a major impact on improving literacy throughout the country. We planned on passing Andrew Carnegie [who built 2,509 libraries] and we thought that it would take until 2016 and we did it — we built 2510 by August of 2012. So our next goal is to pass McDonald’s. When we hit about 55,000 libraries we’re gonna put a sign on the library that says, ‘Billions and billions read.’ You know, more books than burgers. We thought that’d be great.”


  • Spencer and Brian Collins, son and father team defending their Little Free Library.
  • Todd Bol, co-founder and executive director of the Little Free Library. Little Free Library tweets @LtlFreeLibrary.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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