Last summer in Kansas, a 9-year-old was loving his Little Free Library until at least two residents proved that some people will complain about anything no matter how harmless and city officials pushed the boundaries of literal-mindedness:
The Leawood City Council said it had received a couple of complaints about Spencer Collins' Little Free Library. They dubbed it an "illegal detached structure" and told the Collins' they would face a fine if they did not remove the Little Free Library from their yard by June 19.
Scattered stories like these have appeared in various local news outlets. The L.A. Times followed up last week with a trend story that got things just about right. "Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities have recently cracked down on one of the country's biggest problems: small-community libraries where residents can share books," Michael Schaub wrote. "Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana, have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they're in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections."
Here in Los Angeles, the weather is so lovely that it's hard to muster the energy to be upset about anything, and a lot of people don't even know what municipality they live in, so the defense of Little Free Libraries is mostly being undertaken by people who have them. Steve Lopez, a local columnist, wrote about one such man, an actor who is refusing to move his little library from a parkway. His column captures the absurdity of using city resources to get rid of it:
Having written previously about crackdowns on parkway vegetable gardens, I knew the city's argument is that you can't do anything that might block emergency vehicle access, obstruct motorists' views, impede pedestrians or make it hard to open car doors. But the Tenn-Mann Library, at the intersection of a four-way stop, does none of those things. And I can't help but point out that a city tree in front of Cook's house, on the parkway strip, has untamed roots that have lifted the sidewalk a few inches, posing a clear and obvious obstruction and tripping hazard. The city pays out millions of dollars in trip-and-fall settlements every year, and last time I checked, tree-trimming was on a 45-year cycle—no joke. But put up a lending library and the city is at your door in a jiffy.
The column goes on to note that a city spokesman "said that if there is no clear obstruction, it might be possible to keep the library where it is if Cook is willing to apply for a permit. And it's possible that city arts funds could be tapped to pay for the permit." 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.