By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – Our humble little burg has made national news; as it turns out, big government does not approve of the Little Free Library.

The little library controversy began (in Shreveport, at least), a couple of weeks ago when Ricky and Teresa Edgerton received a cease and desist order from the Metropolitan Planning Commission zoning division who advised that their Little Free Library was in violation of a zoning ordinance regarding commercial activity.  As most of us realize, of course, there is no “commerce” involved with a Little Free Library.

The premise of the Little Free Library is “take a book, leave a book.”  That’s all there is to it.  These units have popped up all over the country; some are “official” Little Free Libraries, and some are simply neighborhood driven.  Official Little Free Library owners are “stewards” who either pay a charter fee or purchase their unit from the Little Free Library organization.  You can do that, or you can just build one yourself or put an old newspaper box outside your house.  There is one near my house, for example: an old newspaper box refurbished, painted, and now serving as a neighborhood book swap.

Apparently someone complained about the Edgerton’s library and thus the MPC got involved.  Via The Shreveport Times:

MPC Board chairman Lea Desmarteau addressed the matter in a message posted to her Facebook page.

“Our current zoning ordinances are antiquated, therefore unfortunately lead to these types of situations. However, there is a silver lining. The MPC is in the process of a massive rewrite of these antiquated codes and ordinances,” she wrote. This has not been done since the 1950s, she said.

The MPC seems to be trying to work out the problem.  Meanwhile, the story went viral on Facebook and last week the controversy appeared in an L.A. Times article.  In Los Angeles a little library owner was told to remove his unit because it was “an obstruction.”

There was a zoning controversy in Kansas City last year.

Nebraska has wrestled with the issue.

So has Wisconsin.

And now Shreveport.

What in the world do these people have against free books?  And community building?  What mean-spirited person would complain about such a thing?

In Shreveport, the support for the library has been positive.  The Little Free Library Shreveport community has printed signs that say “I support The Little Free Library” which people are placing in their yards.  There’s a petition circulating to be presented to the Shreveport City Council this week which now has over 2,000 signatures.  The number of little libraries has increased significantly since the controversy.  The Shreveport Times posted an editorial:  “Why Pick on the Little Free Libraries?”

From what I can tell, these units are small, inoffensive, and usually kind of cute.  They encourage both kids and adults in neighborhoods to read and to share books.  They foster a sense of community in these neighborhoods.  I’ve never seen anything offensive in my local unit. So, what’s the problem?

Seems like a win-win to me.

 Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport