KS town relents, says little library can stay — for now

Part 4 of 4 in the series Little Free Libraries

CENTER STAGE: Nine-year-old Spencer Collins has made the rounds on local and national media since Leawood first said his Little Free Library violated municipal code.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — Chalk one up for the little guy.

Initially being forced to remove his Little Free Library from his front yard, 9-year-old Spencer Collins on Monday made his case before the Leawood City Council, which issued a moratorium on code enforcement against such front yard structures — at least for the time being.

STRONG SUPPORT: Kansas’ Poet Laureate Wyatt Townley addressed the Leawood City Council on Monday, backing the Collins family’s Little Free Library.

City officials, weary and worn-down from the national and international spectacle created by the city’s handling of code violations against the small book repository, issued a temporary stay through Oct. 20 against enforcement of the municipality’s detached structure ordinance for Little Free Libraries, which are popping up across Johnson County.

Leawood will use the ensuing time to consider what, if any, changes should be made to accommodate the burgeoning trend.

“I think it’s a logical next step, obviously regretting the ordinance takes time,” Brian Collins, Spencer’s father, told Kansas Watchdog. “We need to give (the city) the time to do their job and do it properly.”

Standing before the council, Spencer made his statement short and sweet.

“I think Little Free Libraries are good for Leawood, and I hope you will change the code,” he said.

Support for Spencer’s cause spread like wildfire. Since the initial story went viral in mid-June, thousands have “liked” the Facebook page for Spencer’s little library. He has received vocal support from writer Daniel Handler — better known as Lemony Snicket, author of the “Series Of Unfortunate Events” books — and Monday evening was further bolstered by Kansas’ Poet Laureate Wyatt Townley.

“There’s something about a little free library, the intimacy of it … that as a small home for books, and as neighbor reaching out to neighbor, gives us something that a large library cannot,” she said. “And so, I think we need more, not less, community in this day and age. I think we need more, not fewer, readers and thinkers in this day and age, and I think that the Little Free Library addresses both these needs in a single, graceful gesture.”

Councilman Andrew Osman, whose ward covers the Collins’ home, stated the obvious: Leawood dropped the ball on this issue.

“The opportunity we wasted in not communicating our position effectively, we stood back and said, ‘We’re not going to respond,’ and sometimes that’s a drastic miscommunication, and I for one want to apologize for that, for representing my district, and this is not how Leawood operates,” Osman said.

But not everyone at the meeting backed Spencer’s seemingly altruistic cause.

Wade King, a nearly six-decade resident of Leawood, contended the city’s action on the library could have serious consequences.

“The only reason we live here is because of the strict codes and the nice neighborhoods that we have, and if you guys let the media intimidate you and these people breaking our codes and our bylaws just for this trivial thing, Leawood’s doomed,” King said, calling the free libraries “eyesores” and warning against the potential for poisonous spiders or pornography to end up in Little Free Libraries.

Photo by Travis Perry

SCRUTINY: While Leawood leaders said inaccurate media reports contributed to the controversy surrounding their actions, Councilman Andrew Osman conceded the city failed to communicate.

Leawood leaders lamented the global exposure of the story and said inaccuracies in the media misrepresented the city’s actions, such as the fact the initial citation was a “courtesy notice.” And while Osman said he heard a great deal from local residents on the issue, Councilman Louis Rasmussen said most of the blowback he received came from outside the region.

“Only two (residents) contacted me,” Rasmussen said. “The rest were from blue states with equally blue language.”

While he voted in favor of the moratorium, Rasmussen warned that changes shouldn’t be made lightly.

“I, for one, don’t want to go back to a time in Leawood when anything could go within the first 30 feet of the street, and I don’t think anyone sitting here wants that either,” he said. “I think we’re proud of our city, and I think that’s one reason why we’re a target. We would not be a target if we weren’t a very successful, good-looking, great run city. And if that sounds too prideful, I’m sorry, but I’m very concerned about every change we make in the streetscape, and you should be too.”

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