Lincoln orders Little Free Library off church curb

Part 5 of 5 in the series Little Free Libraries

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — Apparently, city officials here haven’t paid much attention to the headlines across the border in Kansas, where a boy wanted to save his Little Free Library from the clutches of a city hell-bent on enforcing zoning codes.

PUBLIC NUISANCE? The city of Lincoln has ordered a church to move this Free Little Library that was recently erected by the curb.

Lincoln city officials have notified a church it must move the little library it erected about two weeks near the curb on its front lawn.

This comes right on the heels of a public relations nightmare for the city of Leawood, Kan., which found itself in the national spotlight — and not the kind you want to be in — after it tried to force a 9-year-old boy to move his Little Free Library from the curb. The boy built the little library with his grandpa for Mother’s Day, no less.

Little Free Libraries — you take a book, return a book for free — are popping up all over the country to encourage reading, and leading to some zoning and PR headaches for cities.

Two years ago, the town of Whitefish Bay, Wis., banned the mini libraries before bowing to pressure less than eight months later. Lincoln already has several Little Free Libraries around town.

Just Monday, Leawood officials backed down and gave the boy a three-month reprieve. But in Lincoln, another little library is under attack. This tidy little two-tone brown miniature house on the curb near Southminster United Methodist Church on South 16th Street already contains a Danielle Steele and Mother Goose book — and has already attracted the attention of Lincoln officials.

Barbara Arendt

No sooner had the library been erected than the church got a letter in the mail from the city Public Works and Utilities Department informing it that the little library violate a city code requiring them to keep the right-of-way (the space between the sidewalk and curb) unobstructed.

“On behalf of users of this right-of-way… the city requests your immediate cooperation in removing the wooden post from the right-of-way,” said the letter from Greg Topil, who works in right-of-way enforcement and just so happens to live a few blocks away from the little library.

The church was given until Thursday to move the library or face repercussions, which can include a fine of up to $500.

The library was erected by the Indian Village Neighborhood Association, whose director, Barbara Arendt, took to Facebook on Tuesday to express her outrage. Arendt said she’s lived across the street from an abandoned home “the city has essentially ignored” for some 30 years, but Public Works employees are johnny-on-the-spot when it comes to outlaw libraries.

“Does our city have its priorities messed up or what?” she asked. “They have issues with libraries but not abandoned homes. Go figure.”

While she admits the library is in the right-of-way, she said that was the only space they could find where underground sprinklers wouldn’t be disturbed.

The neighborhood association got a master carpenter to build the miniature library. The roof was donated by White Castle Roofing and hardware stores donated materials.

Arendt looked up the city code referenced in the letter to the church, and it talks about an “immediate public hazard” and “public nuisance.”

“A library? Excuse me?” she said in an interview.

Lincoln Public Works Director Miki Esposito told Nebraska Watchdog it’s a violation to erect structure on the city right-of-way, and the church was instructed to remove it. But the city doesn’t prohibit little free libraries from being on private property, so the church is free to relocate it on its property. She “poo-pooed” an extension, Arendt said.

The neighborhood association is trying to appeal the decision and get some time to consider its options without getting the church in trouble.

Arendt said she’s tried to get Public Works employees to do something about the problem property across the street from her, but they’ve “completely written it off for the last six years.”

“Then we have a guy from Public Works who that’s all he does is read the ordinance,” Arendt said. “It’s like, ‘You people need to switch jobs.’ ”

Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.