Small town checks out a stack of controversy in little library move

A GROWING TREND: Randy Phipp secures the Little Free Library charter number to the library outside Casey’s General Store on West Mound in Decatur, Ill. The libraries are popping up across the country, catching local code enforcement officers off guard.

By Travis Perry │ Kansas Watchdog

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. — The City of Leawood says it was utterly blindsided by the onslaught of public outrage after it forced a young boy to remove his Little Free Library from the curb in front of his house.

No, really. City Administrator Scott Lambers said nobody saw it coming.

NO BOOK FOR YOU: The City of Leawood has used the full force of its municipal code book to remove Spencer Collins’ Little Free Library from his front yard.

Maybe Leawood’s code enforcement crew could use a lesson in public relations?

The issue blew up in the face of city officials earlier this month after word hit the web that 9-year-old Spencer Collins and his parents, Brian and Sarah, would be forced to move the small book repository from their front lawn to their house, or face a daily fine.

While doing so has brought the structure into code compliance, it has also been removed from the public space, which is kind of the point of the take-a-book, leave-a-book concept fueling the trend that is spreading across the nation.

“I describe (the public reaction) probably in two ways,” Lambers told Kansas Watchdog. “One, we’ve received communications both email and voicemail from people who realize the city has codes, and that while the proposed library may be in violation, they’re encouraging us to amend it and allow it to remain in place. The others are pretty mean attacks on the City Council.”

You heard that right, Travis Perry explains the big blow up over the little library.


http://watchdog.org/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2014/07/Travis-Perry-and-the-little-library.mp3

First reported by the hyper-local Prairie Village Post, the story eventually caught fire and went viral, even earning some air time on NBC’s Today Show. Before they knew it, Leawood leaders had egg on their face before a national audience.

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“Once something goes haywire on the Internet, there isn’t a whole lot you can do,” Lambers said.

But, believe it or not, Leawood isn’t the first city to make this kind of foible. Two years ago the town of Whitefish Bay, Wis., made a similar misstep. However, barely eight months later Whitefish officials issued an abrupt about-face following the public outcry. While Little Free Libraries are now regulated for size, shape and location, they no longer enforce an outright ban.

Spencer is set to plead his case July 7 before the Leawood City Counci. A Facebook group backing him and the Little Free Library was established about 11 days ago, and has already garnered more than 30,000 followers.

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Lambers said other metro cities like Prairie Village simply choose to overlook code violations made by Little Free Libraries.

“My professional obligation is not to pick and choose which ordinances we’re enforcing on a daily basis, so that really is not an option,” he said.”

The strict code, Lambers said, is intended to prevent detached structures, including Spencer’s library, from degrading property values.

Contact Travis Perry at travis@kansaswatchdog.org, or follow him on Twitter at @muckraker62. Like Watchdog.org? Click HERE to get breaking news alerts in YOUR state!

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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