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No, you can’t “steal” from a Little Free Library.

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July 6, 2021, 12:01pm

The concept of a Little Free Library is pretty self-evident: it’s a free book-sharing box where anyone can leave books they no longer want, or take books they find interesting. It’s 1.) little, 2.) free, and 3.) a library. I thought this was clear—until this past week, when Minnesota’s Bloomington Police Department posted this strange Tweet:

Immediately, thousands of Twitter users pointed out the obvious: that Little Free Libraries are, by nature, free. The point of Little Free Libraries is for books to get taken and used; if someone has removed all the books from a little free library, the library is working as it should be. And it’s certainly not a police matter!

But Bloomington PD doubled down:

Notably, on the Little Free Library’s official FAQs page, the question “I think someone is stealing books from my library and selling them. What should I do?” is answered this way:

Remember that the purpose of a Little Free Library is to share books, so perhaps the person taking all the books doesn’t have any at home, or is distributing them to others in their apartment complex, school, or retirement community. Over the years we’ve heard from many stewards who’ve discovered that a book “thief” really wasn’t a thief at all.

(And, as several Twitter users pointed out: if someone is actually reselling these usually low-resale value books, maybe let them.)

Eventually, Bloomington PD changed their tune. Pressure works!

Several parties—like writer Nylah Burton and the Journal of Radical Librarianship—took the opportunity to outline a critique of Little Free Libraries themselves: that Little Free Libraries promote an optics of giving while reifying socioeconomic divides. (For instance, someone outside the socioeconomic bracket of a Little Free Library host may not actually be welcome on their private property to pick up a LFL book.)

For their part, the Little Free Library weighed in on the side of the book-takers, once again clarifying that the books in Little Free Libraries are, yes, freely exchanged.

Said the Little Free Library account, explaining the purpose of a Little Free Library once again: “If people are taking books, that’s a good thing.”

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