Against Little Free Libraries
May 5, 2017 6:05 PM   Subscribe

“There was something that kind of irked me about the [The Little Free Libraries],” says Jane Schmidt, librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto. “As a librarian, my gut reaction to that was, ‘You know what else is a free library? A regular library.’”
posted by Rumple (280 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Radical Librarians Collective

New band name
posted by Going To Maine at 6:08 PM on May 5 [12 favorites]


“I acknowledge that we can seem like a couple of librarians touting sour grapes by crapping all over this movement that so many people love,”

Well, I agree with that part....
posted by HuronBob at 6:10 PM on May 5 [47 favorites]


Holy hell. The amount of effort that went into complaining about something nice is impressive. Ya know rule 34? (If it exists there is a porn version of it) I propose a new universal rule: rule 43. If it exists someone is majorly and unreasonably pissed off by it


I mean, I rtfa and i just kept thinking. Ya but, so? They're cute. And there is so little altruism in the world.... why shat on this thing?
posted by chasles at 6:12 PM on May 5 [41 favorites]


Just to advocate for a cause near my heart: you know who can use your books? Prisoners. Find a local books-to-prisoners program and give of your excess. (But not general fiction, because no one wants that. Sci-Fi and Fantasy are still good.)
posted by Going To Maine at 6:12 PM on May 5 [56 favorites]



“I acknowledge that we can seem like a couple of librarians touting sour grapes by crapping all over this movement that so many people love,”


In an unrelated interview they went on to say there is no santa clause and unicorns are stupid.
posted by chasles at 6:14 PM on May 5 [14 favorites]


The test here, I think, is whether or not the Little Free Library™️ program would sue because someone put up a library with their brand name without paying the $40 fee. That starts to move things from the direction of just-for-funsies-DIY and towards a darker place.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:15 PM on May 5 [18 favorites]


So they admit in the article that they only studied two cities- their thesis is that because they In the only two cities they studied Tend to be in wealthier neighborhoods- burn it all down?
Like don't get me wrong, I am a huge supporter of municipal public libraries but isn't the solution here to sponser little libraries in poorer neighborhoods instead of attacking the ones they found in richer ones? Also- they only studied two cities! Whose to say there aren't little libraries in poorer neighborhoods? They didn't look for any!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:22 PM on May 5 [13 favorites]


Also- "neoliberal politics at street level"? What the hell?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:23 PM on May 5 [17 favorites]


You know what? I can't get books from libraries anymore because my life and budget won't let me have the books out for a short time and not start incurring madly increasing fines. A regular library is /not/ free for me.
posted by corb at 6:24 PM on May 5 [27 favorites]


Nice conspiracy theory but it's really more like a upper-middle class guilt/angst of just dumping a bunch of lame ass books that they're probably embarrassed that they paid real money for once.

(I can't resist browsing one when on a walk and other than children's books or some obscure obsolete academic tombs what were these people ever thinking let alone keeping on a shelf for over a day)
posted by sammyo at 6:25 PM on May 5 [19 favorites]


I, for one, am glad that I am finally not alone in my hate-on for Little Free Libraries. I am seriously about the least hateful person you know but this is one of my few targets. Because which is more of a public good: spending $300 to put up a LFL in your neighborhood of half-million-dollar homes, or donating your books to the library book sale and donating the money to a literacy program in an impoverished neighborhood across town?
posted by drlith at 6:26 PM on May 5 [91 favorites]


This seems like something that is probably not going to solve any pressing social problem but is also completely harmless. And to the kind of people who use the word "neoliberal," that probably makes it literally the most evil thing imaginable, but I'm not sure why the rest of us should pay much attention to them.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:27 PM on May 5 [25 favorites]


I was the sour grapes side of this very topic a week ago with my fiance. I recognize I sound ridiculous, but something inside me goes on edge whenever I see something that erodes use in publicly run resources.

They're cute. I've used them. They promote reading, which is awesome. They allow for community curation. They don't mean people stop using libraries altogether. But still, I can't calm that feeling inside.
posted by lownote at 6:27 PM on May 5 [30 favorites]


This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 6:28 PM on May 5 [12 favorites]


Ya know rule 34? (If it exists there is a porn version of it) I propose a new universal rule: rule 43. If it exists someone is majorly and unreasonably pissed off by it

Rule 44: If it exists, someone perceives it as problematic.

Also, as stolen from a prior thread:

[Little free libraries] are also neccesarily part of the space-time continuum, in which the Demiurge has imprisoned pure spirit in a labyrinth of error and illusion. So I agree, this news is troubling and problematic.

And, on the gripping hand, I worry that this is a case of an anti-kitten burning coalition. Or, rather, I will worry, until someone from this site shows up and proves to me otherwise.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:29 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


And yes, Takoma Park. I'm talking about you.
posted by drlith at 6:29 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


isn’t the solution here to sponser little libraries in poorer neighborhoods

Why? Like, what do the little libraries actually accomplish? I’m not trying to prod; I mean that seriously.

To my eye -and please correct me- they seem to be a symbolic gesture that you’re willing to give away some books to anyone who comes by, and make the neighborhood seem a little more social. That’s fine, especially since many folks barely know their neighbors, and it’s good to teach your kids about the value of sharing books. But in general they seem more performative and symbolic than anything; a kind of ritualized offer to the spirit of sharing.

Like, I remember Jessamyn once made some comments about libraries being public places, and how if you’re annoyed that there are homeless people in your library you should be concerned about what that says about your community as a whole, not what it says about your library’s openness. I am unconvinced that a homeless person would be particularly welcome were they to swing by your local Little Library.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:29 PM on May 5 [87 favorites]


My small college city has a bunch of them. I don't think I realized you needed to pay a fee to license them? Anyway, they are in nicer and poorer areas alike, a lot of books get donated, and I tend to leave mysteries that I've enjoyed but won't reread. There is always a call to put kids books out. Also people like putting benches and flowers around them. I don't know how much they get used but people seem to like them.

Our local used bookstore is very picky about what they take and frequently put boxes of books on their sidewalk for free. Ditto coffeeshops in the area which almost all have a take one leave one shelf.
posted by PussKillian at 6:30 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


Aside from my previous grouse, I really want to love them, do love seeing the charming little boxes of books, but generally disappointed in the execution.
posted by sammyo at 6:31 PM on May 5


Anecdata: I live in a poor neighborhood, and we have a Little Free Library that a church put up. We also have homeless people.
posted by LindsayIrene at 6:31 PM on May 5 [33 favorites]


The books I've seen at sidewalk level are the kind I'm not likely to find in the library. Both are fine and I like the community-sharing aspect. This is a manufactured tempest in a teapot as far as I can tell.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:33 PM on May 5 [18 favorites]


Anecdata: I live in a poor neighborhood, and we have a Little Free Library that a church put up. We also have homeless people.

I think all anyone -including the authors of the paper, really- is bringing to this fight is anecdata.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:33 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


Why? Like, what do the little libraries actually accomplish? I’m not trying to prod; I mean that seriously.

Man I don't know! I've never seen one in my life! I'm from SF and when I want to read a book but not buy it I just head down to the main branch near city hall and browse!
I just don't see how tearing such a harmless thing down helps?
To call it "neoliberal" as if that actually means something?
I just don't see how this type of thing deserves so much vitriol!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:33 PM on May 5 [12 favorites]


Also, little free libraries. They may not be Useful to the Poors (which is apparently the only thing we, as individuals who want to do community-building things, ought to care about), but they're definitely useful when you have two hours to kill in the park and are sick of staring at your cell phone.

Anti-kitten burning coalition, people. Stay on target.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:35 PM on May 5 [20 favorites]


I was unaware that they had been commercialized. All the ones in my neighbourhood are hand-rolled.
posted by Rumple at 6:36 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


I am unconvinced that a homeless person would be particularly welcome were they to swing by your local Little Library.
?

I live in one of those Midwestern towns where they've totally caught on. There's a new one at the grocery store across the street from me. There's also one at a church about two blocks away. And there are many homeless people around. During the winter, there's an emergency shelter about a block away from the grocery store, where you can stay if you can't go to the normal homeless shelter because of their zero tolerance alcohol and drug policy. There are no half-million dollar homes in my neighborhood. It's mostly rental apartments. (Honestly, there aren't very many half-million dollar homes in my entire city.) In my old neighborhood, there was one in front of the laundromat at the trailer park.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:37 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


In the paper, Hale and Schmidt describe Little Free Libraries as “neoliberal politics at street level.”

You keep using that word. I do not think &c.
posted by dersins at 6:38 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


It's not an either or thing, we have great public libraries* here in my city but the little libraries are a fun little community thing that doesn't harm anything.

*We voted overwhelmingly in a public referendum five years ago to enact a special real-estate tax to pay for our libraries.
posted by octothorpe at 6:39 PM on May 5 [22 favorites]


And to the kind of people who use the word "neoliberal," that probably makes it literally the most evil thing imaginable,

Right after her emails.
posted by spitbull at 6:41 PM on May 5 [14 favorites]


Also crap books can make great kindling so don't knock free kindling.
posted by spitbull at 6:41 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


Jane Schmidt and Jordan Hale: Oh hello there, LFL® supporters.
posted by metaquarry at 6:42 PM on May 5 [13 favorites]


And to the kind of people who use the word "neoliberal," that probably makes it literally the most evil thing imaginable,

Right after her emails.

These are Canadians, so who cares?
posted by Going To Maine at 6:43 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


And to add the great Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin, while exiled to Kazakhstan by Stalin, was unable to obtain cigarette papers. So page by page he used up the only manuscript of his masterwork, rolling smokes.

That is some badass lit crit realness.
posted by spitbull at 6:44 PM on May 5 [6 favorites]


Oh, and there's one in front of the Sister Kinney Courage Center that I take a relative to once a week. It's wheelchair accessible, of course.
posted by LindsayIrene at 6:44 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Jane Schmidt: Oh hello there, LFL® supporters.

The article is here. I find it a little funny that it’s formatted as a PDF®.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:45 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


These are Canadians

Ok right after Justin Trudeau's good hair.
posted by spitbull at 6:45 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


lot of ppl ITT with this sort of knee-jerk reaction to critique - like "it's a nice little thing! stupid 'intellectuals' are just bullies who shit on everything." i don't see anyone calling for them to be torn down; the point is that sometimes such "nice" things are more for "us" than "them." sometimes this critique is done poorly and does just seem itself like a knee-jerk reaction to perceived feelings of moral superiority... like, this is slavoj zizek's whole schtick; sometimes he seems spot-on, sometimes he just seems like a prick (for example, his reaction to the ASL interpreter at mandela's funeral)

but it's critique, it's not vitriolic, hateful, or advocating for destruction. projecting that onto a neutral consideration of how something may be symptomatic of ideology is straight-up just conservative anti-intellectualism
posted by LeviQayin at 6:46 PM on May 5 [41 favorites]


Given this response, I think I'm going to reconsider my effort to establish "Little Free Cat Declawing Clinics" in neighborhoods across the country.
posted by HuronBob at 6:48 PM on May 5 [11 favorites]


1. I don't understand the public vs. LF library dichotomy or animus.
2. I will admit, myself, to using the seeming density of little free libraries as a gauge of the neoliberlism of a new-to-me, moderately to highly well off neighborhood... FOR MY OWN PERSONAL ANECDATA AND JUDGING.
3. Provoked by the class and economic assumptions of their premise, however, I looked at the south side of chicago on their map. While Englewood (60621) does not have nearly the density of the northern neighbors, (seriously, there's like a LFL every damn block around here)... it has more than Hyde Park(60615)... a much richer neighborhood due west.
4. In summary, they need to correct for a whole lot of other demographic factors (pop. density, median age etc) before trying to make a real case that these are tiny little bibliographic cenotaphs to liberal guilt.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 6:49 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


I was just gonna say, Octothorpe. We have world class public libraries, with well-funded branches in low income communities. We also have Little Free Libraries. There's actually a positively Enormous Free Library literally right outside a group home for homeless women recovering from addiction down the street from me. There's a lot of kids at that residence and the cabinet right outside their door has a lot of kids books. There's a public library about a mile away, but, like, there's also books right here.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:50 PM on May 5 [23 favorites]


These are Canadians

Ok right after Justin Trudeau's good hair.

“neoliberace”
posted by Going To Maine at 6:50 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


I reject out of hand any criticism that hinges on identifying something as "virtue signalling." Virtue signalling is a good thing because it encourages and models virtue. A worthwhile criticism would be that a particular kind of virtue signalling signals the wrong kind of virtue, but this ain't that.

In the same vein, "performative community enhancement" is something I wholeheartedly embrace. Neighborliness and a sense of community are things that have concrete social value.

The closest thing to a valid criticism here is that these things mostly benefit the same class of educated people who put them up which... sure? but surely if you're going to take some utilitarian view about doing the most possible good then say a 30,000 dollar car or a 100,000 dollar house is a much larger concern than a 100 dollar wooden box.

Overall, sour grapes.
posted by bracems at 6:52 PM on May 5 [46 favorites]


Given this response, I think I'm going to reconsider my effort to establish “Little Free Cat Declawing Clinics” in neighborhoods across the country.

Please say that isn’t a pair of pliers and a bag of catnip tied to a pole.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:52 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


I was unaware that they had been commercialized. All the ones in my neighbourhood are hand-rolled.

This is an important point, because the Radical Librarians' critique hinges on the fact that the LFLs they mapped are statistically likely to be found in rich neighborhoods. But the only LFLs they can get data for are the ones that are officially registered, branded, and geo-tagged! All that biases the sample towards areas with web-savvy residents and extra money to pay the registration fees. It's entirely possible that LFLs in general (including both Branded and hand-rolled) are still more likely to be in wealthy areas than poor ones, but they don't have the data to show that.
posted by theodolite at 6:55 PM on May 5 [25 favorites]


“Little Free Cat Declawing Clinics” in neighborhoods across the country.

Please say that isn’t a pair of pliers and a bag of catnip tied to a pole.


A pole covered in shag carpet.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:56 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


By contrast, the numerous ones in my community tend to be disproportionately in the working class / alternative neighbourhood (Fernwood), and more than you'd expect by the naval base (Esquimalt), while Oak Bay / Uplands have virtually none. Someone put a map together, with pics which also shows these are being made by individuals from spare parts and aren't part of some commercial operation so far as I know.
posted by Rumple at 6:59 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


The issue is less whether the people putting up Little Free Libraries are evil, or even what their intentions are, but that the Little Free Libraries are (often) operating in a context where public library funding is under threat.

Yes, it may seem absurd that someone has to write an actual paper stating "Little Free Libraries are not for everyone and they do not provide the services or books that an actual public library does." You know what else is absurd?
In September 2014, the mayor of tiny Vinton, Texas, announced plans to install five Little Free Library book-stops across town—while implementing a $50 fee for access to the El Paso Public Library system to balance state-imposed budget cuts. Schmidt can name at least one alternative to Little Public Libraries that supplements public-library branches: the “Twig” mobile book-stops of the Appalachian Regional Library System in northwest North Carolina. If Watauga County were to refer to (unlicensed) Twigs as Little Free Libraries, they could run afoul of Little Free Library's registered trademark—which the organization does enforce through litigation. “I used to call the ones who used our name ‘rogues,’” Bol says. “My wife would say, ‘Oh, Todd, don’t be so crabby.’”
People who are wandering around a "nice" neighborhood experiencing Little Free Libraries as a charming amenity are not always the ones threatened by public library budget cuts. This paper is not saying "You are evil, Little Free Library folk!" It says "Little Free Libraries cannot replace public libraries for these reasons. Also if you think these are cute, consider whether you are also supporting your public library."
posted by Hypatia at 6:59 PM on May 5 [88 favorites]


I checked, by the way, and there is one at the local homeless shelter. The one at the church near me, which is a block away form the public library, specifically requests that people drop off children's books because a lot of parents and kids walk by there on the way to story time at the library. And the place where I could check was a map of local LFLs which is maintained by a local literacy org that also donates to the public library.

I guess that I'm just not seeing it in my community.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:00 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


but it's critique, it's not vitriolic, hateful, or advocating for destruction. projecting that onto a neutral consideration of how something may be symptomatic of ideology is straight-up just conservative anti-intellectualism

I think this is probably somewhat overstating the case, and maybe unnecessarily fighty. I think what's actually going on here is that the linked article​ is click-baity and unrepresentative in its treatment of the paper, which is, as you note, much more nuanced in its assessment and recommendations than the "this wacky commie nerd thinks we should burn down the book houses!" treatment allows.

Maybe ignore the dumb article and read the paper, folks?
posted by howfar at 7:04 PM on May 5 [14 favorites]


OK yeah skimming the actual paper it's much more reasonable and moderate than the article makes it out to be. Basically they're critiquing the specific organization moreso than the broader idea or movement, and their conclusion is mostly just that the LFL organization and public libraries would both benefit from partnering with each other.
posted by bracems at 7:11 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


My public library has a lfl and paid for a couple others to be built. These two things can and do work well together sometimes.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 7:14 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


A tale of two cities (same scale): Takoma Park LFLs (50% white, median per capita income $43,010 ); Langley Park LFLs (3% white, median per capita income $18,677). I may be a little bit biased also because one day I witnessed a brown kid being brutally tackled by the cops and hauled off for Loitering While Brown in the shadow of the LFL on my upscale residential block.
posted by drlith at 7:15 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


(I kind of hilariously just noticed that the library's lfl and four of the others I frequent aren't on the official lfl map.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 7:16 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I can see both sides.

* It's kind of weird that everyone is rallying around the Little Free Library movement, but nowhere near so many people are turning out to save the funding for regular libraries. So I can see why a librarian would be like, "what, you're willing to shell out $300 for the right to put a pine box on your stoop for people to dump books in, but you're against a 30 cent raise in taxes that would keep the after school homework-help program running at the library where I work? Fuck you, man."

* On the other hand, Little Free Libraries do make a better dumping ground for people to put unwanted books in, and they spare the local library from the hassle of being that dumping ground. I've heard a lot of librarians say that the donations from well-meaning people are actually a pain in the ass because they end up with lots of unusable shit that they have to store and schlep around and do something with. So maybe the LFLs serve the purpose of giving the well-meaning people something different to do with their books, and the public libraries are now free to actually run the after school homework-help programs better.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:17 PM on May 5 [32 favorites]


Oh, also in the "why does this paper exist" category: The scholarly paper exists because 1. librarians actually want to examine their profession and its surrounding environment in a scholarly manner and 2. public libraries and librarians must constantly justify their continued funding and existence.
posted by Hypatia at 7:18 PM on May 5 [50 favorites]


because they end up with lots of unusable shit that they have to store and schlep around and do something with.

Perhaps we need to make it culturally acceptable to pulp and recycle books.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:21 PM on May 5 [12 favorites]


Just to advocate for a cause near my heart: you know who can use your books? Prisoners. Find a local books-to-prisoners program and give of your excess. (But not general fiction, because no one wants that. Sci-Fi and Fantasy are still good.)

I used to send books that I'd read and didn't want to keep to prisons back in the olden days but then things changed and they had to come directly from book stores? So I stopped. and even looking at this link it seems like the organizations that serve my state (I didn't dig any deeper, I confess) want money or mailing supplies, and not actual books. I completely understand why a prison, being what they are in my society, would not prefer to have me send books from my house. But it means I can't send books from my house.
posted by padraigin at 7:21 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


The Toronto "library desert" map is kinda bollocks. The bits that are shown as red deserts are mostly parks or industrial areas that have zero population density. So no surprise that there are no LFLs there either.

I live in a NIA (Torontoese for "neighbourhood of sub $750k hovels") and there's an LFL right across the street that's not on the paper's map. Similarly missing is the LFL in the rough area near the makerspace I use. The paper may have biased towards early adopters, but it's less that way now.
posted by scruss at 7:22 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Perhaps we need to make it culturally acceptable to pulp and recycle books.
I've come to grips with the stance that it is just as morally ok to toss a mediocre and/or highly specialized book in the recycling bin as it is to toss last month's magazine.
posted by drlith at 7:24 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


Some public goods are about embracing something together, like a love reading, and representing that emotion or value in a show of public performance. It may have some utility, but that isn't the whole thing. It is about bringing certain cultural values closer to your home and neighborhood in a way that is more overtly integrated into a possible social affect. Public libraries serve this purpose on one level, and tiny libraries bring it a little bit closer to where we live. Expanding circles of influence and all that.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:28 PM on May 5 [8 favorites]


I used to send books that I'd read and didn't want to keep to prisons back in the olden days but then things changed and they had to come directly from book stores? So I stopped. and even looking at this link it seems like the organizations that serve my state (I didn't dig any deeper, I confess) want money or mailing supplies, and not actual books. I completely understand why a prison, being what they are in my society, would not prefer to have me send books from my house. But it means I can’t send books from my house.

Speaking from my limited experience:
  • the books-to-prisons programs essentially arrange themselves as “book stores” - it’s coming from a not-for-profit, so it’s fine. (This is handled on the back-end, so I can’t discuss it.)
  • Mailing supplies are probably in greater demand. They will have quite a few books on hand because there are too many printed books around. As in many things, money is better than books.
  • That said, There are some specific things that can be useful - lightweight material, like comics or magazines, or compact paperbacks. Dictionaries and guides to grammar. Law books and training materials. Genre fiction, although I imagine they probably have more of that than the latter. But weight is key, because the expense is in the shipping.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:28 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


Hi, all! I'm one of the authors of the study, who happened to come down with a nasty case of the stomach flu the day the media 'splosion hit. I'll try and get to my keyboard tomorrow, but there's obviously a lot of nuance missing from a lot of this coverage. The Citylab piece is better than the CBC coverage (note they brought Todd Bol in for an interesting follow-up today, though), but if you have a few minutes to skim or a longer time to read our complete article, you'd warm this sick MeFite's heart. We published it in an open-access journal because the whole world should have access to research, not just an academic few.

We first presented this together at a conference that jessamyn keynoted and there were at least three mefites present at our tiny presentation :)
posted by avocet at 7:29 PM on May 5 [125 favorites]


Perhaps we need to make it culturally acceptable to pulp and recycle books.

This!
posted by avocet at 7:30 PM on May 5 [6 favorites]


To me it's mainly a Little Free House For Spiders, but if people are into it...whatever, do your thing.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:30 PM on May 5 [15 favorites]


Ok, so looking at the map of LFLs in my town, there's one at the homeless shelter, one at the county social services building, and one at the county admin building. There's the one at the grocery store, which is visible from the winter emergency homeless shelter, and there's one at a local cafe. There are several at churches, including the one at the church right near the public library. There are two in front of elementary schools. There's the one in the trailer park, which was the first LFL I ever encountered. There are a lot more in working-class and lower-middle-class neighborhoods than in rich neighborhoods, which may just reflect that working-class and lower-middle-class neighborhoods have a lot more density and foot traffic than the rich neighborhoods do.

Look: I'm a library person. I check books out from the public library all the time. I get that public libraries are threatened and precious. But I don't see LFLs as a threat to public libraries, and I honestly think that the same impulse that makes them so popular in my neck of the woods also makes people value and support the public library. (And we really do have a fabulous public library, for which I am enormously grateful, as a life-long library patron.)
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:34 PM on May 5 [12 favorites]


Rumple: " Jane Schmidt, librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto. “As a librarian, my gut reaction to that was, ‘You know what else is a free library? A regular library.’”"

The Ryerson Library isn't free (non affiliated borrowing privileges are $75). Though maybe that doesn't meet the definition of regular.

At any rate I've found most places charge people who can't prove they are in the library catchment area for borrowing privileges. LFLs are available to the homeless and travellers and for example are a natural fit for resort areas.
posted by Mitheral at 7:45 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


Anecdata: I live in a poor neighborhood, and we have a Little Free Library that a church put up. We also have homeless people.

I recently saw my first LFL in a park in Pacific Palisades, which is a super rich enclave in LA, and there was a homeless guy sitting on the bench reading a book. Seemed ok to me.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:46 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


My public library is adequately funded*, and Stephen and Tabitha King just donated money to do some refurbishing. My Library has a free shelf. My used books go to Goodwill, the free shelf, the library book sale, wherever is near wherever I'm headed when I remember to gab books and take them. I think LFLs are wicked cunning, and fantasize about putting one in my yard.

*My version of well-funded would be several more branches, extended hours, roving bookmobiles, and, always, more books.
posted by theora55 at 7:49 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


We first presented this together at a conference that jessamyn keynoted

And I am sorry I missed your talk because then it would have been four! I do strongly suggest people read the original article. CityLab makes it sound a bunch more sensational than I think the authors are intending.
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 PM on May 5 [12 favorites]


I just put up my little free library last weekend. Already my 7 year old neighbor has come looking for books, has put some of his old books in there, and has asked me to find him some Sponge Bob books. His family situation is kind of shitty. I can't fix any of that for him. But I can supply this one kid with books. The little free library allows me to do that in a way that doesn't make his family feel like they owe me something in return.
posted by ilovewinter at 7:54 PM on May 5 [52 favorites]


Eh. I like a peeve as much or probably more than the next guy but... who cares? Little Free Libraries (who knew they were LFLtm?) are fine. They're cute. I've literally never used one, but I enjoy seeing them when I walk through Berkeley. Let the upper middle class white people have their harmless cultural practices! They have no impact on the existence or non-existence of actual libraries! Which, I agree, are the most radical institution left in the modern capitalist world. Sheesh! Let the little book birdhouses be!
posted by latkes at 7:55 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Hi, all! I'm one of the authors of the study,

Ugh, Of course I didn't read the thread before I posted. I apologize avocet for dismissing before I read your article. You clearly did a lot of work on this project and raise important critiques. I can see how LFLs are a sort of microcosm (!) of bigger problems around how philanthropy works and doesn't work to meet real social needs. I confess I didn't read the study in full but I did skim and must agree with the concerns I'm reading.

In conclusion, the world is shit, as am I.
posted by latkes at 8:06 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Holy crap, I'm a librarian and I have built two little free libraries. I'm working on a third, once I get beyond the market season for my art and nail down a design for a coffin shaped little library (Salem, MA y'all!). I have no idea where it will go, but I know someone will want it to go somewhere.

The main patrons of my first library are the homeless. Seriously. There is a dude that lived in the ditch by the first one. He offered to help me shovel out the post hole when I was working on it.

The first patron of my second library was homeless. The public art director of my town gave him her glasses so he could better read the books. He took three. AND THAT WAS GREAT.

So you know who often have problems getting library cards? Homeless people! Yeah, they can use the space and the restrooms, but they often don't have the ID (or there is a system bias against them) that lets them get a card to actually take a book home.

If towns are replacing library service with little free libraries, that's on them, not people who want to spread books around. The town-sponsored one I did? We didn't bother with the fee or plaque or whatever. That sparked the historical district putting in their own (much nicer) little library.

The Old Book Threat is real, sure. People hate to throw away books, so they "donate" them. As a librarian, my Nooo Boookss! reaction has been burned out of me. I recycle shit books I find in my little libraries. They get turned into pulp. That's fine. As long as one of these has a patron, they will be fine.

Jeez. On the plus side, this article has me back on track to build my coffin library. I have no idea where it will go, but I guess I will build it? I know if I do, they will come.

Because books.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:06 PM on May 5 [44 favorites]


Sheesh! Let the little book birdhouses be!

I feel like the article writers missed a trick not titling this "Made a little bookhouse? You asshole."
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:07 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


I just wanted to say that in Toronto I think this resonates particularly because we have an amazing library + holds system where you have small (really small...maybe not quite tiny) branches right in neighbourhoods, hopefully within about walking distance from anywhere. Mine (Guildwood, represent!) feels more like a high school library than anything else BUT you can put holds on books from ANYWHERE in the HUGE system and they will magically arrive for you!

However, these small branches are getting their hours cut and staff hours cut and for some reason I haven't looked into I noticed one a ways down the road CLOSED and so...there may actually be an issue here with the tiny library things.

(Also the Main St. branch children's librarian saved my life in the late 70s/early 80s. That is all.)

(I was bad and haven't read the actual article or longer paper.)
posted by warriorqueen at 8:14 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


I've seen "Leave a Book, Take a Book" shelves all over the place since I was a kid. This is really no different. It's just branded and crafty.
posted by xyzzy at 8:15 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


Good public libraries, like Little Free Libraries, are found mostly in rich, liberal towns, because libraries are usually locally funded. If that is a problem with LFLs, then it is a problem with good PLs too.
posted by ckridge at 8:17 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


I feel like the article writers missed a trick not titling this "Made a little bookhouse? You asshole."

"Shove your little bookhouse up your hole"
posted by Going To Maine at 8:22 PM on May 5 [11 favorites]


It turns out this is what Pete Seeger was singing about.
posted by sylvanshine at 8:25 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


You know what? I can't get books from libraries anymore because my life and budget won't let me have the books out for a short time and not start incurring madly increasing fines. A regular library is /not/ free for me.

Where I live, books are usually due after 21 days, and DVDs 7 days without renewing. Our library auto-sends email notices to me 2 days before due date. Renewals for books have recently been extended from 63 days to 105 if the book is not requested by someone else. The fines are not that expensive for me, unless I ignore them. Your library is only not free for you if you don't return stuff.

(I have some goofy stories about various library books that I've lost, but that's the price of reading;)

(Much as we love our library, I used to live in Toronto, and the TPL had almost everything imaginable available in their selection. I was spoiled then);
posted by ovvl at 8:27 PM on May 5 [5 favorites]


Virtue signalling is a good thing because it encourages and models virtue.

It also evidently encourages and models tautology.
posted by blucevalo at 8:30 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


Metafilter: If it exists someone is majorly and unreasonably pissed off by it.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:32 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


There's a pretty good analogy to the current situation with solar power, where people will spend significantly more money to get the same amount of solar power when the panels sit on their house instead of in a big solar park. Replace power with literacy I guess.

The answer to virtue signalling that threatens your job isn't to call people out as neoliberal scum, its to do a better job selling the more reasonable alternative.
posted by zymil at 8:33 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


I can't get books from libraries anymore because my life and budget won't let me have the books out for a short time and not start incurring madly increasing fines. A regular library is /not/ free for me.

Your library is only not free for you if you don't return stuff.


The second statement in no way invalidates the first, but it certainly judges it.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:34 PM on May 5 [19 favorites]


I've seen "Leave a Book, Take a Book" shelves all over the place since I was a kid. This is really no different. It's just branded and crafty.

I think that's the whole starting point of the critique, though:
We intend to critically examine how LFL® has created a dominant narrative of neighbourhood book exchanges via its corporate marketing strategy, one that runs counter to the values embodied by public libraries. We demonstrate that the LFL® movement is an example of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) in action, and, at street level, reminds us that government funded public libraries are not to be taken for granted in an era of civic crowdfunding where the privileged classes feel emboldened to take control of traditionally government-funded civic services. We are not trying to empirically demonstrate that LFL® has caused damage to traditional public libraries, rather we seek to provide an alternative and critical point of view as a departure from the LFL® narrative that has taken hold in the mainstream media.
posted by lazuli at 8:37 PM on May 5 [14 favorites]


Another fun thought experiment is asking published authors how much the love libraries or used book stores.
posted by My Dad at 8:37 PM on May 5


I only have a library card so I can use the Wifi in the library, which is conveniently close to City Hall. I am going to City Council a lot lately. I get downtown a bit early because it is safer to get there before dark. I mainly read all the magazines I can't afford. I read newspapers, but I also like to check my e-mail while I'm there. I just don't have the ability to schlep books around any more. I don't know of any lfls in my town. Certainly we don't have them in my neighborhood.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:38 PM on May 5


I sit on a community advisory board whose chair is the chief librarian of our public library. She was explaining at our last meeting why the library was cautious about how many LFL type sites it supports (it does have a few, called by a different name, in spots like the homeless shelters, the jail and the hospital) and some of it was similar to the points in this article. We asked about how the library serves homeless people, and it turns out they have a program to help people without a fixed address to get library cards so they can borrow regular materials, which I found interesting.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:48 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


...although she and Hale expressed lasting anxiety over the library budget attacks waged by former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his austerity agenda.

There's a point here that Ford campaigned on a false promise of cutting costs without cutting services, and then immediately started pushing hard for cutting services once he was in office. It was a contentious time, with late-running night-long city council meetings with citizens speaking for their libraries.
posted by ovvl at 8:49 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Your library is only not free for you if you don't return stuff.

The second statement in no way invalidates the first, but it certainly judges it.


Yeah, I said "return stuff". Just call me judgemental.
posted by ovvl at 8:55 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Now that I think about it, I wouldn't be surprised if whoever put that up in the Palisades did it knowing homeless people would use it.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:57 PM on May 5


Yeah, why should you be punished for breaching a contract?
I think the point is not that they think that they shouldn't be punished for breaching the contract, but that they're not going to enter into a contract that they know they won't be able to uphold. Which is smart, given that in the US we sometimes literally incarcerate people for failing to return library books.

Lending libraries aren't always a good solution for people who have trouble getting books back on time, and there are a lot of reasons that someone might have trouble getting books back on time. They could have poor executive function or lack transportation or have a lot of other things going on in their lives. I don't particularly think LFLs are a solution to that issue, but it is an issue.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:58 PM on May 5 [20 favorites]


boy I sure hope some anti-LFL librarian writes a follow-up piece about "bookstores." they're sort of like boxes on sticks full of books that you don't have to have a library card to take home with you, except a great deal more elitist and gate-kept because you have to pay money for them. only an asshole could love a bookstore.
posted by queenofbithynia at 8:58 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


Where I live, books are usually due after 21 days, and DVDs 7 days without renewing. Our library auto-sends email notices to me 2 days before due date. Renewals for books have recently been extended from 63 days to 105 if the book is not requested by someone else. The fines are not that expensive for me, unless I ignore them. Your library is only not free for you if you don't return stuff.

Like, okay, yes, I am a 9-6 worker with a car and an internet connection and comparatively few responsibilities and the fact that I can't take a book out of my library without racking up like $7 in fines is totally because I'm disorganized.

But access to a system where there are no late fees seems super valuable for a lot of people-- a homeless person without secure storage, a child (or adult) who cannot walk to a library, a family that moves to new towns or apartments often.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:02 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


My library lets me renew online or by phone. I can renew something like a couple dozen times before the book really-actually must go back, unless somebody else places a hold on the book. I've never hit that limit; that's like a year.

It's not the solution for everyone, but it might help some of y'all with those late fees.
posted by aniola at 9:09 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


dammit, I need somewhere to dump excess books - my local public library (same city as the author) doesn't want them (bought 1/2 from them to start with), and I already have two boxes worth waiting to go to the university book sales (but no time to take them).

also: two of the local ones are shaped like the Tardis. which means if I leave my SF there, it disapeers (prob into the owner's house).
posted by jb at 9:09 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


Well, here's the thing, folks. Yes, it's great to give away free books in a clean and dry place that's easily visible. I find the little book birdhouses adorable, and if they were called Book Birdhouses, I'd have no quibble. But they're no more libraries than a giveaway box of random discarded medications is a pharmacy, or a giveaway box of the bandaids that you can't use (either the really big ones or the really small ones) is a clinic.

And that distinction matters because there really are people who want to believe that all you need for a library is a room that's open some of the time (whenever a volunteer shows up), some shelves for the books, and someone willing to hang around and maybe shelve books in some sort of order. Never mind whether that person has any sense of providing a variety of books for people in the community, wants to impose their own moral or ethical values on what's on the shelf at the cost of marginalizing various groups, or whatever. Few municipalities will outright close their libraries, but they will nibble away at them ad infinitum. If you think that a few boxes on sticks stuffed with last year's James Patterson-branded potboiler can replace them, then you may get the library that you deserve.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:12 PM on May 5 [55 favorites]


But access to a system where there are no late fees seems super valuable for a lot of people-- a homeless person without secure storage, a child (or adult) who cannot walk to a library, a family that moves to new towns or apartments often.

The TPL system also allows you to borrow e-books via Overdrive. The selection is limited but not terrible. When the book is 'yours' you get it on your phone/desktop/device (yes I know you have to have a device) and when it is due, it vanishes. No fines!

But I hear you on the fines, I have some and need to pay them. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 9:16 PM on May 5


I've got a library degree. I was taught that a library in its broadest view is:
- a collection of materials
- selected for a specific audience
- organized in a specific fashion
- with a list of some type of what is owned
- with some mechanisms for repairing broken materials or replacing worn materials

LFLs (licensed or non) do some of these things, but about as many as an actual box of random books. Interestingly it seems the ones run by libraries/librarians have more of these elements-- at least the anecdotes in this thread show that some people are thinking about "what should go here, based on who walks past this area?" Yet LFLs get no funding, except dribs from rich folks. And this paper is attempting to interrogate why/if this is right, to defend public library spending...which is entirely reasonable from my perspective, and also a very strong argument for others in the library field, at least.

On preview, I was going to use the same analogies as Halloween Jack! And we have the same argument. Glad to be in good company.
posted by holyrood at 9:19 PM on May 5 [17 favorites]


also, as a until-recently very poor person who lives in one of the two cities under study:

of course they only exist in rich neighborhoods like the Annex. Poor people in Toronto don't have front yards! We live in apartment buildings. Our neighborhoods - like Rexdale or Jane-Finch - aren't walkable but are filled with highways and roads (like Jane) which might as well be a highway for all the attention not paid to pedestrian infrastructure. Little Free Libraries rely on people taking pleasant strolls by - this would never happen where I grew up because the streets aren't stroll-encouraging.

But this isn't the fault of the upper-middle class Annex dwellers. The terrible urban design of Toronto's poor inner suburbs is the fault of the MIDDLE-middle class, many of whom are not white or highly educated, but who are well-to-do enough to buy houses (albeit in Scarborough or north Etobicoke), drive cars, and vote for pro-car city councillors like Rob & Doug Ford.

The upper middle class people who chose to live in smaller, but more sustainable houses downtown aren't the problem - they consistently vote for progressive urban development. But they're outvoted by the middle class suburbanites who don't care how they're screwing their own transit dependent next-door neighbours.
posted by jb at 9:19 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


My library recently switched to a system where if you could have renewed your book but forgot to, the library automatically does it for you. You can still get fines if the book has been reserved or if you've hit the renew limit but it's really nice. I wonder how much income they've lost but I think it does a lot to build good will.

I think the objection to the Little Free Libraries is the same as to the Google shuttles in the Bay Area. The fear is that if wealthier people create their own parallel library system, they won't feel like they need to support the public option. The anecdotes above about having these near homeless shelters and not needing ID are a good counterpoint but I also understand the fear that they will cause the people with more political clout to not buy into their public libraries.
posted by carolr at 9:37 PM on May 5 [13 favorites]


I'm a librarian who works a lot with urban planning types and I've spent all week discussing this (the CityLab post and the original article) with urbanists and a few librarians. It's nice to see that MeFites are as quick to comment on click bait without reading the article as everybody else.

There is a ton of room for more research on this topic and the need for more data. Do LFL®s have any impact on literacy rates in the area? Could there be correlation to public safety? One of the comments from CityLab is from a USC professor in urban planning who shared some of her initial research of LFL®s - that they're about placemaking and very often memorials. I want to see more of her analysis when it's finished. The anecdotes about your LFL® and your town are nice, but anecdotes aren't data. Just like positive feelings about books don't fund libraries.

I think the point about it being acceptable to recycle and pulp books is important. When I first weeded my library's collection, it hurt to recycle all those books. But what we tossed wasn't of value anymore to our collection for a variety of reasons, and nobody really wanted it. (I'm taking about US Coast Guard handbooks from the 70s, random intersection traffic studies from the 60s, and the like.) People have visceral reactions to books, which isn't a bad thing except when they refuse to accept that maybe nobody wants that book anymore and they make it somebody else's problem. (This is also true of records, DVDs, and probably every other media format.)

The backlash has also made me really question what's a library in a real sense and does that jibe with what most people think a library is (and do they have to be the same thing). Too many people, including librarians, have very strong feelings about books and libraries, which is why it's easy to call a LFL® a library.
posted by kendrak at 9:38 PM on May 5 [20 favorites]


Another fun thought experiment is asking published authors how much the love libraries or used book stores.

If we're just asking them in our thoughts, I don't know how much we'll learn though. The only answers I've ever seen to that question in real life are "I love them both unreservedly, they encourage readership and that ultimately benefits me financially and I feel warm fuzzies about reading too." Admittedly I've only ever seen them answered by bestselling authors (since few bother to interview the others about anything). Maybe the response would be different from people in smaller niches, like historians of specific states or authors of how-to books about Lotus Notes from 1996.
posted by No-sword at 9:41 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


What I'd really like is a usb cable added to each little birdhouse library that downloads to the kindle a nifty interesting book.
posted by sammyo at 9:48 PM on May 5


Just to note that the unlicensed LFL on my block supplies the guys who harvest them to sell a couple blocks away near the transit hub. Which is I guess OK, since I didn't expect those books back at any rate, and it basically creates money.

My problem with LFL(TM) is that some fucker is taking a free and open thing that already existed without his input, and has gone ahead and branded and licensed it. There's no damn reason to buy into LFL, unless they have some sort of Evergreen service (catalog system), which I would love to see.
posted by Tad Naff at 10:02 PM on May 5 [6 favorites]


LFL is out of control in my neighborhood. Most blocks near me have at least 3. I know one half-block (the alley side) that has 5.

It's ridiculous. We have a real library close by.

I think they function mostly as a place to drop books that you don't want to bring to the Goodwill.

LFL is the new peace pole.
posted by littlewater at 10:05 PM on May 5 [2 favorites]


LFLs are a result of neoliberalism, not a cause of it. Defund libraries, and the people will compensate. That's what these are. The corporatization of it is weird and gross, but that's a whole other problem.

They shared an observation: They only noticed Little Free Libraries in Toronto’s wealthier neighborhoods.

I can only assume that's because they never left them. Jane Schmidt's salary in 2016 was $101,099.99 (thank you, sunshine list), which puts her in the richest 10% in the province. If she were really concerned about library funding... well... some self-awareness wouldn't hurt.

‘You know what else is a free library? A regular library.’

You know what else is little?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:17 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


LFLs are a result of neoliberalism, not a cause of it. Defund libraries, and the people will compensate. That's what these are. The corporatization of it is weird and gross, but that's a whole other problem.

Neoliberalism is the free-market, laissez-faire, pro-privatization style system. The corporatization of it is the neoliberalism of it.
posted by lazuli at 10:24 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


LFLs are a result of neoliberalism, not a cause of it. Defund libraries, and the people will compensate. That's what these are.

I think that's part of the problem they are discussing. In the original article they talk about using their methodology to look at other areas where public libraries are being threatened with massive budget cuts like Newfoundland last year and more recently Saskatchewan.

Also I think bringing in the salaries of the authors is pretty out of bounds and unnecessary. They offered a critique of LFLs and support public libraries. They note their observations are based on where they live and work - in relatively affluent neighborhoods. So I don't know what point you're trying to make with bringing up her salary.
posted by kendrak at 10:28 PM on May 5 [17 favorites]


The fear is that if wealthier people create their own parallel library system, they won't feel like they need to support the public option.

This just seems so unlikely to me, because the average Little Free Library contains about 20 random books. They're good for serendipitous browsing, but if you're ever looking for a particular book, it would be absurd to search LFLs for it. I've heard politicians give specious reasons for cutting funding to libraries, but I can't imagine one saying that LFLs make libraries obsolete; they would face derision.

Besides, there are tons of outlets for unwanted books. The book section of a thrift store is like 100 LFLs, but I have never heard anyone complain that thrift stores compete with libraries. PaperbackSwap has been around for a while -- is it hurting libraries? It seems more likely to me that every part of the ecosystem that creates eager readers benefits the ecosystem as a whole.

I will say this: The public bookshelf closest to me (in a neighborhood with mixed but overall pretty low incomes) seems to go against the stereotype of Little Free Libraries as some kind of vanity project for upper-middle-class homeowners. It's on the public right of way, in front of an apartment building, and it frequently contains items of local interest like DVDs labeled in Southeast Asian languages, homemade rap demo CDs, and toys. Kids use it, possibly some of whom can't regularly get to the nearest city library over a mile away. Count me a fan.
posted by aws17576 at 10:36 PM on May 5 [7 favorites]


In Berkeley, you gotta watch your step or you'll kick another Little Free Library. And I love it. I check em out, sometimes take things, other times drop things off, doing my part to cross-pollinate in the book circle of life.

And somehow I still work at a library and donate to the public library. My love of books cannot be denied, no matter what society will think!
posted by Zed at 10:38 PM on May 5 [9 favorites]


My library lets me renew online or by phone. I can renew something like a couple dozen times before the book really-actually must go back, unless somebody else places a hold on the book. I've never hit that limit; that's like a year.

That's great! I wish more libraries did that, I would use them more. Renewals are great, but they require me to be devoting a lot more time to When Exactly The Books Are Due in my head than I really can. I have a really chaotic life and very little free time. So I pay for a Kindle Unlimited subscription, because then there's a fixed fee, and I can keep out books as long as I want until I want new ones.
posted by corb at 11:07 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


So I pay for a Kindle Unlimited subscription, because then there's a fixed fee, and I can keep out books as long as I want until I want new ones.

I don’t know about “neoliberal”, but this could certainly be construed as a “capitalist” response to the issues with libraries.
posted by Going To Maine at 11:28 PM on May 5 [4 favorites]


That's great! I wish more libraries did that, I would use them more.

All the library systems I've used around Seattle do this. Seattle and King County libraries have online/phone renewal, and Sno-Isle libraries do the cool automatic renewal.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:39 PM on May 5 [3 favorites]


Well (*taking a deep breath*) I think as an example of commodity fetishism, a phenomenon like the LFL would more correctly be both a consequence of neoliberal social and a further ideological cause/reinforcement of it. The main idea is that this sort of pattern is not limited but happens over and over--you can look at the parallel, critical literature on "smart cities" (in urban planning) to draw the same sort of political, social, economic critiques. The crucial idea is that it's both, and it's not a contradiction or paradox; it just falls from various Marxian lenses.

So part of it is, a lot of people have no clue what neoliberalism conceptually is about, what the concerns are. It's not like you're taught this and unless you actively go and read about it or follow all the lectures (for example, the recorded lectures by David Harvey at CUNY), you get this thing that happens which is people reading a published critique and not knowing that there's an academic context to the analysis. That decontextualization creates a lot of heat and controversy.

It's also partly akin to being criticized for microaggressions or whatever and then reacting dismissively instead of being open to rhetoric/terminology. So when the article's pullquote is "In the paper, Hale and Schmidt describe Little Free Libraries as “neoliberal politics at street level.”", it doesn't faze me either way. I'm a Marxian and I've heard that language a thousand times. It's not meant literally, it's like a deadpan humor with a tinge of resignation. Instead of dismissing it as needlessly incendiary language, ask why is that the reaction?
posted by polymodus at 11:40 PM on May 5 [10 favorites]


Wow.

I live in a relatively poor neighborhood. We have an intentional community founded by a Mennonite minister. They got a bunch of businesses to donate the raw materials to build close to 20 LFLs. Those of us willing to host them donated the paint. Some construction-savvy people donated the cement and posts and helped us install them. At the end of the day, people in our neighborhood took a bicycle ride through the neighborhood to admire each others' libraries. I hosted the celebration party at my house that night. We aren't official affiliates or whatever. I didn't even know such a thing existed. The LFL people did write me to see if they could pay me to finish some inventory software I wrote, but they wanted a mobile interface and I wasn't up to it, so I just wrote a note giving them permission to adapt the code, which was awful but whatever.

I live across the street from a park, so my LFL gets a lot of traffic from kids in the summer, who are either coming and going from the park or headed to the nearby elementary school for the free summer lunch program.

Anonymous benefactors periodically replenish our books if we run out. We donate my son's books as he finishes or outgrows them. When I finish up a tech book, I put it out there. I also wrote that inventory app and had a page where you could see all the local libraries on a Google map and see what I had in stock, but it was kind of a pain to keep up with the churn.

I am unconvinced that a homeless person would be particularly welcome were they to swing by your local Little Library.

Gross.

We have a lot of homeless folks come by our Little Free Library. Sometimes I talk to them while they're browsing. Once I helped a couple living in a truck in front of our house get their truck fixed, and got them connected with a social worker to help them get some food and try to get them permanent housing. One week we had a family living in a beat up RV across the street. I was glad to see their kids come by to get books.

So, we give books to poor kids in our neighborhood out of a wooden box we made from donated materials and installed with donated labor. They're the same books our son reads, or that I read. When people dump shitty books on us, we get rid of them because it's insulting to our patrons. When cynical assholes with barcode scanners come around to harvest the good books and resell them, we run them off so the books will be available to the people who need them.

People are making some really vile generalizations in this thread, imputing motives to people they've never met and don't know. Metafilter can be really nasty sometimes.
posted by mph at 11:46 PM on May 5 [29 favorites]


I think that's the whole starting point of the critique, though
My critique of their critique is that the mere action of branding and marketing a concept that's been around for ages does not necessarily make it MORE or DIFFERENTLY evil. I don't recall any outcry or scientific investigation of Leave/Take shelves by librarians or anyone else, and yet they could have all the same identified problems. My hairdresser has a Leave/Take shelf in her shop and it's loaded up with garbage like The Secret and A Child Called It that I wouldn't let a dog I liked sleep next to, much less share with others. But I wouldn't critique a library for having those books, nor do I think people should be prevented from sharing books they enjoy but I disapprove of with others using whatever mechanism they choose--crafty library birdhouse with a licensing fee, random plywood shelf, whatever.
posted by xyzzy at 11:53 PM on May 5 [1 favorite]


I hate the LFLs with my soul. I haven't actually seen many in my neighborhood. What we do have is a cardboard box with castoffs that some people occasionally drop a book into outside of the used bookstore, which seems serviceable, but it's not Instagrammable and commodifiable and self-congratulating so I guess it's not an important trend.

I have no real problem with people putting little leave-a-book, take-a-book stations in the neighborhood, but the shitty dorky vibe of this stupid branded redundant thing that serves as a way to throw away your books without a sad is just... the height of aimless misplaced guilt of people with time to burn.

Also, books can be great, I sure love a lot of books, but the love of "books" generally is such a bizarre middle class value I can never wrap my head around. Even as a kid who craved books I couldn't afford, I wanted, like, specific books. I knew there were a lot of shitty books with bad ideas in them. I mean, Rush Limbaugh "writes" books. I like a lot of movies but I don't gush about how I love digital projectors.

Jane Schmidt's salary in 2016 was $101,099.99 (thank you, sunshine list), which puts her in the richest 10% in the province. If she were really concerned about library funding... well... some self-awareness wouldn't hurt.

This means literally nothing. You want her to fund the library herself? Sounds sustainable. Or it's only ok to care about the desolation of the public good if you think the bandaid on top of it is cute?
posted by stoneandstar at 12:03 AM on May 6 [20 favorites]


Radical Librarians Collective

>New band name


"Who Could Win a 636.932"
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:05 AM on May 6 [7 favorites]


nor do I think people should be prevented from sharing books they enjoy but I disapprove of with others using whatever mechanism they choose--crafty library birdhouse with a licensing fee, random plywood shelf, whatever.

Then it is probably useful to note that the actual conclusion and recommendations of the paper you think you disagree with end like this:
We feel that there is significant potential for the organization to partner with libraries and other community organizations in ways that would bolster their impact in communities that might genuinely benefit from a multi-pronged investment in infrastructure. The principles of community-led libraries are an excellent place to start. At the same time, traditional libraries could benefit from this partnership as they struggle to demonstrate their persistent relevance in the face of austerity agendas and oft-repeated tropes such as “it’s all online” and “who needs libraries anyway?” LFL® is a media darling and the organization is rallied behind when vandalized or threatened by authority. Given this disparity in image, there is opportunity to learn from one another to collaborate and support each other in meaningful and intentional ways.
Nobody is suggesting that people be prevented from sharing books, rather that there a ways for us all to do that better.

People really need to at least skim the thing they think they're mad at prior to commenting.
posted by howfar at 12:06 AM on May 6 [22 favorites]


How has nobody made a Little Free Library of Babel yet.

Hexagonal box, books full of random letters, except for one that's Hamlet written in reverse and with Polonius called Kevin.
posted by tss at 12:15 AM on May 6 [9 favorites]


I am unconvinced that a homeless person would be particularly welcome were they to swing by your local Little Library.

Gross.

Aw man, that hurts. I mean, I made that comment under the assumption that most LHLs are in upscale parts of town and that folks in upscale parts of town tend to give the homeless the side-eye. That is, I thought I was impugning a class of neighborhood and not a broad swathe of humanity, so my apologies for doing so. As is, I’d say this thread has been a bit of an anecdotal education to me about the breadth of locations in which LHLs (and LHL®s) are found.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:18 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Also, an important piece of context given the Canadian authors and demographics studied, the country actually has various leftist political parties, meaning that these "daily lives" issues (books as intellectual commons, etc.) tend to get viewed with certain lenses, and get articulated in discourse such as in this study. When the authors say there's demographic inequity contra how the LFL founder claims sites are chosen and propagated, that's based on statistical evidence. When the authors critique the policy about which books are allowed (the line about "no political or religious material"), there exists concerns around that too, from a leftist or radical perspective. While this is not to say that Canada as a whole is much further politically left versus other Western countries, there is a significant leftist presence and these publications (and others I've come across) from Canadian universities reflect that unique facet of of the political milieu.

BTW I have to vote next week, in my Canadian city, and in my understanding the only choices where I live are going to be Liberal, New Democrat, or Green. So, discourse.
posted by polymodus at 12:44 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


People really need to at least skim the thing they think they're mad at prior to commenting.
I did read it. I'm not mad or even mildly chagrined. But in a world where libraries are dying, I think their time and efforts could have been spent on something more useful than conducting a tiny study of licensed book birdhouses. Of course, there are no LFLs in my area (except at the Anheuser-Bush plant), so maybe it's a scourge that I can't comprehend. My local library keeps itself funded and relevant by lending DVDs and maintaining an e-reader lending system that can be accessed entirely online. You can also sign up for classes, rent out community meeting rooms, run off cheap copies through print services, and order books and other materials through an online ILL system.
Nobody is suggesting that people be prevented from sharing books, rather that there a ways for us all to do that better.
Criticism and backlash is a brand of prevention. If a bunch of people talk about how snooty, privileged, and uninformed you are for putting a book birdhouse up, you might just skip giving away your old reading materials and send them directly to the dumpster. I'm not really defending LFLs, btw. It seems a bit silly that even free books can be branded and packaged so neatly in today's society.
posted by xyzzy at 12:58 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


I think, depending on your locale and the types of book you own, you might as well indeed do just that.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:36 AM on May 6


Criticism and backlash is a brand of prevention.

I apologise for the direct disagreement, but this seems, to me, to be an unreasonable position to hold, given what was actually said in the paper. I genuinely don't​ understand how you can believe that "We feel that there is significant potential for the organization to partner with libraries and other community organizations in ways that would bolster their impact in communities that might genuinely benefit from a multi-pronged investment in infrastructure" is fairly described as a "brand of prevention"; it seems to me like a well-reasoned, fair, constructive and well-intentioned statement.

It seems a bit silly that even free books can be branded and packaged so neatly in today's society.

But isn't that one starting starting point of the critique of LFL in the paper? It's just that the authors are, by dint of their profession, more invested than you or I in making sure that the critique doesn't stop there, but rather develops into something aimed trying to help us share books and information more effectively and equitably as a society.

I think everyone who takes the time to engage in this conversation at all, including LFL and the paper's authors, has almost identical goals. We all want books to be freely and democratically available to everyone. It seems such a shame that this discussion has been framed by the media using the time honoured approach of "let's you and him fight", when the actual critique is something that aims at helping​ LFL and libraries to improve access to books among those who need it most.
posted by howfar at 2:08 AM on May 6 [17 favorites]


You know what else is a free library? A regular library.

no, that's not free - our taxes pay for it - and that is a very good thing, but we need to remember that we do not get "free" stuff from the government
posted by pyramid termite at 3:55 AM on May 6 [12 favorites]


There's an LFL in my neighborhood. A quick minute walk away. The closest regular library is about six miles away, in town. Oh, and since I don't live in town, it will cost me $50/year to use. LFL FTW.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:00 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


regular library is /not/ free for me.

So, I loaned my ex my library card not long after we divorced, ostensibly so she could get books for the kid for school & such, & within 6 weeks had run up about 130 in late fees, which after a time of her not paying, got me my privileges revoked. I still have yet to straighten the mess out because I'll be damned if I'm gonna pay her fines, but... shit happens.

Yeah generally speaking "free library" is a tautology, but I still think LFL is a cool project & I dump appropriate books in the one down the street all the time (data point I live in a wealthy gringo neighborhood)
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:08 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


I honestly never considered LFLs as an alternative to actual libraries. I like them but they are more like peace poles (talk about virtue signaling) or garden statuary.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 4:10 AM on May 6 [9 favorites]


Where does the license money go, anyhow?
posted by ominous_paws at 4:42 AM on May 6


What do authors think of public libraries and how it affects their bottom line?

Canadian Authors love Canadian libraries because statistics prove that having your book in Public Libraries increases sales to individuals, gives them the initial royalist boost when the book is purchased by the library, as well as the ongoing payments from the Public Lending Right Program as long as their book is in Public Libraries, as well as all the free marketing and publicity Public Libraries do for various authors (especially local, niche, and self-published authors).
posted by saucysault at 5:24 AM on May 6 [8 favorites]


Royalties, not royalist, sigh.
posted by saucysault at 5:46 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I reject out of hand any criticism that hinges on identifying something as "virtue signalling." Virtue signalling is a good thing because it encourages and models virtue.

Me, too. This idea of "virtue signalling" is toxic: isn't it obvious any sincere, genuine attempt to be decent or virtuous for any reason is also going to be subject to the criticism that it also looks like someone is "only signalling"? I mean, actually trying to be good and virtuous person, whatever that might mean to an individual, is always going to take effort and also arguably to look like someone just performing unless you can also read their hearts and minds and just know, magically, whether they're only feigning or actively aspiring to be more virtuous in practice.

You can cynically reinterpret anyone's behavior as mere "virtue signalling" on the basis of appearances. Actual virtuous behavior would in most cases also on the surface be subject to the same critiques, because obviously the whole point of faking anything is to mimic the appearance of the real thing. So judging on appearances alone, without being willing to trust and critically interrogate first person accounts of intent and longer term patterns of evidence, individual differences, and context, will always leave room for skepticism and doubt about the purity of anyone's motives (as if most human motives ever were or could be so simple and easily categorized and tested).

Madness lies that way, in taking the anti-social assumption that all behavior is fundamentally selfish and then interpreting every other person's behaviors through that lens.

Also, it's true that public acts and how anyone behaves in public can have consequences beyond themselves. Nobody seriously disputes social influence and role modeling are important factors in shaping human behavior, no matter how much any of us might believe in or want to empower individual efforts to be responsible on a personal level.

Human children, for example, are more likely to imitate bad habits they've actually seen their parents engaging in, regardless of what they might otherwise believe or be told, so for ordinary people who aren't perfect but recognize the reality and importance of social influence and role modeling, it might be necessary to play a role sometimes as parent, and to model healthier behaviors and attitudes you'd like your kids to see and learn even if you can't always live up to your own standards.

Most parents I think find themselves facing that tension and recognize there can be a distinct responsibility to set a good example even if you can't always perfectly live up to the example you'd like to set: Most parents like any other people still have their own problems to deal with and aren't so perfect they wouldn't want their kids to learn from a few of their mistakes and at least have a shot at building better habits and ending up healthier than they may have.

This cynicism about "virtue signalling" makes any failed or imperfect attempt to do a good thing de facto evidence (to people looking for it) of malicious, fraudulent, and ultimately selfish intent without consideration for the whole reality. Sure, if you only live in the world of the surfaces of things, everything you see looks superficial, inauthentic, and shallow. How could it not if you don't even allow for the possibility of unselfish altruism as a motive and reject the idea other human intentions and beliefs matter or have reality beyond being fictional rationales for selfishness? If you only look to appearances, there's no reason to care if someone's intentions are false or true. There's no basis for even making a distinction between the two; all there is or ever could be is BS. Which is basically Trumpism, isn't it?
posted by saulgoodman at 5:47 AM on May 6 [19 favorites]


Just think of a Little Free Library as a very fancy recycling bin that people feel comfortable taking things out of.

Stop overthinking this.
posted by mpbx at 5:58 AM on May 6 [9 favorites]


The use of the term "virtue signalling" is the point in the circle at which the far right and left meet, it should be noted. I've heard it used to malign "SJWs" from the right, and to sneer at liberals and leftists who aren't ideologically pure enough from the further left. Use of that term is really never a good look. And often wrong given how it's used in internet slap-fights against total strangers who, as far as any of us know, could be right this second volunteering 40 hours a week with homeless children in addition to having a book birdhouse in their yard.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:12 AM on May 6 [12 favorites]


Thanks, saulgoodman - I have been uncomfortable with that phrase for a while & I gotta agree with your premise. Doing a thing your social peers would consider virtuous & signaling that to the wider world is a net good, & sitting in judgement at the edge of people's yards & ascribing hollow intentions based solely on the signal without knowing the intent is defeatist.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:21 AM on May 6 [7 favorites]


"Virtue signaling" may be misused, but it is absolutely a fair critique when substantiated.

Many folks in the thread live in magical towns where these crafty boxes on poles show up just where they are needed and people have time and brainspace to provide meaningful children's books and current mysteries for people experiencing homelessness. That's lovely.

They might also be just little indicators of status and good intentions; never actually refilled once the books are gone and subject to decay over the course of months -- if I don't have time to go to the local library, I don't have time or memory capacity to schlep kids' books over to the LFL in the park. Honestly, the ones I see when I walk my dog just make me sad; I think of the little kids who should be using them, but can't, because the initial good will and yes, virtue-signaling that prompted them to be built has moved on to some other cause. So it's empty, because it's not anybody's job to keep it filled.

A friend posted on their FB page: "alternatives that rely on private citizens contributing when they feel like it are not a solution." They are not the worst thing ever, but they do siphon energy that could have a bigger bang for the buck, even if they do less signaling.
posted by allthinky at 6:24 AM on May 6 [17 favorites]


Madness lies that way, in taking the anti-social assumption that all behavior is fundamentally selfish and then interpreting every other person's behaviors through that lens

The word for this is Randian. It is the rathole down which the idea of why we band together as cultures & societies for the common good disappears.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:25 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Boxes of books to borrow, causing major dramas over what seemed like trifling issues in liberal but affluent communities?

Sounds like these are some...

*puts on shades*

Big Little Libraries
posted by ominous_paws at 6:25 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


"Virtue signalling" is a dumb phrase because of course part of why we do what we do is to signal virtue/whatever value passes for virtue in our social groups. No man is an island, etc etc. If we were all pure-hearted people acting only for the public good with no personal desire or consideration of how we would be perceived, we'd have to be robots. Even when you do something virtuous that is against your area norms, you're "virtue signalling" to history, the Big Other, etc. We are all always virtue signalling; that's how societies are constituted. I "virtue signal" when I rake my fucking lawn, because I do it pretty much exclusively to signal to my neighbors that I am not a total garbage heap of a resident.

As to little free libraries: mixed feelings, because for the most part the ones I've seen fill up with trash books - not trashy books, but books that literally no one wants. Regular libraries have a much better track record.

I think that what probably happens is much more that it's easier to come up with a few hours to build and paint a box and pop some books into it than to maintain it over time.

And I think this does illustrate why libraries are better, and why LFLs would be better if they were Little Funded Libraries (picture being a book-delivery-person!) - when maintaining something is someone's livelihood and they can devote the bulk of their working time to it, it gets done much better than when it's one of fifty gazillion non-work projects conducted by an individual.
posted by Frowner at 6:32 AM on May 6 [14 favorites]


But what we tossed wasn't of value anymore to our collection for a variety of reasons, and nobody really wanted it. (I'm taking about US Coast Guard handbooks from the 70s, random intersection traffic studies from the 60s, and the like.)

The artist in me just died a little. As someone mentioned above, thrift stores. I scour them looking for source material treasuees like the ones you mentioned.

Shout out to the outstanding Santa Monica Public Library and the librarians.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:36 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


There's a Little Free Library in my neighborhood that's crafted to look exactly like the house in whose yard it sits. I get a kick out of that.
posted by kevinbelt at 6:39 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


It's true civic engagement and philanthropy aren't entirely a zero-sum game. But, it's also true the amount of money and time most people are willing to spend on such things is limited. Asking whether the thing you're doing is in the top thousands of things that would make the world a better place isn't crazy. You can build a little free library and also advocate effectively for real libraries that have curated collections, help for those who need it, and also provide enormous benefits to the community that have only a tangential relationship to housing books.

Still, this mostly seems harmless, if a bit wasteful. Until you get to the organization itself.
The first Little Free Library was built in 2009. . . (wikipedia)
Plenty of people choose to build their own, on their own dime, for a one-time registration fee of $40 to use the Little Free Library name. (this article)
Yikes. Adding an obvious trademark to an idea that's been around for decades, claiming you're a non-profit activist organization, and then demanding nothing but a check for $40 to use your trademark is shady as hell. A non-scamy organization trying to build an actual movement would send you free branded labels and construction plans in exchange for joining their mailing list. The fact that there are 50K people are willing to donate effort to these slimy brand-slingers is depressing.
posted by eotvos at 6:45 AM on May 6 [13 favorites]


I would like to take a look at what exactly they're doing with that 40 dollars before I freak out about it. Don't they host a website with building plans & such? Maybe they put some of the money to good use?
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:52 AM on May 6


Adding an obvious trademark to an idea that's been around for decades, claiming you're a non-profit activist organization, and then demanding nothing but a check for $40 to use your trademark is shady as hell.

This was part of the original critique. I think most people love the idea of public spaces where you can take/leave books. They have some downsides but they're not benefiting from some sort of cultural association with people and institutions that provide accessible books and space to everyone in the country. However, as we've heard, it's not everyone in the country, there are gaps. A fair question then is whether this sort of more official and more centralized project (hey give us $40 and you can use our name, get some plans, be put on a map and get some legitimization for your project) addresses those failings or not. And it seems like in some ways maybe it does--hey free books instead of ones with strings attaches, hey books where you are instead of where the library is, hey books where you don't have to talk to a person--and in some ways maybe it doesn't. I think there's some consensus around a few points

- many people like the boxes with books in them, few object to them on general principle
- many people like the library though some have had bad experiences
- many people are worried about the future of public libraries
- some libraries are affiliated with these book box projects, though probably most (?) aren't
- the distribution of these book boxes is far from random which is what you'd probably expect for a decentralized project
- many people don't really know the difference between a book box and the non-profit organization which charges a small fee for people to be affiliated with that project
- if these things were called book boxes they'd lose some (or a lot?) of the cachet that comes along with being associated with the enduring liberal institution that is a free public library
- those last two things matter a lot more to some people than to others

I do, and always have, given LFL® the side-eye. There was a neat post on MeFi a while back about the Street Library movement which is a different model for a similar idea and one I personally prefer. I just spent the last few years working for an organization who really likes to drape themselves in library rhetoric but, ultimately, is all about trying to make a library-without-librarians. I think it's worth pushing back against that model somewhat. There's room for all sorts of ways to get information to people including LFLs and librarianless-internet-libraries but I think it's appropriate for skilled professionals to stand up for what we do and how we do it and why it's different from these other models.
posted by jessamyn at 7:17 AM on May 6 [33 favorites]


goddamn do human beings love to moralize, or what?
posted by thelonius at 7:23 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Most attorneys who passed the bar would likely have advised them to organize their organization that way. Why is it any slimier than any church, union, or club affiliation that charges dues? Is MeFi's five dollar entry fee
"slimy," too? I mean, the legal conventions and practices of the whole society can seem slimy, if you want to split hairs about it and are sufficiently puritanical in judging others.

Are we sure this issue doesn't rankle these librarians more because they have a lot of pride invested in real libraries and find these little libraries dubious for reasons related to their own amount of investment in and passion for public libraries as a good? I still can't see how this is anything more than a gesture of respect for the same ideals, unless this organization really is misusing funds or being aggressive monopolists or something else that hasn't really been demonstrated here in my opinion.

A little more spirit of live and let live might go a long way toward making a lot of these kinds of microcontroversies get less out of hand. That said, just engaging critically with the idea of free libraries even if it's not justified probably shouldn't be a big deal either way. A little unfair criticism shouldn't be the end of the world either.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:24 AM on May 6


We have a pretty vibrant LFL program in our town. Contrary to the findings of the author, the bulk of LFLs are in our poorest and minority neighborhoods. There's branches of our public library in those areas, too, but they aren't available 24/7 like an LFL.

This part of TFA just made me roll my eyes:

We feel that there is significant potential for the organization to partner with libraries and other community organizations in ways that would bolster their impact in communities that might genuinely benefit from a multi-pronged investment in infrastructure. The principles of community-led libraries are an excellent place to start. At the same time, traditional libraries could benefit from this partnership as they struggle to demonstrate their persistent relevance in the face of austerity agendas and oft-repeated tropes such as “it’s all online” and “who needs libraries anyway?” LFL® is a media darling and the organization is rallied behind when vandalized or threatened by authority. Given this disparity in image, there is opportunity to learn from one another to collaborate and support each other in meaningful and intentional ways.

I'm sorry, but it sounds to me like someone who works in the traditional library field is a little jealous that LFLs get media attention and wants to find a way for public libraries to get in on the spotlight.
posted by magstheaxe at 7:37 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I just lament having a decent library to go to. I'm in a very rural area with one library in the county and the books are pretty much what's in high demand: bodice rippers, right-wing military thrillers, and cookbooks. We get a bookmobile every three weeks. I went through a period of using it but I exhausted everything available in one summer. Let's just say the odds of finding Mefi's own Scalzi or Jane Smiley or hell, even Robert Jordan are slim. At this point I'd kill for a LFL.
posted by Ber at 7:38 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Seattle and King County libraries have online/phone renewal, and Sno-Isle libraries do the cool automatic renewal

There's actually a huge difference between auto renewals and online/phone renewals. The latter is amazing, but the former just seems like they are trying to catch people who forget. .25 cents a day may not seem like much, but if you have a reasonable amount of books out, and forget for two weeks, you're easily at 30-40$ - and if you're waiting until you have the money to pay the fines, that can easily spiral.
posted by corb at 7:43 AM on May 6


Most attorneys who passed the bar would likely have advised them to organize their organization that way. Why is it any slimier than any church, union, or club affiliation that charges dues?

$40 seems like a lot of money for "put a dot on your website and don't sue for providing an established service."
posted by Going To Maine at 8:18 AM on May 6


There are a bunch of LFLs around my (college) town. Most of the ones I use are at public parks (though one is at a YMCA facility in an affluent neighborhood). Because its a college town, there are a lot of Norton Critical Editions someone couldn't sell back at the U bookstore. I recently picked up several decent 17th century historical texts, some poetry and a couple of ARCs (no "Underground Railroad," but I did get find a copy of Viet Than Nguyen's latest book) at the Community Center Park . We have an awesome public library (which I support) and a vast University Library System (especially if you include the other Universities in the area). I'm a contributing Member of the Public Library and a regular borrower. I also have book buying problem (and a marginalia problem and a dropping books in the bathtub problem). Our local Goodwills/PTA thrift shops etc cap book donations because college town. Almost all of our used bookshops have closed. I mean, there are a few Better World Book depositories in supermarket parking lots, but otherwise there really isn't a great way to trade out/exchange your own personal library. And while I certainly think there's nothing wrong with pulping your Microsoft Office 95 for Dummies, I kind of bristle at this weird notion that throwing books away is somehow a more moral position than sticking them in a Little Free Library. I mean, I might want to read that book. Maybe I'm lucky to live where I do (and spend much of my life in an extremely liberal social circle primarily comprised of librarians, writers and academics), but I've yet to meet a person that's pro-Little Free Library and anti- Funding the Public Library.
posted by thivaia at 8:30 AM on May 6 [4 favorites]


I have some spare time today. I think I'll go down to the Austin Big Free Library & see if I can straighten out my affairs.
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:47 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


I'm sorry, but it sounds to me like someone who works in the traditional library field is a little jealous that LFLs get media attention and wants to find a way for public libraries to get in on the spotlight.

No shit? Libraries are getting reamed and people generally don't do much about it but go "hmm," preferring to pat themselves on the back for dumping their John Grisham novels into a cute box for the needy. Or, because there are two scenarios here, prefer to promote fellow middle class people building "community" around a shared box drop and not the actual public library, when as everyone knows, once rich white people stop using a public thing, it suddenly gets defunded and decrepit or maybe disappears.

I'm not against anyone having convenient access to books, naturally, but there is a bit of... weird morality where the idea that giving books to the homeless is like watching the homeless eat vegetables and smiling down on them. Which, everyone deserves books and vegetables, but you know. It's very middle class to feel great about yourself for giving a poor person literally anything other than money, the thing they might really need. And the fact that libraries are multidimensional community centers that assist the poor and homeless in finding jobs and services and also books but they aren't as sexy as giving them an unwanted book is insanely stupid, like, current American political climate stupid.

It's basically on the level of any mainstream DIY shit, which is meant to make people feel good while questionably really affecting the level or resources required by a thing. Rarely does real DIY become mainstream, because it can't be given the appropriate dash of glamour.

I think it's appropriate for skilled professionals to stand up for what we do and how we do it and why it's different from these other models

Yes, even in this thread we have someone claiming that librarians make too much money, so I really can't help but think this branded library DIY aesthetic bullshit is a little ignorant. Maybe not malicious on the part of individuals, but probably ignorant.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:47 AM on May 6 [25 favorites]


A difficuly with the term "virtue signaling" is that it does not accomplish the thing it sets out to do but rather makes a statement of support for a nebulous collection of values, and it is a performance for many different actors, all of whom will read it differently. Like, signaling virtues that you value to members of your community and family can be great. But it shouldn't necessarily be confused for supporting a coherent whole. The ambiguity is a curse.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:49 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Also, they've slapped a TM on "Take a Book, Return a Book"? ffs.
posted by drlith at 8:56 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


And the fact that libraries are multidimensional community centers that assist the poor and homeless in finding jobs and services and also books (...)

It is possible to be in total agreement with all this & be willing to pay taxes to support such things, and also think that the little box down the street full of used books is kinda neat. Why polarize this to such a radical extent?
posted by Devils Rancher at 8:56 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


And while I certainly think there's nothing wrong with pulping your Microsoft Office 95 for Dummies, I kind of bristle at this weird notion that throwing books away is somehow a more moral position than sticking them in a Little Free Library.

Sticking a book in a community book drop box takes up space that could be used by other books. Delivering a used book to a library (or used bookstore, or book drop box) takes time and money on my part. Depending on the (perceivable) desireability and size of the book, I think it's perfectly cromulent to say that it's possible that destroying an old book is better than donating it.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:59 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


It's very middle class to feel great about yourself for giving a poor person literally anything other than money, the thing they might really need.

The "might" here is interesting. The poor surely need money. But if they are consuming the box in your local book drop then they also need books. (upthread, someone mentioned that folks took books out of their drop box to sell at the nearby transit hub. Thus, unwanted books become cash.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:05 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


It's very middle class to feel great about yourself for giving a poor person literally anything other than money, the thing they might really need.

Isn't it possible to do both? Leaving books for people who might pass by at any time of day or night and giving change to someone you personally see on the street? And I'd be surprised if people who are giving larger amounts to support NFPs which help poor people are going to stop because they've started leaving some books outside.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:06 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Depending on the (perceivable) desireability and size of the book, I think it's perfectly cromulent to say that it's possible that destroying an old book is better than donating it.

But seriously, if I want to read the book that you're about to destroy, can I read it first? I'll even promise to destroy it and not give it to anyone else afterwards if that's part of the bargain.
posted by thivaia at 9:16 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Are you willing to drive over and pick it up?
posted by Going To Maine at 9:19 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


It is possible to be in total agreement with all this & be willing to pay taxes to support such things, and also think that the little box down the street full of used books is kinda neat. Why polarize this to such a radical extent?

Of course, I was responding to the idea that librarians are uppity for wanting some of that sweet sweet media attention. It's sad that the conclusion of the paper is something something better branding, but that's the world we live in.

Isn't it possible to do both? Leaving books for people who might pass by at any time of day or night and giving change to someone you personally see on the street?

Yes, but it's simply impossible for these tiny book depositories to serve literacy and culture the way a library does. I think it makes people feel better to put their own personal books in a box, even if they would be contributing more by paying more taxes or hypothetically throwing their weight behind libraries. It's possible to do both, but not likely. Not sure if human nature will ultimately destroy us but it's getting there.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:19 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


jessamyn: the Street Library movement which is a different model for a similar idea and one I personally prefer.

I checked this site out and there seems relatively little difference to my eye. They differ from the LFL in that you don't need to pay to put yours on the map (though can pay to get a "registered" plaque), but they do sell pre-made ones at what look to be fairly high prices. They show a sticker showing they are affiliated with Australian Libraries and Information Association, and they get some government funding (which maybe could be better spent on libraries? I don't know).

Anyway, the nuances of the differences are not clear to me, especially when the Street Library page says things like this, which would seem to impugn the profession of Librarian:

"What makes a great librarian?
If you’ve got some books that you want to share, and your Street Library is out there, doing business with the folks in your neighbourhood, then YOU are a great librarian! You can bust out the cardie, put on your bifocals, start those seventeen books on your must-read list – or you can happily set up the box, comb out that magnificent moustache, hop on your fixie, and ride off into the sunset, local brew in hand. It’s up to you. .......... Meet librarians who are just like you. Meet librarians that are NOTHING LIKE you. But know that you’re all committed to spreading the love of literacy across your neighbourhood. Facebook each other. Fill up that Instagram feed with pretty pics and hashtag like there’s no tomorrow."

Anyway this has been a thoughtful discussion; I regret not finding the original article PDF to link in the OP.
posted by Rumple at 9:19 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


("it", I guess, is an O'Reilly guide to GDB from 1998.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:22 AM on May 6


Are you willing to drive over and pick it up?

I mean, I'd rather walk, but hypothetically and intra-community, of course.
posted by thivaia at 9:23 AM on May 6


Okay, well, send me a Memail I guess, and maybe we can work this out.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:28 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


It is possible to be in total agreement with all this & be willing to pay taxes to support such things, and also think that the little box down the street full of used books is kinda neat. Why polarize this to such a radical extent?

Firstly, a Little Free Library® is not just a "little box down the street full of used books", it's a branded product which describes itself as a library. The fact that it's a nonprofit organisation doesn't change that. Public libraries are also nonprofit organisations, albeit typically government owned.

Secondly, reasoned critique of LFL, arguing for their engagement with existing infrastructure in order to better deliver the service they seek to provide is not, to my mind, unreasonable polarisation of the issue.

I work for a nonprofit organisation which, like public libraries, delivers public services using a mixture of donor income and government funds from the Legal Aid Agency and local contracts for service delivery. If organisations emerge that offer similar services (either commercial competitors or other nonprofits), it is reasonable for me to be concerned, particularly given the ongoing devastation of our governmental income streams, about the extent to which these organisations draw attention and energy from what I regard as my organisation's vital service delivery model.

Governments​ can, will and do use voluntary efforts to argue that the public funding of professional legal advice is not necessary. That's not just sour grapes, that's a result of me genuinely believing in the delivery model of Legal Aid, and appreciating the significant extent to which it is under threat. It is accordingly, I would argue, reasonable for me to point out where alternative delivery models fall short. Not everyone involved in making decisions about what services to fund is going to approach the issues in good faith, and it is really, really common for politicians to adopt the spurious position that small, non-professional efforts can replace complex publicly funded means of service delivery.

In that context, and given that what the paper actually recommends is better engagement between LFL and public libraries, I don't think that this can reasonably be seen as a case of excessive or damaging polarisation.
posted by howfar at 9:33 AM on May 6 [23 favorites]


i agree with this article, but i still stuff the boxes in front of the school down the street with floppy comics . and we voted to increase library taxes in my town.
posted by eustatic at 9:34 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


(upthread, someone mentioned that folks took books out of their drop box to sell at the nearby transit hub. Thus, unwanted books become cash.

I have seen people in cars utterly emptying LFLs of all their books, into their trunks & backseats and I think the consensus around here is that they load up at a few of these then drag them to Half Price Books to get the 10 or 15 bucks trade-in value they might make. So far as I know, this isn't illegal & if that's how you need to spend your Saturday morning to get by, then have at it. It's probably a little more profitable thang selling plasma.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:37 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Governments​ can, will and do use voluntary efforts to argue that the public funding of professional legal advice is not necessary. That's not just sour grapes, that's a result of me genuinely believing in the delivery model of Legal Aid, and appreciating the significant extent to which it is under threat. It is accordingly, I would argue, reasonable for me to point out where alternative delivery models fall short. Not everyone involved in making decisions about what services to fund is going to approach the issues in good faith, and it is really, really common for politicians to adopt the spurious position that small, non-professional efforts can replace complex publicly funded means of service delivery.


I certainly share your concerns here & thanks for elucidating them clearly.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:41 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Not everyone involved in making decisions about what services to fund is going to approach the issues in good faith, and it is really, really common for politicians to adopt the spurious position that small, non-professional efforts can replace complex publicly funded means of service delivery.

Regardless of whether or not politicians and in good faith, it's probably a useful and necessary skill to be able to renunciate the distinctive features that your publicly funded service provides, and why a library is better than a cute box of books on the street.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:44 AM on May 6


If you’ve got some books that you want to share, and your Street Library is out there, doing business with the folks in your neighbourhood, then YOU are a great librarian!

Oh, please, no! My mom was a librarian -- she was a *resource* for *information* and had years of education and training. That's a profession, there. Sharing books might a beautiful thing, but it does not make one a librarian.
posted by allthinky at 9:45 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


I think it makes people feel better to put their own personal books in a box, even if they would be contributing more by paying more taxes or hypothetically throwing their weight behind libraries. It's possible to do both, but not likely.

I don't know why these people are only hypothetically supporting libraries, but I have a sense that this is a very regional issue and I'll have to agree to disagree about people's giving habits in re their support of libraries and the homeless population. I also suspect that in LA, or in my area at least, the uneasy co-existenece between homeless people and the wealthy is different than in other parts of the country (and Toronto.) I'd love to be proven wrong on that count, though.

I do understand that old or out-of-date books can be a problem for libraries and librarians, but it also seems like these LFLs are a way to divert those books from the local library system.
posted by Room 641-A at 9:46 AM on May 6


"Virtue signaling" may be misused, but it is absolutely a fair critique when substantiated.

I agree, but I'm afraid the term itself has been misused beyond redemption.

The concept is a real thing, though. I'm trying to sort this stuff out with a group I work with right now. There have been studies that show that people are sometimes less likely to help substantively when they've already signaled their support. So if someone buys a reusable grocery bag with our logo on it, or if we push Amazon Smile for our organization, people feel like they've already done their part when we ended up with maybe a dollar if we're lucky.

Not that it's bad to signal virtue for the benefit of the community as a whole or anything, but that can translate to complacency for the organizations actually affected by it. So while neoliberal solutions (speaking of apparently troublesome terminology) are great and all, there is some risk that those efforts give people that feeling of signaling virtue, and potentially erode support for more established efforts--in this case, libraries.

The problem with the term virtue signaling isn't the concept so much as it is that people throw it around as a casual assumption without any real evidence. People assign motivations and make up weird judgmental backstories about people they don't know. Reactionary conservatives do it all the time, and it's one of the worst things about Metafilter, too.

Virtue signaling is real, it happens, it's a problem. Casual assumptions about virtue signaling (and other unsupported judgments about people) are also real and a problem.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:53 AM on May 6 [4 favorites]


Hi, all! So Your Research Went Viral is never something I thought I would end up using to describe a week in my life! A couple thoughts and observations from the other side of the publication process...

1. We don't see this as threatening our personal livelihoods. Jane's a mid-career academic librarian, I work in special collections and am only halfway through library school. My dream is to be an archivist for a baseball team, not a public librarian.

2. #NotAllBoxesOfBooks. We are not against neighbourhood book exchanges at all. At the end of the CBC interview, Carol Off says something along the lines of "well I hope they don't know where you live, you might wake up with twelve LFL®s on your front lawn!" Not mentioned: Jane has one (now unbranded) on her front lawn. As part of the research for this project, Jane purchased and stewarded an official Little Free Library, and based on her experiences as a steward operating within the broader organization, ultimately de-registered with a letter to the board of directors, suggesting what they could do to better fulfill their mandate of "watering book deserts" and increasing literacy in communities. We are a big fan of the Community-Led Libraries Toolkit. We were VERY concerned with some of the values espoused by the org (including, in the "what to do about vandalism?" paper, suggestions to "ask the local 'bad kids' to keep an eye on it", explicit references to gangs, etc.) and the straight up surveillance of LFL® users taking place by stewards on their FB group – posting pics, "naming and shaming" of people taking "more than their fair share" of books, etc. Patron privacy is something we take VERY SERIOUSLY in libraries.

3. Something we are only learning through the last few days of media coverage: yes, they are C&Ding people using the LFL® trademark without permission. When asked "where does the money go?" on CBC yesterday, Todd Bol said "nobody's ever asked me that", and dodged answering the question.

4. Though we acknowledge that access to public services like libraries is never as equitable in practice as it is in theory, we are concerned with the decrease in accountability that comes with this transfer of "services" onto private property. I am simultaneously happy and totally bummed to read about homeless folks finding easier access to reading materials through neighbourhood book exchanges – in fact, Jane is continuing this work by examining the ways in which various jurisdictions are keeping homeless folks out of public libraries (through amendments to codes of conduct, etc.) and advocating against such measures. At the outset of this project, when we first started theorizing the link between LFL®s and gentrification in Toronto, we wondered if stewards would be cool with homeless folks on their lawns reading their books – if they are considered "part of the community", too (obviously something we can't really measure). We are hugely concerned about the possibility of violence against non-White folks browsing book exchanges on private property, though, especially now that Stand Your Ground laws are a thing, and LFL® has partnered with police departments across America. We hadn't yet heard of this happening in practice until someone referenced it upthread in a comment :(

5. It's fine to recycle books! Please recycle your books instead of sticking them in neighbourhood book exchanges if you don't think others will find them questionable. In recent weeks, we've seen LFL®s containing castoff Bill O'Reilly, Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi books front & centre – though, in public libraries, we wouldn't censor them outright, we'd also sure as hell ensure they weren't front and centre in a book display. As well, part of our work is ensuring that folks have access to the most up-to-date, relevant information they need – while this generally manifests in the form of outdated software manuals, the Citylab journalist found lots of outdated legal information in the LFL® nearest to him.

I'll be back to answer more specific questions later if anyone has 'em (and to respond to earlier points), but to reiterate our conclusion, we'd like to see LFL® take a much more proactive role in ensuring responsible stewardship and to work with public libraries, when possible, to ensure that these actually meet the needs of the communities they're going in. Unstaffed/volunteer-led libraries are already being proposed in jurisdictions around the world, even in Toronto, in response to budget cuts, and LFL® appears to be making money off these funding shifts.

#NotAllBoxesOfBooks
posted by avocet at 9:54 AM on May 6 [57 favorites]


> I do understand that old or out-of-date books can be a problem for libraries and librarians, but it also seems like these LFLs are a way to divert those books from the local library system.

The key here to me is centralization vs. decentralization. So maybe if we're lucky, LFLs divert a tiny fraction of the books that would otherwise be destroyed. Those books, which were deemed not worthy of 0.00001% of the space in giant building in the middle of town, are now somehow going to justify taking up 1% or more of a small box in your neighborhood? How does that work out? And who's going to put in the time and effort to decide which ones go where to maximize the chance that they're not just taking up space in an LFL that will displace a book someone's much more likely to want in that small box? What is sold as a way to reduce demand on library resources looks more like a drain on those resources.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:55 AM on May 6


Around here, I see a lot more freelance book boxes than Little Free Library®s. So I'll just note that discussion of whether book swap boxes are a threat or a menace is a different discussion from talking about whether Little Free Library LTD is a threat or a menace.
posted by Zed at 10:00 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


What is sold as a way to reduce demand on library resources

I wasn't trying to sell anything, I just thought it may be an unintended consequence.

Anyway, in my case, my neighbors in my large apartment building leave their unwanted books by the mailboxes and they're always gone in minutes. Some of the weirder VHS tapes Ive left have taken a few hours longer. I have no idea which of these things the library would have wanted.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:09 AM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Thanks so much, avocet. So many of those bullet points are creepy and chilling.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:20 AM on May 6 [7 favorites]


Hello from England, where the Public Library service is being rapidly hollowed out through the withdrawal of funding, usually signaled by an area being offered the choice of "Find volunteers to run and fund the library, or it closes". Some places don't (and it closes); some do, offer a very limited range of services and selection, and often close a few years down the line when volunteers get fed up of doing it.

I've heard politicians give specious reasons for cutting funding to libraries, but I can't imagine one saying that LFLs make libraries obsolete; they would face derision.

Not here. As one of the local right-wing councillors who stood - and won - in the elections last week cheerfully put it, closing libraries is a "good dry run for sorting out the education and health systems" (his words).

The excuses or "reasons" used to close libraries are often either:
- The country has no money - [1] [2] [3] - and priority has to be given to other things. n.b. the entire UK public library service - or what's left of it - costs less than a billion pounds a year (that's stock, salaries et al).
- People don't need libraries, librarians and the like, as there is Google, Amazon, used book stores, old phone boxes with a shelf or two of books, or everyone has the Internet, a smartphone and the like and can access everything online.
- Poor value to the taxpayer.

All of those can be debunked with facts and data - ironically, the kind of things which librarians and information professionals are good at finding. And some people try to but they are getting drowned out by libertarians, people (many) who hate education of any kind (includes books and people who read them), internet and online newspaper commenting trolls, property developers who have their eye on turning public libraries into very expensive gentrified apartments, people who don't use a public library and think their experience somehow invalidates people who do, and politicians and people running on an "I cut waste and taxes" agenda.

Here, from six years ago but still valid, are some of the services which librarians provide (more added in the comments). And here is what happens when public libraries are threatened with closure (more across the website).
posted by Wordshore at 10:20 AM on May 6 [19 favorites]


A few pictures I've taken of libraries (visiting them is a hobby) but forgot to include in last comment, if you haven't been in one for a while or ever. Some books in a branch library in Birmingham; a Wisconsin librarian reading an olde book in Worcester Cathedral library, Seattle public library, Evesham public library, and rural Indiana public libraries.

(And, to be meta, some library books on librarianship.)
posted by Wordshore at 10:50 AM on May 6 [8 favorites]


I'm currently reading a rather battered copy of a book about Duane Allman, written by his daughter, which I'm loving. I had no idea it existed. I just happened to notice it in a rack at the local "free store". Long story short: if I'd be depending on the official library in this regard (my community does have one), I'd still not even know this book exists, so wouldn't be able to share this excerpt ...

so yeah, here's to the free (note lower case) and the soft chaos it enables
posted by philip-random at 11:03 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


- if these things were called book boxes they'd lose some (or a lot?) of the cachet that comes along with being associated with the enduring liberal institution that is a free public library
I guess that I think that "library" is a pretty old word that pre-dates the enduring liberal institution that is the free public library and that has always been applied to things other than free public libraries. There is a free public library in my town, but there are also libraries attached to public and private educational institutions, which are open or not open to the public to varying degrees. I know of at least one church that has a library. (It's officially for members and regularly-attending non-members, but if you were a member of the public who had a sincere interest in pacifism or the Anabaptist faiths, I doubt they'd turn you away.) People might refer to their individual collections of books as their libraries, and some people have a room in their house that they call the library. There is a bike library, a non-profit that lends out bikes for a nominal fee, which is returned when you bring the bike back. Library is a word that gets used a lot metaphorically in digital contexts. My Ravelry account, for instance, contains a library, which is a listing of all the books and patterns that I own, so that when I look at a pattern I can see if it's in my library. The public library has never had a monopoly on the word "library," and I think it's unrealistic to think that it ever will.

I guess that I don't get the sense that people in my community have particularly lofty goals for LFLs. I think they seem them as a whimsical way to encourage a sense of neighborliness. I think some people see it as a way to show off their woodworking skills, and some people want to make a statement about their love of books, which I refuse to see as sinister. (And I mean, people make statements in their yards about their love of Jesus and various sports teams, not to mention their preferred political candidates and what have you. If you don't like people making statements through yard art, this may not be a place you want to be.) And I guess I think there's a danger that this radical critique could play into some negative perceptions of the left: that people on the left are killjoys who want to suck the fun out of everything and that people on the left are rich city-dwellers who are totally out of touch with People Like Us.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:05 AM on May 6 [12 favorites]


I know there are Little Free Libraries in my town, and one of my friends is super-enthusiastic about building a bunch in her town... and both towns have really nice actual libraries, so I just don't see the point of the LFLs. I mean, I think that at least one of the LFLs in my town is walking distance from the actual library. And yeah, my town? Overwhelmingly white and fairly well-off. So what purpose to the LFLs serve?
posted by sarcasticah at 11:43 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


What appeals to me most about LFLs is the decorative component: they add a quirky whimsy to a neighborhood that I enjoy. The quirk also suggests an invitation: We are neighborly, come onto our lawn. As book exchanges, they remind me of the garden box problem here in the SF Bay Area: a well intended individual or non profit places a raised garden bed at a school, park, senior center, etc, but without weekly maintenance it dies or becomes a weed bed.
posted by latkes at 11:55 AM on May 6 [7 favorites]


Besides, there are tons of outlets for unwanted books. The book section of a thrift store is like 100 LFLs, but I have never heard anyone complain that thrift stores compete with libraries. PaperbackSwap has been around for a while -- is it hurting libraries? It seems more likely to me that every part of the ecosystem that creates eager readers benefits the ecosystem as a whole.

Thrift Stores and Paperbackswap don't claim to compete with libraries themselves, is the difference. They are trying to compete with Amazon or with used bookstores instead. This isn't equitable.

Speaking of PBS, it isn't even always the answer for getting rid of books - about seven years ago an old roommate moved to Australia and left me with 15 boxes of books she didn't want to carry; I bunged them all up on PBS to try to do something with them all. I still have about half a shelf's worth of the original stock that no one has wanted to claim in the past seven years, and I am seriously considering walking them over to the "take a book/leave a book" box I recently saw pop up in front of a brownstone a couple blocks away just to get them the hell out of my house finally.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:11 PM on May 6


"Now, Mama,
As long as the Madison Public Library was entrusted to me for the purpose of improving River City's cultural level,
I can't help my concern that the Ladies of River City
Keep ignoring all my council and advice and putting up little boxes cunningly shaped like houses or whatnot and filling them full of dated dieting books and Richard Patterson and whatnot."

--apologies to Meredith Willson
posted by allthinky at 12:11 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


So it's one thing to put a free library in a homeless shelter or an under-served neighborhood, while simultaneously going to city council meetings to advocate they not slash the budget for the local library system. It's quite another to participate in a branded organization that primarily sets its tony little boxes in rich neighborhoods and employs "community policing" that is inevitably driven more by personal bias (oft based in the race and class biases of the policers). I think the critique is aimed more at the latter, and I largely agree with it.

Though damn, I am quite over people co-opting the word "neoliberal" to mean "literally anything I don't like." I imagine within a few years it will be used to describe everything from unappetizing food to impolite behavior encountered on the highway.
posted by schroedinger at 12:19 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


The free library in my neighborhood is connected to twitter and tweets whenever someone takes or leaves a book. (Created by a fellow mefi, I believe, but I can't remember who and my google fu fails me.)
posted by hoodrich at 12:25 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


What appeals to me most about LFLs is the decorative component: they add a quirky whimsy to a neighborhood that I enjoy.

I think that's sort of the point of the critique: the adorable little branded ones are not so much about actually encouraging reading and whatnot as they are about enhancing attractiveness of the propery and the community standing of those who put them out. Which, like, if anyone is allowed to come up and get books who cares, but if someone calls the cops when they assume a black kid getting a book is a drug dealer making a drop-off then exactly how much are they really enhancing the community?

(also let's be real: no matter how fancy the boxes, they always end up full of crap books that get donated because the owner doesn't want to read them and nobody else wants them either)
posted by schroedinger at 12:26 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


So I did the thing, & drove down to the library to pay my fines & renew my card. Turns out the ex did pay most of the fines in the end, and I owed then 2 bucks. I filled out the renewal form & handed the friendly librarian my debit card & said "put another 20 on there & toss it in the donation box." He hesitated, gave me a quizzical look & said "Are you sure?" & I replied "If I can't get my representatives to spend my tax dollars the way I want them to, I guess I have to just do it myself."

The David Foster Wallace is still going in the LFL because it was designated as a migratory book by the guy who gave it to me.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:29 PM on May 6 [16 favorites]


Can someone who objects to describing these as neoliberal explain why? I'm not getting how it's inaccurate.

They're privately owned and operated 'free market' non-profits. That doesn't make them bad or anything, but it's some type of attempt at a laissez faire solution to something that's generally a public service.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:34 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


Though damn, I am quite over people co-opting the word “neoliberal” to mean “literally anything I don’t like.” I imagine within a few years it will be used to describe everything from unappetizing food to impolite behavior encountered on the highway.

This is going to be one of the defining tropes of the tweens in the history books. See also people using “capitalism” to the same end. Gripe, gripe, gripe.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:34 PM on May 6


some type of attempt at a laissez faire solution to something that's generally a public service.

I've clearly been misinterpreting these things wrong because I see them as an attempt to foster street-level social interactions at a hyper-local level surrounding literacy. Who thinks that a box that fits like 12 random books is a solution to underfunding public libraries?
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:43 PM on May 6 [11 favorites]


I didn't mean the concept, but Little Free Library specifically.

Hell, you could argue that LFL is a free market solution to unbranded book boxes.

You could also argue that both branded and unbranded free book boxes are (woefully inadequate) neoliberal solutions to the public library, but that's a much bigger stretch and not what I was talking about.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:51 PM on May 6


I think that's sort of the point of the critique: the adorable little branded ones are not so much about actually encouraging reading and whatnot as they are about enhancing attractiveness of the propery and the community standing of those who put them out.
I guess that, given all the unbelievably awful stuff that is currently going down in my country and my state, I find it hard to work up too much outrage about that. I don't feel like I occupy a world where "people feel good about these things that are actually lawn decoration and a way to signal that you like books" is a thing that I need to address.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:59 PM on May 6 [6 favorites]


Also- "neoliberal politics at street level"? What the hell?
The combination of removal of public services and token charity from the privileged is a standard part of the group of behaviours referred to as neoliberalism. That is a damn near perfect example of neoliberal politics at street level in my view.
posted by Infracanophile at 1:19 PM on May 6 [10 favorites]


The combination of removal of public services and token charity from the privileged is a standard part of the group of behaviours referred to as neoliberalism. That is a damn near perfect example of neoliberal politics at street level in my view.

This thread (and the paper) have drawn some distinctions between LFL®s and other free box of books distribution systems. Should we be indicting the “these are some free books” aspect, the “these are some free books in a branded box” aspect, the “let me encourage sharing books” apsect, all of the above, or some other piece as the neoliberal bit? Because the authors seem to be trying to examine a particular company and its practices, and the above description would appear to misrepresent many of the (unbranded) little free libraries mentioned in this thread.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:34 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


I think there's a bit of a distinction between something that's basically "I have too many books and I'm trying to get rid of them; please help me out by taking them" (which seems the subtext of "Free books!" boxes) and "You poor people should read more; let me help you by providing books out of the goodness of my heart" (which seems the subtext of the LFL branded thing). The latter, when combined with brandedness and licensing fees, etc., starts to feel like where these are being offered as band-aid solutions to bigger societal problems, in ways that may over the long-term increase the societal problems (e.g., divert funding and attention from government-funded libraries).
posted by lazuli at 1:45 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


O, incidentally, this should perhaps be the paper’s pull quote:
“[O]ne does not need the assistance of a non-profit corporation to share books with their neighbours”
posted by Going To Maine at 2:00 PM on May 6 [9 favorites]


And, of course, the next challenge would be to figure out how to rip all of the library locations out of the map and cross-index it with Zillow or the ACS.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:08 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


If I'm looking for a specific book, I'll definitely use the library, but having executive dysfunction and social anxiety means there is a cognitive cost to this. I have to travel to a specific location during limited open hours, deal with people, and worry about whether I'm going to have time to read the book before I have to return it, possibly dealing with late fees if I forget when it's due. It's absolutely worth it in most cases, but it does have costs for me, even if they're not financial. Those costs aren't worth the bother if I just want to read a trashy fantasy novel or whatever, which does decrease the number of books I read in general. I find other things to do instead.

Book houses allow me much more random serendipity, allowing me to find interesting books I never would have set out looking for. I can borrow books for months without any cognitive overhead, and read them when I do have time. I wouldn't go looking for a specific book there any more than I'd go to a thrift store looking for same, it's mostly just broadening my horizons and reading for entertainment. I've been reading more books since I found these boxes around my neighborhood.

I don't think book houses threaten libraries any more than yard sales threaten department stores. People use them differently. Reading bricks of paper is becoming less popular with the rise of digital media - I think that anything that makes long-form reading more accessible is a net positive, and likely to help increase interest and support for libraries overall.

Anybody who claims that a glorified "free box" is just as good as a public library however deserves to be soundly mocked.
posted by Feyala at 2:29 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


I don’t think book houses threaten libraries any more than yard sales threaten department stores. People use them differently.

This is because there’s no Garage Sale® out there suggesting that you sell your possessions so that people in “thing deserts” can have material, and department stores aren’t run by the state with your tax dollars. (This seems like a weird inverse parallel with communist states where private business arose in opposition to state shortages? But I suspect I’m getting many things wrong in such a superficial analysis.)
posted by Going To Maine at 2:40 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Also, this paper has too many colorful maps and not enough tables and graphs.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:46 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I'm sure that the LFL® people mean well, and I'm sure the vast majority of people who build them aren't motivated solely by a cynical desire to raise property values. But the brand gives me the same feeling at the back of my skull that I get when I hear the word "disrupt," the same way I feel about iPad apps for literacy, or playground equipment in the nice neighborhood that was designed to stimulate young brains. It's how I feel living in Oakland and never seeing a single one of these (at least not in my neighborhood), but commuting to Berkeley and seeing them all over. Pay $40 and your free book box can be added to a map that anyone can use to find it, provided they have access to a computer in the first place. Of course it's not the fault of LFL® that some people don't have access to computers, and it's not the fault of the app maker that not everyone has an iPad for improving their reading skills. It's just a fact that some people don't have these things.

I'm not saying anything other people haven't said better. Maybe there's no broad generalizations to be made about LFL®s, but I can't shake the feeling that the potential democratization of book sharing isn't exactly living up to what's being promised. The web site calls volunteers "librarians," but they're not there to help you use a computer, they're not there to help you find the right form for benefits, they're not there to offer free classes. It's not like I want people to tear down their adorable little book boxes, and I'm sure I'd love to use one if I came across it. I still can't shake that feeling about them, and the website with all the smiling faces doesn't make it go away.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:47 PM on May 6 [13 favorites]


O, that dry librarian wit:
LFL® advertises [the LFL® Kids, Communities and Cops] program as something for kids to do while they accompany their parents to the police station, with the goal of building “safe places for young people to read” (Little Free Library 2017c). We suggest that public libraries already exist as far safer places to read.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:57 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


This is because there’s no Garage Sale® out there suggesting that you sell your possessions so that people in “thing deserts” can have material, and department stores aren’t run by the state with your tax dollars.

If LFL is actively trying to put themselves out there as a public library replacement that's one thing, but I didn't see any evidence of them trying to be the "Uber of libraries". I've also seen book houses in tons of areas I wouldn't consider affluent (not sure if they're LFL or not, it never occurred to me to check the branding before this article). If the problem is LFL as a corporation, why not encourage people to build their own book houses and call them something different?

I just find the whole "Just use a library LOL these are dumb virtue signalling" thing to be kinda ableist and insensitive to people who might have challenges accessing libraries for whatever reason. If the goal is increasing readership, why not have both?
posted by Feyala at 3:07 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


Feyala: we have no issue with neighbourhood book exchanges, and encourage public libraries to invest in them, as well as bookmobile services, to increase accessibility to the widest range of patrons possible.
posted by avocet at 3:23 PM on May 6 [12 favorites]


I just find the whole “Just use a library LOL these are dumb virtue signaling” thing to be kinda ableist and insensitive to people who might have challenges accessing libraries for whatever reason. If the goal is increasing readership, why not have both?

The goal of the state isn’t to increase readership; the goal of the state is to fund whatever provides the most readership (within budget constraints). If the LFL brand is misleadingly suggesting that it’s fulfilling parts of libraries’ missions, that can lead to funding cuts to the benefit of no one.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:29 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


And, beyond that: we support investment in collections that reflect the communities accessing them, both culturally and linguistically. We support open access texts and media, we support format conversion for print disabled users, we support equitable services and safe environments, we support antioppression training for library workers, we support unions for library workers... Basically, we support public funding for public libraries. We will do our damned best to help you out.
posted by avocet at 4:00 PM on May 6 [14 favorites]


That comic on motivated reasoning and the backfire effect that we talked about the other day rarely seemed more pertinent than in this thread. People, over and over, including one of the authors of the study, have explained that the position being advanced is not "lol dumb virtue signalling tear down the boxes", have noted that one of the study authors is actually operating an unbranded book box, have talked at length about the actual concerns raised in the paper, and a lot of people simply will not accept the basic facts about what is being said, preferring instead to argue against positions no-one ever espoused.

It's kinda depressing to be honest.
posted by howfar at 4:34 PM on May 6 [29 favorites]


I don't think it's the backfire effect half so much as the fact that many people don't read past the headlines much of the time. I know I'm guilty of it far too often.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:11 PM on May 6 [4 favorites]


Further, the linked CityLab piece doesn't make it at all clear that Little Free Libraries are a trademarked institution that charges fees, something about which I had no idea and really wouldn't have assumed.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:24 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Only a matter of time before book scouts (your 'nerd-feeder' equivalent of squirrels) routinely start stripping these things of anything resalable.
posted by jamjam at 5:37 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


If the LFL brand is misleadingly suggesting that it’s fulfilling parts of libraries’ missions

- if these things were called book boxes they'd lose some (or a lot?) of the cachet that comes along with being associated with the enduring liberal institution that is a free public library

Nobody thinks Little Free Libraries are actual libraries or a replacement for one. The word "library" is a commonly used term for a collection of media, it's not exclusive to the public institution known as a library. For example, your iTunes library, or the Modern Library, which is actually a publisher. I don't even know where to begin with the idea that public libraries confer some kind of cachet on LFLs, that just seems bizarre.

The LFL is just a recycling bin for old books!
posted by mpbx at 7:17 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Nobody thinks Little Free Libraries are actual libraries or a replacement for one.

From TFA:
The journal article names one place where Little Free Library exchanges may have grown at the expense of the public library system. In September 2014, the mayor of tiny Vinton, Texas, announced plans to install five Little Free Library book-stops across town—while implementing a $50 fee for access to the El Paso Public Library system to balance state-imposed budget cuts.
posted by lazuli at 7:24 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


I don't even know where to begin with the idea that public libraries confer some kind of cachet on LFLs, that just seems bizarre.

The LFL is just a recycling bin for old books!


Well, there's surely a reason they didn't call them Little Free Recycling Bins Of Old Books, isn't there?

When they chose the name the word "library" was undoubtedly picked for the connotations of community, learnedness, etc.
posted by ominous_paws at 7:38 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


I don't even know where to begin with the idea that public libraries confer some kind of cachet on LFLs, that just seems bizarre.

I work in the profession. People regularly come up to me and ask what I think about Little Free Libraries, usually because they have one in their neighborhood and/or heard about them on the news. They presume that they are a project of, if not the local public library, then people affiliated with the public library, maybe friends of the library or other people who are library volunteers. For people who are outside of the library world and outside of the LFL world, they often think these projects are linked somehow and they ask me what I think about them.

I absolutely do feel that LFL is specifically trying to link its brand with the general public library vibe. They're all about "a love of reading" and building community. They partner with (in some way) the Library of Congress, the American Library Association and Reading is Fundamental and mention this on their home page. They specifically offer librarian-curated lists of booklists as suggestions for LFL Stewards. They promote book clubs.

I know in programming circles the word library often has a more generic connotation because it's used for a lot of tech things completely distinctly from the library-as-institution, but in common vernacular a library is a building with books and other information staffed with people who select all of it and promote literacy and reading, among other things.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 PM on May 6 [18 favorites]


From the bottom of my heart, I thank those who RTFA! ☺️
posted by avocet at 8:50 PM on May 6 [12 favorites]


I have read this paper through twice now. Perhaps I am not familiar enough with this type of academic writing, but I could not find a point anywhere within it. It was rambling and incoherent.
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:43 PM on May 6


It's often helpful to look at the abstract. The intention listed there:
Drawing primarily upon one of the author’s experiences as an LFL® steward, as well as critical discourse and GIS analysis, we offer constructive critiques of the organization and their mission, and suggest that the principles of community-led library practice can be more effectively employed to harness the enthusiasm of these self-described “literacy warriors”.
So the point was to critique LFL and its mission and to talk about how public-library principles might better serve the community.
posted by lazuli at 9:48 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


I have read this paper through twice now. Perhaps I am not familiar enough with this type of academic writing, but I could not find a point anywhere within it. It was rambling and incoherent.

I… disagree? It isn’t the most tightly written paper. I stand by my note that tables of distances would be better than maps, and could do with a clearer description about what was gleaned from the specific experience of running the LFL® , but I found the specific points okay. Like, a tighter thesis would certainly be nicer, but it’s not my journal or conference.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:55 PM on May 6


(If you’ve got a tighter critique than “rambling and incoherent” I know I’d be interested to see it. It would certainly move the thread forward in an interesting way.)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:57 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


I have a public bookcase in my front yard. I have not registered it with LFL, for several reasons:
- I don't need people to bring the books back as I get enough new books to keep it stocked. Calling it a library would reinforce the idea that people can't keep the books or give them away.
- I don't think spending $40 for this kind of branding would add anything positive to my, or the users', experience.
- I'm a penny pincher and made the whole thing from used and leftover materials, and $40 would be more than I spent on the whole bookcase. This seems out of proportion.
- The materials that you get from LFL are in English and most people in my neighbourhood don't seem to read (much) English.

My bookcase is registered on BookCrossing, Minibieb, Librarything and on Openbookcase. It is a BookCrossing Zone, which means that I generally register all donated books on BookCrossing before I put them back into the case; I do this because it makes the whole thing more fun to me. People don't seem to mind: they happily bring books for the bookcase, or take books from it. The BookCrossing markings also make the books less attractive for sale, which is part of the goal. I want to offer books to people who want to read them, not sell them.

I would be happy about anyone taking a book to read, and that definitely includes the homeless but the argument is moot because as far as I know, there aren't any homeless people living in our smallish town.

I don't really mind LFL as an organisation, more than I mind the general idea of branding something that people already do*. But I don't see any need to join them.
* One could argue that BookCrossing does the same with the concept of leaving books behind in public places for others to find; in my view, what BookCrossing offers is (potential) trackability, which makes a real difference. And it's free, so there's that.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:43 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


So, this was my first peer-reviewed academic article. I acknowledge and take to heart so much of the constructive critique that has come my way from those who RTFA, and in retrospect, I totally see the places where our argument could have been smoother and clearer! Here's a list of some of the big challenges we faced as first-time journal authors:

- Co-authoring. It is exceptionally hard to nail down a unified voice between the two authors, given that we both brought very different bodies of work to the table. This was a very different beast than writing my master's thesis.
- This went through three editors and four reviewers over the course of the two journals we submitted it to (we withdrew it from the first after two rounds of revisions due to edits we were not willing to compromise on). While I'm very familiar with what journals in the human geography world might expect, LIS publishing was a much different beast than I expected.
- Scheduling. This was Jane's research leave (sabbatical) project, which, yes, as an academic librarian in Canada, she recognizes she's fantastically privileged to have. As someone who's not yet done school but is preparing herself for going on the job market early next year, I am exceptionally grateful to her for making me a full partner in this project. There's only so much time we could both put into revisions – I wrote a lot of this on vacation and worked revisions in around my work and class schedule, and she was back to her work responsibilities in the few months we were revising this.
- You end up not being able to see the forest for the trees when you've been staring at a document so long, have a deadline to meet, and just want it out the door. We didn't expect this would get the reach it got, but we genuinely thank you all for actually reading it.

I want to acknowledge scruss, who pointed out above, long before I even got to the thread, that the map of "book deserts" is totally misleading. As someone who works with digital and paper maps of Toronto for a living, who has lived here her whole life, damn, I really could have titled and symbolized that map a lot better. The important part of that map, as I point out in presentations, is how close the LFL®s are to TPL branches, i.e. the green parts. Despite my years of training in graphic design, GIS, and geography, cartography is seriously fucking hard. In the course of my work, my maps don't tend to get to the layout stage, and I'm a little embarrassed that I totally dropped the ball there.
posted by avocet at 8:41 AM on May 7 [8 favorites]


Going To Maine, I'm gonna hold on the maps vs. tables/graphs, 'cause I'm a geographer and that's what I know better. :)
posted by avocet at 8:46 AM on May 7


I guess I'm lucky, because most of the LFLs I've run across have been fairly well curated--science fiction and fantasy in the Tardis, kids' books in the one outside Ronald McDonald House, and a nice mix of books for kids and adults in the others.

I like the idea of book exchanges by any name. But since it seems to be the use of the word "library" and any affiliation with the Little Free Library organization that is objectionable to the authors, perhaps Yelp's category name, "Community Book Boxes," would be preferable??? (Although most of what's listed in my area are LFLs.)
posted by elphaba at 9:23 AM on May 7 [1 favorite]


No good deed goes unpunished.......
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 9:54 AM on May 7 [2 favorites]


It seems like intent is a sticking point here, but I'm curious if the users of free book offerings make -- or even know of -- a distinction between LFLs, boxes of free books, and something someone leaves in an alley for the taking? This is obviously much more organized than I'd realized, but I wonder if the regional specifics I mentioned above make a difference. (Separate from the licensing, etc.)
posted by Room 641-A at 10:30 AM on May 7


Ah yes, one other thought, because they keep coming to me: our study of Toronto and Calgary isn't meant to be representative of the global geographies of LFL®s, but an observation of the dynamics in a particular (Canadian) state of public service provision and gentrifying urban landscapes. I don't have the quant skills or computing power or the harmonized data to run these analyses internationally. We'd like to update the maps when the 2016 census data drops (the appropriate variables haven't come out yet) and have chatted with folks like kendrak (hi!) about replicating the study in the US. All of the research I've ever done ends up in a similar place: "what's going on with this, can we think a little harder about it?"

On preview: Room 641-A, see jessamyn's comment above.
posted by avocet at 10:34 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


avocet, I saw that, but those are people who are already engaged with the subject. I'm thinking of larger, metropolitan areas with something of a transient population. I think I'll swing by the library this week and see if one of the librarians has a few minutes to talk.

I've said this before, but when I was growing up I wish I'd known that being a librarian was more than knowing the Dewey decimal system because it seems like a cool profession that plays to a few of my strengths.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:52 AM on May 7


I'm poor. I like books. I use my local LFL (in a not particularly affluent area) all the time. I put in books I no longer need and I take out books I'd like to read. I drop off my jigsaw puzzles after I've done them and sometimes get a new jigsaw. You see, public libraries are great, but a library card requires an address and identification, things a marginalized person may not have. I had a library card but one day on my way home from the hospital, I found a stolen purse and in my brain-fogged state, while figuring out what to do with the stolen item, I left my library book on the bench where I'd found the purse. I walked 2 km back when I realized this, but it was gone. Replacement cost on this book (11 bucks on Amazon) is 57 dollars. I don't have 57 extra dollars too often, so I no longer use the public library. The LFL has kept me in reading material for two years now.

The LFL at one of my local parks provides reading material for many homeless and marginalized people. On any given day, you'll find at least one person in the park reading a book they got there for free. If they lose the book (it's hard to hang onto things when you're homeless) they are not penalized for it. If they take a month, or two months or three months to read it, that costs them nothing and does not require them to show up to a branch to renew.

I've accumulated a nice number of academic books (people ditch them eventually, usually about 5 years after they finish school) that I use regularly for reference. I've donated expensive texts on programming, biology, and art history and it pleases me greatly to see them taken and used rather than collecting dust on my shelves. The argument that the existence of free libraries somehow impinges upon public libraries is ridiculous. They provide access to books that many people would not have otherwise. I'm one of them.
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 1:18 PM on May 7 [12 favorites]


A few people upthread have addressed the issue that Little Free Libraries aren't curated, and that you get all sorts of randomness. But for me, that's a feature rather than a bug. As libraries shift their collections to books they think will move frequently, they become less and less interesting. I'd much rather look at a 1970s Coast Guard manual than shelves upon shelves of thin books that the librarians think are what will get "their community" reading. The differences between libraries didn't use to be so stark, but now the books as well as the access differ between rich and poor locations. When I was a kid, my library surrounded by housing projects had the complete Gilbert and Sullivan, "Coup D'Etat: A Practical Handbook", and a host of weird and wonderful things that lit the flame of my reading. Now it's just bland pablum that may be market focused but offers nothing of other worlds.
posted by corb at 1:49 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


Going To Maine, I'm gonna hold on the maps vs. tables/graphs, 'cause I'm a geographer and that's what I know better. :)

You can keep your maps, but I demand some percentages about the number of LFL®s within x miles of a public library.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:56 PM on May 7


alltomorrowsparties, as a Librarian I waive more in fines than I collect. My mandate is to distribute information to those that need it. Yes u may want to talk to a librarian or two in your system about your fines and ask for forgiveness. I know there is a lot of shame about fines/lost books but there are many librarians that have a nuanced view of socko-economic status and fines and will freely waive them when necessary (unfortunately, this is not universally true).
posted by saucysault at 2:32 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


And what do you know? Turns out "virtue signalling" first came to life in a product by an actual neoliberal thinktank as part of a push to discredit the value of empathy. And here we are using the idea as if it actually meant something and wasn't just a trick to bait liberals.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:41 PM on May 7 [4 favorites]


And what do you know? Turns out “virtue signalling” first came to life in a product by an actual neoliberal thinktank as part of a push to discredit the value of empathy. And here we are using the idea as if it actually meant something and wasn't just a trick to bait liberals.

So because that editorial read to me like a poorly worded pile of vindictive mush, I did a li’l Googling.

Per Wikipedia (if you trust it), that citation is wrong; the phrase was showing up around the web as earlier as 2009 and in the academic literature before that - notably in the context of performing religious actions to signify virtue. (Heck, given that the Bible talks about the virtue of giving without making a show of it, I think there’s reason to look askance at any claim the idea is particularly novel. James Bartholomew’s Spectator article was written in 2015, though he has been happy to take credit for its rise.

The Bartholomew piece consists of ramblings that people do X as a proxy symbol for their thoughts about Y, read through a conservative lens that ignores the idea that people can be sincere about their beliefs, and reads to me as about as badly as the linked New Statesman op-ed. But it’s not like hypocrisy doesn’t exist, and it’s not as if people and corporations don’t fake sincerity or take actions that perform sincerity regardless of their actual beliefs about a subject. (We could argue that LFL® is engaging in virtue signaling by talking up the importance of “watering book deserts” but then not providing any metrics to show that they’ve bothered to do so.) Similarly, if someone says they’re concerned about “book deserts” but then demonstrate their commitment to the cause by putting up a neighborhood book exchange by their home then we could probably call that virtue signaling too. Or just cut to the chase and call it hypocrisy.

So I guess what I’ve learned from all of this is that we could probably just call virtue-signaling hypocrisy unless someone is really showing that they have come into possession of an extraordinary virtue, and the UK has a few really terrible op-ed pages.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:39 PM on May 7


To me virtue signalling is a useful term I will continue to use because it suggests pointless effort without implying a lack of sincerity.

Putting up a book box on your front lawn can be virtue signalling without being an affectation.
posted by zymil at 7:49 PM on May 7


I guess that I'm a little confused about why it's "virtue signaling," rather than just signaling. And like I said, I live in a place where people signal a lot of stuff by putting things in their yards. Most frequently, they signal their sports team or school affiliations (and there's a lot of overlap between those), but sometimes they signal things about their religion, ethnicity, political views, etc. Sometimes people put stuff in their yards just because they like it or think it looks cool. Is that all virtue signaling, or is the idea that the only reason that people would want to signal their desire to share books would be to make them look virtuous? And I get that it is extremely un-radical and probably neoliberal and whatever to care about such things, but I kind of chafe against the idea that it's just groovy to proclaim your love of football through your yard art, but if you proclaim your love of books you're a terrible person.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:15 PM on May 7 [6 favorites]


I echo the remarks of some other commentators here when I say that the Little Free Library by my work is a really nice way to find a new book to read. I cannot focus ny attention easily, and find it hard these days to read more than a few pages at a time. I loved the library while growing up, when I had more ability to consciously decide that I wanted to read a certain author's work. I can't even tell you what I might want to read these days, never mind staying focused enough to actually read it once I bring the book home. I have run up nearly $100 in fines on more than one occasion at my home library. The librarians are nice enough about it, but my incompetence is financially costly, and irritating to everyone else who wants to read the book I chose.
The sidewalk box of boxes and the little free libraries are guilt free little surprises from the universe that always brighten my day immensely.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 8:48 PM on May 7 [3 favorites]


In short, free streetside books are great for those of us who may not consistently be able to keep it mentally together - we get to read without feeling like we've failed to keep yet another social contract.
posted by NorthernAutumn at 8:53 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]


Can't people do the same thing for different reasons, or for multiple reasons? Can't things have different meanings for different people? I'm largely skeptical of this brand and what they stand for, but I seriously doubt that every single person is cynically exploiting the idea to raise their property values, or because they want to appear magnanimous in some bourgeois way. I would think that most people are doing this because they like books. Maybe some people like books and crafting boxes! Maybe some people like books and raising property values, or making sure their neighbors know they espouse good, liberal values. The neighborhood seems to benefit regardless. And sure, some people might even find them preferable to the public library, for any number of reasons. That's OK!

What concerns me here is whether the push for more little book boxes like this is correlated with a decline in funding for libraries, or if it might in some sense encourage people to think of the existing public library as somehow obsolete. I'm also concerned that this brand is making libraries out to be primarily book repositories, rather than public community spaces that serve a much larger need than simply printed material. I think it's certainly worth considering the impact of these boxes, and especially the brand pushing a lot of it. Criticism doesn't have to mean you think there's no value whatsoever.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 9:12 PM on May 7 [5 favorites]


I'm also concerned that this brand is making libraries out to be primarily book repositories, rather than public community spaces that serve a much larger need than simply printed material.

You know, it occurs to me that I've heard this raised a few times in this thread, and I think it's worth noting that even without LFLs, we don't all agree on What Libraries Are, or What Libraries Should Be. And that /does/ affect funding and library support. Is a library a place where great books live? A refuge for the weary? A place for the most downtrodden? Like, I know Libraries serve many purposes, but what would the Platonic Ideal Library be? There's no good answer on that. And that has nothing to do with LFLs, but what our exposure to Libraries has been.
posted by corb at 11:00 PM on May 7 [1 favorite]


So what do we think, then?
posted by ominous_paws at 11:57 PM on May 7


Many people have written down what they think. What do YOU think?
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:09 AM on May 8


A Better Way to Get Kids in Libraries: Stop Fining Them [WNYC]
New York Public Library President Tony Marx says library access should never be about who can afford to pay the fines.

"We've heard stories of parents saying to their kids, 'We don't want you to borrow books because you might be late with them and then you'll have fines to worry about.' That's crazy!" said Marx. [...]

Five years ago, Marx granted city-wide amnesty to children with fines, and he says they saw 80,000 kids return to the library over time. Now, he's trying to secure a $10 million endowment to get rid of fines in perpetuity.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:45 AM on May 8 [7 favorites]


what would the Platonic Ideal Library be? There's no good answer on that.

There is an entire profession that revolves around this question and how to best answer it. It's fine if you don't know or haven't delved deeply into it, but this isn't some hand-wavey "It is a mystery" thing, there are actually specific answers to this question, many of them quite good. Whether this lines up with any one person's personal idea of what the best kind of library should be is significantly trickier and goes back to the question of how you administer an institution that is for the entire public and exists for the general social good?

In the US there is the American Library Association and at an international level there is an organization called IFLA which is a meta-organization that is an association of associations. You can dig around in their statements of professional values to see what these organizations think libraries are.
However, like any distributed institution (fire departments is an example I often use) the implementation of the philosophical ideal can vary widely. And this is particularly true between urban/rural and (to a lesser extent, with a gap we're always working on) rich and poor. We hear a lot about the libraries which are doing well and much less from the libraries which are not.

So it's one thing to say, for example, that the national association has a policy statement on Library Services to the Poor. It's another to say how any specific library is actually living that policy.

Like many things, the definition of library varies among specific instances of the institution (as people have mentioned, an academic library has a different mission from a public library which has a different mission from a medical library which has a different mission from a law library) but, on a country-by-country basis there are actually some broad-based statements of what a library is which are agreed to by professional organizations that govern the profession. These manifest themselves at the state level, within state associations (for all those different types of libraries, there is a state org which oversees it).

Every state in the US has laws about patron privacy within public libraries, for one example. Every public library has a legal mandate as a public building to be as accessible as it can be made. Every public library in the US tries to offer the most information they can to the most people at a reasonable cost (this used to be ALAs motto and maybe still is). Intellectual freedom is a professional value. Libraries may vary in tactics, how they feel they can do this the best depending on their specific community and the resources the library and the community have available.

I respect and appreciate the conversation and different MeFites opinions and experiences about how they have interacted with libraries. At the same time, the fact that many people have had differing experiences doesn't mean that librarianship, particularly in North America, is a hodge podge of disparate entities,. It's more that offering these services to half a billion people with many different needs and wants using a system ultimately run by humans is a process with fuzzy edges. It's a minor miracle it works at all, to be honest.
posted by jessamyn at 8:27 AM on May 8 [36 favorites]


The one I made in my low income hood is just a box of free books. sometimes people add to it but mostly I'm just trying to thin out my too big personal library. and I go to our city library's dumpster and snatch the ones they throw away..that's right, throw away...
posted by judson at 9:44 AM on May 8


Libraries also need to thin out their too big collections.
posted by maryr at 12:05 PM on May 8 [6 favorites]


Libraries also need to thin out their too big collections.

And how! There are in excess of 200,000 books published, each year, in the US alone. Even though a fair number of them are new editions of previously published items, many of those will necessitate replacement by libraries. The world can only usefully contain a limited number of books, and libraries are no exception to that. In order to, as jessamyn says above, "offer the most information they can to the most people at a reasonable cost", there will be times when it's absolutely necessary to throw books away, rather than expend really significant amounts of time and energy in trying to find a recipient for them who may very well not exist. I know it's hackneyed (and sometimes misses the point of the ways that books can be important to people) to talk about books as technology, but it's at least important to remember that they do have technical restrictions, particularly the high cost of storing and displaying them properly in any significant number, even if we don't see them in the same way as computers or clothes or what have you.
posted by howfar at 4:12 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


Of COURSE libraries throw books away. Libraries need to weed their collections, otherwise there is no room for the collection to grow. The "OMG, the library THROWS BOOKS AWAY" things is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. At least once a year, there's some hand-wringing story in the local news because someone saw discarded books in the library's dumpster and they are OUTRAGED. "But you should donate those books to the schools!" Yes, because the local elementary school wants the 75 beat-up, sticky copies of Fifty Shades of Grey that we had to buy to keep up with the demand when the book first came out. "Send them to the poor people in Africa!" A) the poor people in Africa don't want or need them, and b) do you have any idea how much it would cost to ship and distribute those old books?

Libraries have limited space. It's like a garden: you have to weed it carefully so that it will grow to be the collection the community wants and needs. It's not like we can just throw on a new wing when we run out of room.
posted by sarcasticah at 4:52 PM on May 8 [8 favorites]


There are in excess of 200,000 books published, each year, in the US alone.

Also, most of them will be terrible.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:02 PM on May 8 [5 favorites]


particularly the high cost of storing and displaying them properly in any significant number

"why do we need cataloguers when we have google, why can't library catalogues be like google"
posted by avocet at 7:45 PM on May 8 [3 favorites]


A slight derail, but I just realized reading this li’l Twitter thread by Jeet Heer that we could construe the opposite of “virtue signaling” to be trolling. (We could also call it “vice signaling” if we want to get fancy. People ostensibly pretending to be vicious, but not meaning to be so.) Heer’s point in his critique is that you shouldn’t just assume someone is trolling, but give them the credit for being vile. In the same way, we shouldn’t assume that someone is signaling virtue to deliberately make you feel bad. It may just be ineffective and misguided action.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:25 PM on May 8


In the same way, we shouldn’t assume that someone is signaling virtue to deliberately make you feel bad. It may just be ineffective and misguided action.

In my mind, "virtue signalling" is not really about intent, but about impact. I could totally see someone doing something in good faith that still actually hurt the overall cause toward which they think they are working.
posted by lazuli at 9:28 PM on May 8


Or, in other words, "virtue signalling" is mostly about gratifying one's own ego, even if it also helps others but also if it doesn't actually achieve that goal. Actual virtue is mostly about helping others, even if it gratifies one's own ego but especially if it does not.
posted by lazuli at 9:35 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


If libraries did not dispose of old stock, this MetaFilter thread would likely be filling with comments along the lines of "I went to my public library but it was just filled with really old and out of date books"...

A (free) academic paper by Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb from the Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto: Weed to achieve: a fundamental part of the public library mission?

Abstract: Weeding or deselection of materials has become an integral part of library management. Based on a nineteen-question survey about weeding practices in public libraries, this article discusses the personal perspectives of public librarians on weeding as well as the weeding practices of their institutions. The three most common criteria for weeding are circulation, physical condition, and accuracy of information. Librarians overwhelmingly believe that weeding increases use of books and patron satisfaction. In addition, the public library was framed as a venue that offers safe, clean, and fresh “product lines” with various natural life cycles and expiry dates. This discursive formation raises questions about the extent to which public libraries and their collections are becoming commodified, homogenized, and ephemeral, and whether such ephemeralness and homogenization serve the interests of all community members.
posted by Wordshore at 2:54 AM on May 9 [3 favorites]


maryr: Libraries also need to thin out their too big collections.

It's the circle of liiiiiiife
It's the wheel of fooortuuuune
posted by Too-Ticky at 4:30 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]


This article makes a few decent points but is overall laughable for many of the above stated reasons.
We run a LFL and are indeed white middleclass folks, but the article doesn't even try to weigh any critiques against the benefits.

We have a very diverse selection of people that use it every day, but by and far the biggest takeaway for me is that it has helped enabled people to just let go of stuff. It helps overcome some kind of psychological block and let's neighbours easily clear stuff off their shelves. Books, DVDs, even video games sometimes.

Maybe all of that stuff would be better served donated to Goodwill and sold and whatnot? But also much of that stuff would have sat on a shelf for another decade and then ended up in the trash or recycle. It has enabled so many conversations about purging.

The kids all down the block, the guy who collects cans from our recycling, and the woman who walks her purebred, they all love it. Our block has started stopping and talking to each other more. That's good enough for me.
posted by Theta States at 8:24 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]


My favorite coffee houses and hostels/hotels are the ones that have a take-one/leave-one bookshelf. Books make me happy, and make for a brighter world.

I tried reading the article but there is only so much smug sequipedalianism I can handle in one go.

It is tragicomic that so much energy went into this. It feels like friendly fire - the people most likely to set up a LPL, are precisely those most likely to support increased taxes and community services. Is there a phrase for this? Stabbing those who are nearest?
posted by metaseeker at 4:04 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]


I'm a bit confused by this sentence:

"We demonstrate that the LFL® movement is an example of the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC) in action, and, at street level, reminds us that government funded public libraries are not to be taken for granted in an era of civic crowdfunding where the privileged classes* feel emboldened to take control of traditionally government-funded civic services.

* Defined as those meeting or above median household incomes in a given neighbourhood."


That is a rather interesting, if facile, definition of privilege. Why even bother defining privilege in such an anodyne fashion? The first part implies intent ("feeling emboldened") but the second part defines by census. This switch between the broad (bookboxes are street-level manifestations of neoliberal politics) and the narrow (oh we just meant LFL), the technical (here's a color map of each and every one) and the casual (the Lexis-Nexis search returned 999+ and anyway our casual observation was self-reinforcing so we didn't bother looking further like the other researchers did) is part of what I find disorienting about this article.

In any case, this was certainly quite an épatant début for the authors. They do say that any publicity is good publicity. I hope it doesn't get misused by those seeking to critique a phenomenon of omphaloskepsis in the civil service.
posted by metaseeker at 4:54 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: a phenomenon of omphaloskepsis.
posted by Rumple at 3:12 PM on May 10


For folks jumping into the tail of the thread to drop witty criticisms about "smug sequipedalianism"* etc., please recognize that at least one of the authors of the paper is not just here, participating in the discussion, but is a long-time MeFite. Snarky scoring-off is not just unproductive, it feels icky and disrespectful when the person you're talking about is here in the conversation.

*BTW, I think you meant "sesquipedalianism". If you're bringing out the double-barrelled words in an attempt to score points, it's good to spell them correctly.
posted by Lexica at 6:36 PM on May 10 [18 favorites]


Thanks, Lexica! Again, I appreciate the time that folks have taken to respectfully engage with our research.

The media coverage of this article has been illuminating and exhausting. As much as I want it to just run its course and not say anything else, LFL is raising more questions than answering them, like:

- why can't the founder give us a straight up answer as to where the money goes?
- why litigate people who use the name without registration if it's all about the celebration of reading?
- if the only literacy initiative they mention is "build more LFLs in underserved neighbourhoods" and is donor-driven, where is the incredible amount of money they make off licensing the name and selling pre-made LFLs going?

(sorry for all the self-ish links there, but to be clear, I'm pointing at the organization's responses to our work)
posted by avocet at 7:04 AM on May 11 [10 favorites]


lol, now that this has hit our local subreddit, my anxiety is spiking again
posted by avocet at 7:51 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]


...the biggest takeaway for me [from running an LFL] is that it has helped enabled people to just let go of stuff. It helps overcome some kind of psychological block and let's neighbours easily clear stuff off their shelves. Books, DVDs, even video games sometimes.

That's a fine thing, and as a professional librarian as well as a volunteer at a community Tool Library that operates mostly based on donations from members I can really relate to that. But these benefits to you and your neighbours are tied to your immediate location (and thus your wealth), plus your personal ability and inclination to build, host, and stock your LFL. This is clearly a different phenomenon from "normal" municipal or county free/public libraries and presents itself as a natural topic for LIS researchers to think critically about how well, if at all, LFLs (individually or collectively) measure up to their stated objectives or how this approach might be impacting the way, for example, participants in LFL-type arrangments conceive of traditional libraries. Given how much attention this has attracted it seems certain that other researchers will contribute additional perspectives. That's how knowledge is accumulated about pretty much any topic of interest to people... and then it ends up in libraries (public, little/free, or otherwise) for us to mull over. What's the problem with that?
posted by onshi at 7:41 AM on May 12 [6 favorites]


I had a moment to read the rest of this thread, and a couple of ad hominem points bugged me to such an extent that I can't help but address them.

The Ryerson Library isn't free (non affiliated borrowing privileges are $75). Though maybe that doesn't meet the definition of regular.

Ryerson, where one of the authors works, is a university, and so as you can imagine its library is not a public library. University libraries are funded to provide services to their patron populations (i.e., students, faculty, staff, and also to some extent alumni who typically do also pay a fee for certain services) but not to others (e.g. the general public); hence the fee for external borrowers. But, like public libraries, the physical space in most university libraries is generally a public space open to all during most hours of the day.

University libraries are, in my experience, more heavily regulated and less friendly to street-involved people and that can be a problem. But my point is that if your position is "if you work at a library with fees, your views on information access are inherently invalid", well, that probably excludes most librarians. In Ontario at least, public libraries are also not free to everyone for similar reasons. You have to demonstrate that you either live, work, or own property in the municipality because budgets are not unlimited.

Another post above suggests that because one of the authors is on the sunshine list, therefore they are a hypocrite who doesn't care about library funding. Again, this elides the distinction between public libraries (the funding of which is ostensibly at issue) and academic libraries (where the author works). Never mind the fact that you have no idea what she does with her salary, nor is there some Sophie's choice between paying an academic librarian and funding Toronto's public library system.

Consider also that tenure-track academic librarian positions, with their attendant research requirements, academic freedom for incumbents, and concomitantly higher salaries, are exactly the kind of place where independent research about libraries can be produced. Many librarians who work in public libraries and special (e.g., government, law, hospital, etc.) cannot publish critical research because they are subject to employer control regarding publications, views expressed online in relation to their areas of professional expertise, etc...
posted by onshi at 9:33 AM on May 12 [5 favorites]


onshi: "if your position is "if you work at a library with fees, your views on information access are inherently invalid", "

That wasn't my point at all. My point was many (in Canada I'd say practically all) libraries aren't actually free. The original quote I was responding to said regular libraries are free in the same way LFLs are but they really aren't in most cases.

When I went looking for what Ryerson charges I figured they may have been one of those rare exceptions and so a librarian working there might think most libraries are free (I'd think everyone suffers from the "we do it this way so everyone probably does it this way" institutional blindness every once and while especially when conversing informally). But Ryerson being an exception turned out not to be the case.

It certainly wasn't my intention to make an ad hominem attack and I'm sorry it came out that way.

onshi: "In Ontario at least, public libraries are also not free to everyone for similar reasons. You have to demonstrate that you either live, work, or own property in the municipality because budgets are not unlimited."

Which was exactly my point and the nature of my disagreement with the original pull quote.
posted by Mitheral at 1:37 PM on May 12


I've been thinking about this, and it seems to me that there are two separate but overlapping sets of critiques of LFLs here.

The first are critiques specifically of the non-profit organization:

1. The non-profit encourages/ coerces people to pay them in order to register their LFL, and it's not clear where the money is going or how the people paying it benefit.

2. The non-profit makes unsupportable claims about LFLs, such as that they're encouraging literacy and addressing the problem of "book deserts." They don't provide evidence for these claims, and the claims are probably not true.

Then there are some critiques that are about the actual cute book-house structures, although sometimes it's not clear whether they're about all cute book-house structures or just the LFL branded ones:

1. It's bad to call these things libraries, because it unjustly capitalizes on the good feelings that people have about legitimate libraries and confuses the general public about what libraries do. Calling these things a library reinforces perceptions that libraries are just rooms full of books and obscures the role of librarians, which is already not sufficiently understood or valued.

2. These things privatize the function of libraries. They take what should be a government function, serving everyone, and make it seem like it can be done by private charity. By doing that, they encourage governments to defund actual libraries, because citizens think that the same functions can be served by random people putting up boxes in their yards.

3. Cute book-house structures only serve the immediate neighborhood, whereas public libraries serve the common good. So cute book-house structures encourage people to be selfish and only think about their immediate neighbors, whereas libraries encourage a broader sense of civic responsibility. Also, cute book-house structures, because they are (supposedly, although I don't think the article proves this) often in wealthier neighborhoods, reinforce inequality.

I guess that I find the first set of concerns, about the LFL non-profit, pretty convincing. It doesn't seem like that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, considering all the cataclysmic things going on in my neck of the woods, but I think they're valid critiques. If I knew someone who was thinking about putting up a cute book-house structure, I might suggest that they not register with the LFL non-profit or that they at least think seriously about why they were doing so.

I find the second set of critiques a lot less convincing. I don't think that people mistake these things for public libraries, and I don't think that people think they're a substitute for libraries. I think that people who put them up tend to be people who also value and support public libraries. This may be very different in Canada, but I think that public libraries in the US also often rely on forms of local support that can reinforce inequality, such as donations, fundraisers, and Friends of the Library organizations. And finally, I think that it's really important to have a sense of community at the very micro level, and I don't think there's anything wrong with private individuals doing things that encourage a sense of community among people who live on the same block. I don't think that detracts from a larger sense of civic responsibility. I also think it's a really important value in some communities, such as the one where I currently live, and it's a mistake to act as if it's somehow in opposition to community institutions that are attached to the state.

So anyway, I think I would need to see more evidence if I were going to buy the second set of claims, and that's important, because the second set of claims answer the question about why the first set are things that people should care a lot about.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:01 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


The second set of claims is certainly speculation, but nonetheless important questions to raise on our part, so such things DON'T happen. My research tends to raise questions for consideration, not necessarily to definitively solve them...it's what I'm used to in my particular academic tradition!
posted by avocet at 6:29 PM on May 12


The second set of claims is certainly speculation, but nonetheless important questions to raise on our part, so such things DON'T happen.

I think honestly my biggest issue with the second set of claims - and thanks ArbitraryAndCapricious for separating them out like that - is I really do think that there exist different kinds of libraries, and it's not denigrating public libraries to acknowlege that. In my home, for example, I have somewhere between 1500-2000 books. I refer to it as "my library", even though I do not have a librarian in my home to curate them and I offer no services. My friends are welcome to browse and borrow books, but my home is certainly not open to the public. All the same, it's still a library - a private library, but a library. To me, arguing that the word "library" must only belong to the public library, and any other use is dilution, is kind of the same thing that LFL is doing for book boxes with their aggressive protection of their 'branding'. It also seems kind of weird - like, natural language does accept a collection of books as a library, even if it doesn't have a librarian. Why the need to push back so hard on what is essentially common usage?
posted by corb at 6:59 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]


not what I said at all throughout this thread, corb, please quit intentionally misreading our entire argument.
posted by avocet at 9:04 PM on May 12 [5 favorites]


In my scummy section of downtown LA, (not the "Arts District" thankyouverymuch) people just leave paperbacks and magazines at bus stops. Free reading material or littering?
posted by Ideefixe at 2:46 PM on May 13 [1 favorite]


Slightly broader, but Kirk Johnson in The New York Times: “Where Anti-Tax Fervor Means ‘All Services Will Cease’”
For generations in America, small cities like [Roseburg, Oregon] declared their optimism and civic purpose with grand libraries that rose above the clutter of daily life and commerce. But last fall, Douglas County residents voted down a ballot measure that would have added about $6 a month to the tax bill on a median-priced home and saved the libraries from a funding crisis. So this spring, it has been lights out, one by one, for the system’s 11 branches. The Roseburg central library here is the last to go.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:53 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I checked when I read that article, though, and there are exactly zero Little Free Libraries anywhere near Roseburg, Oregon. There are a bunch in Portland, about 180 miles to the north, and there's one in Klamath Falls, about 160 miles to the south-east. I don't think that LFLs have anything to do with what's going on in Roseburg. I also checked in my state, where there's also an assault on public sector institutions and public sector workers, and there's no correlation between where there are LFLs and where people are voting to lower library budgets and limit the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:11 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


I checked when I read that article, though, and there are exactly zero Little Free Libraries anywhere near Roseburg, Oregon. There are a bunch in Portland, about 180 miles to the north

That argues against the LFL claim that they're watering book deserts, though, doesn't it?
posted by lazuli at 8:24 PM on May 14


Not really, because they could be watering some book deserts without watering every single book desert. I don't think they're super effective at watering book deserts, but that's not a good argument to show that they aren't.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:28 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


Not at all; I would consider the article to be adjacent to the discussion, particularly the note about how the dramatic cutbacks have inspired some innovation in certain areas.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:32 PM on May 14


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