There is a charming phenomenon known as the “little free library,” in which private citizens, very often children, build modest little birdhouse-like structures, fill them with books, and offer them to their neighbors on a take-a-book/leave-a-book honor system. The practice is popular in the Kansas City suburbs where the Collinses reside, but they have been built from coast to coast. The business of America being business, there are even entrepreneurs who build ready-made little free libraries for those insufficiently handy or not inclined to build their own. Children engaging their communities in a generous, civic-minded activity dedicated to books: You could hardly improve on that.
Unless you are the local zoning board. And then you might have some ideas.
The Collinses were threatened with fines by their local board of governing yahoos because Spencer’s little free library appears, under the beady-eyed gaze of the suburban town fathers, to be an unauthorized structure, an unbearable standing violation of a local ordinance. The little free library has momentarily retreated to the family garage, though Spencer plans to address the town council about the matter. The municipal governing geniuses suggested that little-free-library proprietors approach the local public library about hosting their structures, inspiring Spencer’s father, Brian, to ask the very reasonable question of why exactly you’d want to put little free libraries on the grounds of the library itself. The entire point of the exercise is to bring books into the neighborhood in an informal way. The coals-to-Newcastle suggestion to move the little free libraries to the big expensive library (spending up 22.8 percent in fiscal 2014) is as good an example of the gravel-pounding buffoonery of government as you could hope to discover without a trip to Cleveland.