Suzanne Tobias

Little Free Libraries are good for readers, neighborhoods

Bravo, Spencer Collins.

The 9-year-old boy from Leawood, Kan., got a handshake and a book from the mayor this week, a round of applause at Leawood City Hall, and most importantly, a temporary exemption for his Little Free Library.

Spencer made national news last month after Leawood officials asked his family to take their little library down, which sparked an outcry from supporters of the Little Free Library movement and enthusiastic readers everywhere.

If you’re not familiar with Little Free Libraries, visit The first one in Wichita was established about two years ago at a home in North Riverside.

Basically, a Little Free Library is a box – some look like barns, others like doll houses – where neighbors donate, borrow and share books on the honor system.

Anyone can stop by and pick up a book or bring one to share. You sign the logbook to record a review or just to express your thanks for this ingenious and convenient little neighborhood treasure. Then you walk or ride your bike back home.

One of the latest libraries to join the network is an adorable red box on a main thoroughfare in my east Wichita neighborhood.

Our neighbor installed it in her front yard as a memorial to her father, an avid reader and lover of great books. She did it around the same time Spencer and his family were making news in Johnson County, moving their little library to the garage after the city sent a letter saying the library violated an ordinance prohibiting structures in front yards.

I first spotted the library in my neighborhood from my car, driving past on my way to work. On the way back I slowed down, and when I realized what it was, I got a little giddy.

Because I love reading. I love libraries. I love my neighborhood. And a Little Free Library blends all those things in a nifty little box within walking distance of my house.

I quickly borrowed my first book, Anna Quindlen’s “Still Life with Bread Crumbs,” and left another – “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” – for middle-grade readers or adults to enjoy.

Since then, I check the box a couple times a week and marvel at how the supply on the shelf changes, best-sellers to picture books, “The Book Thief” and “Outliers” and “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Belong to Me.” Books float in and out like affable drifters, the little red box their loving hostel.

The next time I saw that neighbor I made sure to thank her for the addition to our neighborhood. She said she’s glad people are using and enjoying it. She has enough books on her shelves alone, she said, to vary the inventory and keep it interesting.

Spencer, the Leawood boy, said he’s glad officials there decided to allow his little library – at least until October, when they plan to gauge public opinion and consider amending the ordinance.

“It’s so good for the community and it promotes literacy,” he told reporters outside Leawood City Hall this week. “I think it’s a really good thing, and I think that it belongs in our front yard.”