Oh hello there, LFL® supporters

Hi there! If you’ve clicked on this, you may be a supporter of Little Free Libraries® and you’ve read about how I hate them and want them stopped. Before you engage with me, please consider the following:

  1. Myself and my research partner have no interest in “stopping” neighbourhood book exchanges, nor do we HATE Little Free Libraries. Those words were written by a journalist who is paid for the amount of clicks he gets on articles he writes. While I don’t think it was fair of him to paint us with that brush, that’s the biz. The rest of his piece fairly represents our work.
  2. Please, please consider reading our entire article. You can find it free here. It’s long. It’s nuanced. But it’s representative of a significant amount of research conducted over a long period of time. I assure you, we’ve thought a LOT about this subject.
  3. Please also note – though it should be obvious from the title of the article – our critique is focused on the non-profit organization LFL®, and not grassroots book exchanges. Share books with your neighbours – please, by all means, share away – but don’t call it a library.
  4. Finally, we sought to provide an alternative point of view on a subject that has undergone almost zero critique. We are researchers exploring a phenomenon in our field. You can disagree with us. That’s okay. But similarly, we can disagree with you too. That’s also okay.

On a final note, we implore you to inquire about the state of funding for your local public library. How are they doing? Is there something you could do to help give them a boost? Maybe you already do – and we applaud you for that – but if you haven’t checked in with the state of their funding or been to visit a branch in a while, please do that. They are so vital to the community and at risk in many corners of the world. They need your voice.

Thanks for reading our research, and we hope that it’s given you a bit of food for thought.

Jane & Jordan

11 thoughts on “Oh hello there, LFL® supporters

  1. ralphwasson

    sooo you have copyrighted the word Library??I know a place here that calls itself a library and has a vast collection of books.i reallyu don t see what yer beef is unless you think libraries have to be government run.when you say I PiSSED people off.makes you sound like an uneducated skank.Sorry I pissed you off!!have a real nice day.

  2. Sheila Whithorn Farrell

    I found your paper to be well researched with valid points. As a faithful library supporter , i have also supported some little book exchanges. The ones we supported were not in affluent areas. I encouraged my kids to share books they enjoyed with others. I always took exception to the “free”, because it implys libraries are not free. I do know by looking or setting them up in struggling areas it offers a greater opportunity for some who maynot be able to get to a library. I think balance is important. I also free books in airports so for me its about opportunities.

  3. jockmackenzie

    I am going to react/comment twice – once before reading your paper and once after. Why? My initial response deals with your appearance with Carol Off on As It Happens. I was profoundly offended by the smug (my mother would have called it “smarmy'”) tone you used when disparaging the contents of the Little Free Libraries – Windows 2000 for Dummies, self-published poetry, etc. Carol was equally elitist and, I thought, a bully. Interesting how after all we’ve heard about bullies, they continue to exist in the oddest places.

    I’m not sure who is responsible for the picture of the LFL that appears beside your head shot on the CBC page. I can’t read them all but I do see a variety of titles. Are they not up to your standard?

    I am a retired teacher and principal, now part-time writer, avid reader and huge supporter of literacy. I collect books from a variety of sources – local citizens, schools, seniors’ lodges, a used book store – and re-distribute them. Some go from school to school. Some go to the Christmas Bureau. Others I take to the Food Bank. We also have a program called Books on the Bus: eight City of Red Deer transit buses have tubs sitting behind the driver, filled with paperbacks to be taken or exchanged. For four years I was the Program Co-ordinator for Reading College, a month-long summer program for 60 Grade Two students who struggle with reading. I support the public libraries twice yearly book sale.

    I am connected to the world of books. The head of our Children’s Library is too. She applauds anything and anyone who promotes literacy, reading, creativity, community. When I worried that the LFL system might pose a problem, I asked her. She disagreed. Competition? Hardly. She’s thinking of erecting a LFL in her own yard. And she has a creative idea for it as so many others have had.

    I could go on but I’ll save the next salvo until after I’ve read the nuances. I hope I’ll mellow and change some of my thoughts. Sadly, what won’t change is the bad taste I got as I heard you and Carol scoff at the contents of Little Free Libraries.

  4. jockmackenzie

    I have now read the paper, a bit quickly and it may deserve a slower and more thoughtful read. For now, I take away that you feel: the LFL people are not fulfilling their stated mandate, free exchange libraries would be best suited to less affluent areas, those who support LFL are suspect and perhaps seeking narcissistic ends, there is a real threat to public libraries, and more. I will spend the time here I believe this deserves.

    I think your study overstates even misses the main issue. People who love books also love to share books. The LFL offers a simple, straightforward way to get a structure and connects book lovers to like minded folk. I don’t think their intent is to provide literature to the needy, the marginalized, any specific ethnic community. They have books, they’ve read them, they’d like someone else to read them. Simple.

    I’ve spoken to many who love to read. They graze: the library, the book store, used book stores, garage sales . . . even Little Free Libraries. If your study raises awareness of the need to fund and support public libraries, good. If it’s a shot at the men of LFL because they’re have fallen short of one of their stated goals, maybe fair enough. If you’re condemning the LFL program because it’s been so successful but doesn’t meet the standards you’ve imposed, not good.

  5. J Madsen

    Like almost everything new and fun and original people come up with, the background lurkers have come out because they have some problem with something, what I’m sick of is how the simplest fun things get turned into some dire warnings. Relax! the book birdhouses are not worth the over analyzing effort. Why don’t you direct your energies to something that actually matters ” maybe the little libraries will make us remember how great the big library is”

  6. M M

    What is the value of insulting us with the implication that we are now elitist for not shlepping our books to another neighbourhood? What did your interviews of the custodians of the LFL yield?
    People did NOT sign a pledge that they were erecting and being a custodian of a little free library in order to share books with the underserved. When I place books in a LFL I do not swear I will share them with any one type of reader – that isn’t a rule… One major reason people have them (in my neighbourhood) is to EASILY GIVE AWAY the books they have already expended money on. Thrift stores are few and far between here – and most of them aren’t excited to take used books.Little free libraries are a practical way to get rid of the books you’ve already purchased. Okay, maybe you are in a more affluent neighbourhood if you can afford the $250 to put one up.. and if you have the money to buy the books in the first place. This is a friendly and convenient way to purge your bookshelf. Why the quote from the librarian about being a “liberal wanker”… what a way to get some press… urgh. thoughts? the goals of the not for profit LFL are different from the goals of the custodians and different again, from goals of real libraries. apples and oranges – and shouldn’t be conflated and judged.

  7. Mandie Cait

    My argument to this starts and ends with this:

    You are effectively saying “Share books. But not THOSE books, and not in THOSE places. ” This is clear in the way you point out “Windows 2000 for Dummies.” I find it slightly elitist and almost verging on suggesting that your idea of what a little library should look like is somehow better than someone else’s. Who cares as long as books are available? Affluent? Okay, so let’s extend the program to non-affluent areas. Why slam it? The entire thing just feels a bit like making a mountain out of a molehill while enacting a witch hunt.

    I’m not even specifically a little library supporter (though I think it’s a neat and fun idea). But I do know that encouraging people to talk about books, share books, swap books, etc…can almost never be a bad thing no matter where it takes place.

    And, FYI, I would find value in Windows 2000 for Dummies. It highlights the earliest evolutions of Windows and gives a really interesting glimpse into the history of the program. Sue me, I would find it interesting and I’m sure others would, too.

    For someone complaining about a branded book program catering to rich neighborhoods, it sure seems like you’re effectively coming from the same place of privilege.

  8. Kristen O'Neal

    I agree with your article and I am a little free library steward. My libraries are in public areas though I wish they were in one of the three housing projects we have. Our county is small, rural, and 75% poverty so I try to get books to as many as possible but we are lacking public transportation so I don’t think that I actually reach the lowest kids that I need to. I’m still trying to figure it out.

    But I do see many super expensive and cute libraries that are in gated communities or well off neighborhoods that are definitely not serving the purpose they were intended for on Facebook and in the news. It’s like buying a t-shirt for earth day or donating a $1 to a charity run by a millionaire. You have to get in the trenches if you want to make a dent in literacy in a poor community but most people don’t want to do that because it’s hard.

    We do have a public library with the sweetest librarian. I’m working with her this summer to double team our literacy efforts!

  9. SG

    For anyone having trouble understanding why librarians would take a critical look at “Little Free Libraries,” I recommend this article: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/us/anti-tax-fervor-roseburg-oregon-.html.

    In some communities, public libraries face existential threats. Opponents of library funding frequently suggest that, if library services are truly needed, volunteers or “the community” can provide them. Why pay taxes for a building and professional staff when a few public-spirited folks will put out boxes of books?

    Librarians and people who value public libraries need to speak up about what makes them important. As this research points out, unlike volunteer-based efforts, public libraries have a mandate to serve everyone, including the hardest to reach.

    Kudos to the researchers for having the courage to open this dialogue and take on a sacred cow.


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