For too long, the Little Free Libraries of Shreveport, La., had run roughshod over the city’s zoning rules, passing out free books to literary-minded children and adults in flagrant violation of the law.
But Shreveport’s Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC) has put an end to that. In a response to a complaint, one of the city’s three home-built book exchanges was ordered to cease operations, the Shreveport Times reported.
Zoning administrator Alan Clarke told the paper that the “take a book, leave a book” exchange qualified as a city library, and therefore violated a 1950s law mandating that all libraries be in commercially zoned areas. Owners Teresa and Ricky Edgerton shuttered their book box, wrapping it in a thick metal chain, after receiving an official notice from the zoning division. Clarke said that the city’s two other official Little Free Libraries could suffer the same fate.
“If someone tells us where one is, then we will do the same thing that we did on Wilkinson,” he told the Shreveport Times, referring to the street where the Edgertons’ book exchange was located. All three book swaps are registered with Little Free Library, a literacy-promoting nonprofit that oversees more than 15,000 book swaps worldwide. (There are 15 registered in the District of Columbia.)
The Shreveport decision has sparked outrage and expressions of solidarity from the community. Local artist Kathryn Usher constructed a makeshift book exchange from several large branches in her front yard. “Free range books,” she wrote on a sign hung from the wild-looking structure. “Take one, leave one.”
“I’m basically telling the MPC to go sod off,” she told the Shreveport Times.
Meanwhile, a Change.org petition demanding the citation be overturned garnered more than 1,700 signatures as of Monday morning. Several signatories took to the comments section to further express their disapproval of the planning commission’s ruling.
“In the subject line of the MPC’s letter to the Edgertons are not one but TWO misspelled words. What better evidence than this that libraries are important?” Shreveport resident Robin Clawson wrote. “Let’s not be morons.”
Mollie Corbet, of Bossier City, La., couldn’t think of anything nice to type there. She wrote, “I can’t think of anything nice to type here.”
The Shreveport Times chimed in Friday with an editorial condemning the zoning decision.
“It’s a sad day in Shreveport,” the paper wrote.
“I’ve been surprised and gratified,” Teresa Edgerton told the Times in response to the outpouring of support. “To object to us getting free books into the hands of children and adults, you’d figure that it would touch a nerve.”
In a Facebook status posted shortly after the Edgertons’ book box was shuttered, planning commission chair Lea Desmarteau assured residents that the commission was working to resolve the conflict with the libraries.
“MPC stands united that LFL is a great movement for our community,” she wrote. “Our current zoning ordinances are antiquated, therefore unfortunately lead[ing] to these types of situations. However, there is a silver lining. The MPC is in the process of a massive rewrite of these antiquated codes and ordinances.”
City Councilman Jeff Everson also told the Shreveport Times last week that the council plans to consider a resolution that would waive the book boxes from portions of the library zoning law.
In the meantime, the commission’s citation of the Edgertons’ book box remains in effect. The fate of the three Shreveport Little Free Libraries was undetermined as of Monday morning.