Culture At Large

Little libraries and loving your neighbor

Caryn Rivadeneira

Were I not so lazy, I’d have a Little Free Library perched on my front lawn. Instead of running books I no longer have space for over to the local used bookstore, I’d walk across the lawn to share the “wealth” of a great book with neighbors – with anyone, really, who wanted to take, or leave, a book from my little library.

But alas, perhaps it’s best I am lazy and never learned to craft a wooden box, to hinge little doors, to give it a roof, stick it on a post and fill it with swappable books. Because according to the Atlantic, I might be dismantling the whole thing by now. Although the Little Free Library movement took off many years ago and has spread across the globe, a “crackdown” has begun in many municipalities, where Little Free Libraries and their neighborly librarians are being cited for zoning violations and failure to obtain permits. Certainly lawsuits over some fallout for what a person read in a Little Free Library book can’t be far behind.

Ah, ain’t that America.

But of course, it ain’t. Not really. Not everywhere.

As I type, I look out my windows, across the very lawn on which I wish a Little Free Library stood, and see green ribbons tied around trees. Up the street, the ribbons wrap around utility poles. Closer to the park, the ribbons adorn benches. City benches. I’m certain every last ribbon violates some ordinance. Surely the utility companies don’t want customers messing with their poles.

Thankfully I live among neighbors who overlook some zoning ordinances in favor of the greatest law.

Thankfully, however, I live among neighbors who seem to overlook at least some zoning ordinances, some “defacing” laws, in favor of the greatest law. Of course, they wouldn’t say it like that. Not necessarily. But when the green ribbons honor a local woman who died far too young, when they show her three boys and her husband that we care, that we think of them, that we pray, we are following that greater law: loving our neighbors.

To be fair, at their best zoning laws and city ordinances are about love. It’s a form of love for the city to say you cannot build a roller coaster next to my house. It's a form of love to restrict the planting of bushes or trees on the parkway if they obstruct views and cause accidents. It is loving to have laws against the defacing of public property, which ruins things that were paid for and meant to be enjoyed by us all.

Yet ribbons tied around trees are also loving. So are Little Free Libraries. And while societies depend on laws, rely on rules to keep order, to show love, we’d all do well to loosen up. To lighten up. To libertarian up, if you will. Because when we let rules run wild, when we insist there be a rule about every last thing, when we lose our leniency about breaking those rules, we lose out on the ability to show love and to live as Jesus asked us.

Topics: Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Books, News & Politics, North America