It is an ingenious and life-affirming trend — building adorable outdoor, front-yard box libraries in the interest of literacy and neighborliness. Most Little Free Libraries resemble dollhouses. The libraries operate under the “take a book, leave a book” principle. Dallas even has its own Little Free Libraries initiative. It is tough to imagine why anyone would object, but it seems at least one Lake Highlands resident might have complained.
And now the City of Dallas’ Department of Code Compliance has ordered the removal of one Lake Highlands Little Free Library.
It’s true. L Streets North resident Stacy Holmes had yet to place the finishing touches on her family’s Little Free Library when she received the notice from Dallas City Code Enforcement. The structure is a code violation, it read, and she needs to remove it.
“I am completely distraught,” Holmes says, “especially since we put so much time effort and resources into it. I wasn’t even done decorating it.”
She says she and her daughter built the library last winter after years of planning prior to construction. A mother of three (twin toddlers and a 10-year-old girl), Holmes added her kids’ favorite books — “I Love You Stinky Face” for example. Her mother donated some of her favorite novels, Holmes says. “So there is something for everyone, all ages.” And people left their favorites in return. “Someone left ‘Wild,’ a books they recently made into a movie, which I had been wanting to read,” Holmes says.
It wasn’t just about the books. “Neighbors I did not know were coming over. They would introduce themselves. We were getting to know each other, and might not have ever talked if not for the library.”
The Girl Scout Troop that Holmes’ daughter belongs to even visited and traded books.
The Holmes’ library is popular, and many neighbors have shown support for the family as they have spent the last month, since they received the Notice of Violation on April 2, fighting for their right to keep their Little Free Library.
Neighbor Laura Stead says she loves the LFL and was surprised to hear about the violation notice.
“Promoting literacy and reading while bringing the neighborhood together is such a neat concept,” Stead says. “I am shocked that the city would waste time and money pursuing the removal of such a positive structure. It’s hardly larger than a bird house.”
Holmes says she has talked to supervisors and our city council representative. “This has been a battle,” she says. So far, everyone she has talked to stands behind the code enforcer. The LFL, they say, violates city code section 51A-4.217 related to “Accessory outside display of merchandise.” In section E (i) it instructs, “a person shall not place, store or maintain outside, for a continuous period in excess of 24 hours and item which is not customarily used or stored outside …
Holmes points to an item in code article IV that notes the City Plan and Zoning Commission “board may grant a special exception to the additional provision … relating to accessory outside storage … when, in the opinion of the board, the special exception will not adversely affect neighborhood property.”
She says she has found an attorney to help her — maybe the aforementioned provision could apply to her LFL, she hopes — but she realizes this is no guarantee of success. “We are still fighting,” she says.
I contacted the office of code enforcement yesterday, was given two different numbers to call, and at this point have not heard back. As soon as I do, I will update with any pertinent information. Until then, here is the second hand information from Holmes, which sounds right:
Holmes says that Allen’s office and the code enforcement supervisors told her that the existence of the library is a violation in and of itself and is not about its positioning or size. She also says the code enforcement officer told her that, yes, he knows these things are popping up all over Dallas and that he likely would not be there had someone not complained.
Believe it or not, there are people who dislike these winsome boxes of knowledge, or, at least those who don’t want them next door. The popular design website Houzz.com has written extensively about LFLs, at first because they were the cool, hip, uber-contemporary, in thing to build, and because the movement sparked so many innovative design ideas, but later because the things became somewhat controversial. They ran a poll, and, while most people seem to love the LFLs, a handful thinks they create trouble. (They might attract child molesters or be used as drug drops, a couple of people actually wrote in the comments section. Oh, you have to love the comments section, don’t you?)
In our East Dallas Advocate we ran a story a few years ago about one of Dallas’ first Little Free Libraries.
We will keep you updated as this saga continues.