Reprieve for Little Free Libraries After City Council Delays Vote on Measure That Would Require Permits for the Tiny Bibliotecas

Little Free Library duo in Lincoln Square — one for adults and one for kids. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)Little Free Library duo in Lincoln Square — one for adults and one for kids. (Patty Wetli / WTTW News)

Little Free Libraries remain free from city oversight, for the time being, after the Chicago City Council delayed a vote Wednesday on an ordinance amendment that would require library hosts to obtain a permit before setting up a “public bookcase” in the public way.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Ald. Raymond Lopez (15th Ward) introduced the amendment language over the summer and attempted to a force a vote on the measure Wednesday. 

His move was parried by Ald. Samantha Nugent (39th Ward), who motioned to have the legislation sent back to committee for further consideration. Council members overwhelming sided with Nugent, by a roll call of 42-5.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st Ward) was among those perplexed by the need to regulate the “kindness and generosity” of neighbors who “put out free books.”

His concerns included language in Lopez’s proposed amendment, which would limit hosts of the free libraries to “educational institutions, day care centers, public and private libraries, not-for-profit organizations, community organizations, and religious societies, associations, organizations, or institutions.”

Lopez said individuals would be free to erect public bookcases on private property; the amendment would only apply to the public way and permits would be free.

The ordinance would also require permit holders to “paint, plainly mark, or otherwise permanently affix the owner’s name, address, and telephone number on the outside of each public bookcase.”

Currently, bookcases registered with the official Little Free Library nonprofit display a plaque with a charter number. There are more than 150,000 Little Free Libraries worldwide, up from 25,000 less than 10 years ago. Their locations and hosts are mapped and identified on the Little Free Library app, which can be searched by city, ZIP code or charter number.

The Little Free “take-a-book, return-a-book” movement was started in 2009 by Wisconsinite Todd Bol as a tribute to his mom, a former schoolteacher.

Bol’s original “public bookcase” took the form of a schoolhouse, but there’s no set format. The most common structure resembles a wooden house featuring a peaked roof, a hinged door (often with a window) and shelves, all attached to a post.

According to the Little Free Library organization, more than 300 million books have been shared through the program.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th Ward), who dressed up as a Little Free Library on Halloween, told Block Club Chicago that Lopez’s legislation was “a solution in search of a problem.”

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 |  [email protected]

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors