When the City said an elderly man's front-yard book box violated a bylaw, there was widespread outrage.
For Christmas last year, Jennifer Sherwood Hicks gave her father a 'little free library' to install on his front lawn in Toronto. The cute wooden box on a post, painted green, was a place to stash books that passersby could take for free or add to, and Sherwood Hicks' father took great delight in it -- until he received a letter from the City of Toronto last week.
The letter said he had 14 days to remove the little free library, as it contravened a city bylaw, or he would be fined $100. Apparently there had been a complaint about the library being too close to the sidewalk. BlogTO wrote, "The bylaw that had apparently been violated disallowed structures on a person’s property within 3.5 metres [11.5 feet] of a sidewalk."
Sherwood Hicks turned to Facebook to vent about the situation. She wrote (original caps):
"ARE YOU KIDDING ME, TORONTO??? IS THIS HOW YOU'RE SPENDING MY TAX DOLLARS...BY HARASSING SENIOR CITIZENS WHO ARE TRYING TO SPREAD A LITTLE LITERARY LOVE AROUND THE NEIGHBOURHOOD???? Excuse the caps, but I am absolutely steamed. Anyone have any ideas for how to deal with bureaucratic bullcrap?"
The Facebook post exploded on social media, and responses revealed that many others shared her sense of outrage, with some offering to pay the fine and take on the legal battle. The City listened to the protest and, within hours, had formally rescinded the ticket. Even the Mayor weighed in on Twitter:
I love Toronto's little libraries. We should be encouraging them, not ticketing them. I've sent that message to City staff. The ticket issued to the little library owner at Yonge & Eglinton has been ripped up.— John Tory (@JohnTory) September 28, 2017
This whole debate is even more interesting in light of a Toronto-based research paper that was published earlier this year on the impact of Little Free Libraries (LFLs). The authors concluded that they are an example of 'neoliberal politics at street level'; that LFLs fail to build community in the ways they claim to; and that they tend to serve affluent educated neighborhoods that already have access to books. The paper even accused homeowners of 'virtue-signalling' by installing one of these on their front lawns. [Read: Little Free Libraries raise questions about privilege and philanthropic intention]
The public's reaction to Sherwood Hicks' Facebook post, however, suggests the opposite. Rallying to save a little free library brought the community together rapidly, and the comments are full of heartwarming stories of how LFLs have been useful, entertaining, and fun.
I see no problem with spreading books as far and wide as possible, and am happy to know that Sherwood Hicks' father will be allowed to keep his little free library.