‘Little Free Libraries’ legal in Leawood thanks to 9-year-old Spencer Collins

07/07/2014 8:20 PM

07/08/2014 6:13 PM

Nine-year-old Spencer Collins will be able put his “Little Free Library” back in his front yard first thing in the morning.

The Leawood City Council unanimously approved a temporary moratorium Monday night that exempts the little lending libraries from a city ordinance that prohibits structures in front yards. The moratorium, effective Tuesday, will last until Oct. 20.

As soon as the moratorium passed, Mayor Peggy Dunn called Spencer to the front of the room to hand him a book for his library, an action that received applause from the audience.

Spencer made national headlines last month after Leawood officials asked his family to take their little library down, which sparked an outcry from the family and other supporters of the Little Free Library movement.

Spencer and his parents attended Monday night’s meeting to show their support for their little blue box on red stilts.

“I want you to allow little free libraries because I love to read,” Spencer told the council. “Lots of people in the neighborhood used the library, and the books were always changing. I think it’s good for Leawood.”

As the moratorium is only a temporary solution, the council also discussed changing the ordinance to allow front-yard libraries and other containers designed to share books or other media with the community.

It could take 60 to 90 days to amend the ordinance as the city goes through the required public hearings before the council can adopt it, City Administrator Scott Lambers said.

But before moving forward with a permanent change, Lambers asked the council to let him send a survey to Leawood homeowners associations as a quick way to gauge public opinion of the libraries.

The survey would help the city determine whether there should be standards of color or number per neighborhood for the libraries, Lambers said. He said he would hope to have the survey back by mid-September.

Councilman Andrew Osman thanked the Collins family for working with the city.

“If collectively we keep working together, we will achieve something in its entirety,” Osman said.

The lending library trend began in Wisconsin and has brought more than 30 little libraries to the Kansas City area. The structures foster literacy and community with instructions for people to “take a book, return a book.”

One Leawood resident at the meeting expressed concern about the libraries.

“Why do we pay taxes for libraries and have those boxes on our streets?” Wade King asked. “In a blighted area? Sure, put them everywhere. We’re not a poor area. We don’t need them.”

Another resident, Wyatt Townley, told the council that she supports the libraries because they add an element of community that regular libraries do not.

“They are connecting the dots between books and community,” Townley said. “Reading is a solitary endeavor, but this makes it about community. It is about neighbors reaching out to neighbors.”

Spencer’s father, Brian Collins, told the council he hoped an amended ordinance would pass.

“There's a simple reason why,” he said. The libraries “promote literacy and community. Those are two things we can agree are very good."

While Leawood has backtracked on the libraries, at least for now, another city in Johnson County is grappling with the issue.

Officials in Fairway told Erin Margolin last week to wait until early August to set up a small red library in her front yard. Approval is needed first from Fairway’s Planning Commission and City Council.

To reach Caroline Bauman, call 816-234-4449 or send email to cbauman@kcstar.com.

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