Spencer Collins from suburban Leawood, Kansas, is my kind of kid: a lover of fiction. Spencer has discovered the magic of losing himself in what I have called the Written World since, as a kid younger than Spencer, I misheard the expression “the written word”. Not everyone is lucky enough to find their way to Written World. Some people go through life never having read a single book just for pleasure, never transported their inner self to a place and an adventurer impossible in their everyday reality through the pages of a book. But Spencer got it. I know this because he told KMBC TV News:
“It’s kinda like a whole ‘nother world, and I like that.”
Spencer Collins liked Written World so much he wanted to share it. So he asked his parents if he could start a “little library” with all the books he had read and loved but were now sitting unused, waiting for a new adventurer to discover them. (There is something sad about a box of books without a reader.) And that’s how “Spencer’s Little Free Library” was born – in a freshly painted box next to the family’s driveway, barely larger than a fancy purple martin bird house. Take a book, leave a book – maybe even a new adventure for Spencer.
But someone complained. Richard Coleman, whose title is Director of Community Development, but whose address is the Leawood Police Department, says there were two complaints, but I have no way of knowing if that means two separate people or one Gladys Kravitz type, who wanted that library gone doubly bad. I also don’t know why they complained. There were hardly hordes of children trampling lawns in a headlong rush to get a book fix. Nor was there a problem from increased noise or traffic on the suburban street.
Perhaps it was someone whose first memory is being abandoned in a library as a toddler by her teenaged mother who got pregnant by a rapist and had been forced to keep the baby by her fundamentalist parents. Now everytime she drives by Spencer’s Little Free Library she has vivid PTSD flashbacks…
Or perhaps the complainer owns a used bookstore that is struggling; his home is in danger of being foreclosed, and every night he has to hide his car from the repossession vultures. He sees the little library as unfair competition, so everytime he drives by it, he seethes…
Or perhaps the complaint came from a neighbor who finds himself at the window every day, watching for the children. They make such tempting targets as they linger over Spencer’s library. He could snatch one so easily. Perhaps he complained because he is desperately trying to be rid of that terrible temptation before it overwhelms him….
OK, it was probably none of those reasons. But see how fun Written World can be?
Spencer’s parents received a letter from the city, informing them Spencer’s Little Free Library had to go. It was against the code. The Code. The fabulous inviolate Code. The Code handed down to Richard Cohen on two tablets of stone. The code that says, Thou shalt make sure all structures are attached to the house. The letter said the Collins must remove the little library or they would be fined. So says The Code!
“We empathize with them, but we still have to follow the rules,” Richard Coleman told KNBC News. “We need to treat everybody the same. So we can’t say if somebody files a complaint but we like the little libraries — we think they’re cute — so we ignore it. We can’t do that.”
So is that true? Prairie Village, a neighboring community, has a very similar code when it comes to independent structures, but it leaves its little book nook lovers alone. A spokesman told KMBC that the city simply doesn’t enforce codes that would restrict its little free libraries.
So which community has it right? Leawood where justice is blind? Or Prairie Village where she peeks through her blindfold to see who she is impaling on her flaming sword? In which one would you rather live? And as you think about it, keep in mind, the code violation Prairie Village ignores may be your in-laws’ motor home parked in your drive over the holidays – but it may also be your neighbor’s garage, where his teenage son holds band practice. In Leawood, they’ll come shut down the music, but your in-laws are hooking up in the Walmart parking lot Christmas morning. So where would YOU rather live?
And more importantly, what should happen to Spencer’s Little Free Library?