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Little Free Libraries Pop Up in Whitefish Bay

The first give-a-book, take-a-book structure has come to Whitefish Bay, and now the village is torn with how it should regulate the emerging trend.

They're not birdhouses, and they're not quite mailboxes.

The new wooden structures popping up in parks and front lawns across the North Shore are actually miniature book depots that encourage passersby to pick up a new book and share one of their favorites with the rest of the community.

The first Little Free Library was constructed two years ago by Todd Bol of Hudson, WI. Now there are an estimated 1,800 libraries across the world, and the Little Free Library organization hopes to see at least 2,510 Little Free Libraries worldwide, according to the group's website.

New to Whitefish Bay

So far, there are at least two Little Free Libraries in Shorewood, another at Kletzsch Park in Glendale, and in Bayside, at Ellsworth Park and the Village Hall parking lot.

Whitefish Bay's first Little Free Library popped up outside Christ Church on Lake Drive in late July. The Rev. Seth Dietrich said the Little Free Libray idea came from parishioner Catherine Davidson, and the wooden structure — complete with a church steeple and stained glass — was built free of charge by woodworker Bob Holmes.

Dietrich said the Little Free Library has been heavily used by people walking and driving by the well-trafficked area just north of Sendik's. The Little Free Library is in the front portion of the church's meditation garden, which is open to the public to sit on benches, eat their lunch and talk with each other.

The books at Christ Church's Little Free Library are specifically targeted for spiritual exploration and growth, Dietrich said. While some non-spiritual books have been added to the mix, Dietrich said people have added a wide variety of different books about spirituality over the past two months.

"We know there are a lot of people who aren't going to join our church and may never join our church, but we want to meet them wherever they are at in their life and find a way to be a nourishing force," he said. "We want to be a blessing for the community, even if it's in a small way."

Slippery slope?

Accessory structures like Little Free Libraries are not legally allowed in front yards under Whitefish Bay's village ordinance, but Paul Launer, Whitefish Bay's building inspector, has so far turned a blind eye to Christ Church building the structure without a permit.

Now that another resident has applied for a permit to build a Little Free Library, Launer went before the Village Board Monday night to ask the elected officials their opinion on whether they should be allowed and how they should be regulated.

"It's really not a battle I want to take on," Launer said. "We have to decide if we are going to allow it, ignore it or come up with some sort of design guideline.

"At some point one neighbor is going to have a three-foot by three-foot, another neighbor will have a six-foot by six-foot, and then there's the king of all of them at the end of the street with a 12-by-12 walk-in."

Village Attorney Chris Jaekels said the Village Board decided many years ago that Whitefish Bay would not have mailboxes, or even newspaper boxes, in residential areas, so the matter of whether front yard structures should be allowed is a public policy decision best left to village trustees.

The board discussed whether the village should regulate the size of the structures, whether they should be reviewed by the Architectural Review Committee for aesthetics, whether maintenance should be enforced and whether a potential for vandalism exists.

Trustees mostly agreed the Little Free Libraries should be allowed in the village, but village staff should sketch out some standard dimensions and design guidelines to incorporate into the village ordinances.

"It grates on me to put in some rule on this, but there's already this rule on structures in front lawns so it seems we have to address it," said Trustee Jay Miller.

Village President Julie Siegel said she was concerned about seeing too many Little Free Libraries in the village, and said she would not like to see them in residential areas. She also said the structures could be the target of vandalism, and she said she would like to check in on the issue again in six months to determine if vandalism of Little Free Libraries has been a problem.

AWD September 19, 2012 at 05:46 AM
Thank you Village President Siegel. These Little Free Libraries will be a blot on the landscape of our Village; I better not see one on my block.
aaaaaa September 19, 2012 at 01:20 PM
While I love the idea, we need to draw a line. Already people are planting unsightly plants on the public right of way. I was in Madison recently and saw corn and pumpkins growing in people's FRONT yards. Tacky. There seems to be a growing (no pun intended) in people's treating the front yard as a back yard. These little lending libraries are great - but one in an area that has a lot of foot traffic is plenty.
Bob McBride September 19, 2012 at 01:44 PM
I think they're a nice idea (although the one in Fox Point recently became a source of burning materials for a couple of girls who were cold, apparently), but definitely in moderation. I do think there needs to be some sort of restrictions in terms of where they can be placed, the number of them, and the design. I remember seeing a pretty crappy looking one that really was nothing more than a crate with some plastic sheeting over it. I think it was on the East Side somewhere.
Melanie Ariens September 19, 2012 at 02:29 PM
As a former bookseller I love the warmth and charm of the little free library. It is a very personal invitation to share great books with your neighbors. I'm looking forward to designing and constructing my own to match my home.
Jane anttila September 19, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Nothing wrong with them or veggies in the front yard. I am visiting Portland , OR right now and it's gorgeous, including the veggie patches in almost every yard .
aaaaaa September 19, 2012 at 03:03 PM
WFB is, for the most part, full of beautifully maintained homes. A corn field looks messy in the front yard. This is not little house on the prairie. I bet those "gorgeous veggie patches" look great in November or March when they are nothing but dirt!
tinderbox September 19, 2012 at 05:12 PM
The idea, in theory, is wonderful and I love it. Unfortunately, I can think of too many negatives that could be associated with them when more people become aware of their existence.
Jon Wertz September 19, 2012 at 07:28 PM
You folks need to find a hobby
Bob McBride September 19, 2012 at 07:54 PM
What's wrong with this one?
Christine Kuramoto September 19, 2012 at 09:54 PM
I think they are wonderful and add character. Sure, come up with some guidelines for dimensions, but, for the most part, leave them alone and stop worrying.
Christine Kuramoto September 19, 2012 at 09:56 PM
The hostility of some of these comments troubles me. This is a great little initiative. What's all the anger about?
aaaaaa September 19, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Really? Anger? Just people saying they need some requirements.....everything can lead to something without some kind of zoning. I could, for example, set up a wooden structure to lend, say, toys in my front yard. And, John, if my hobby extends to protecting my greatest asset - my home - who are you to judge? Your home values are greatly influenced by the neighborhood you reside in.
Interesting September 19, 2012 at 11:13 PM
If only there was a place in Whitefish Bay where people could go and check out reading materials, that would be wonderful. It is so nice to see the community band together to ensure that reading material will make it into the hands of all who live here. Although this thought occurred to me, who will regulate the type of materials that are placed in these free libraries. I can foresee people complaining because the material provided in these little free libraries offends them due to racist, homphobic or pornographic content. I think the Village has better things to do than entertain this silliness. On the bright side when this trend passes the little libraries should be easily converted to chicken coops.
WFB Resident September 20, 2012 at 05:47 PM
How about coming over to our wonderful public library which is within walking distance of most homes in WFB. Lots of books, movies, CD's, DVDs, etc. and all for FREE!

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