So here’s another of those “bureaucracy before brains” stories that reliably get trotted out to prove that All Government Is Bad: in the Kansas City suburb of Leawood, Kansas, adorable nine-year-old Spencer Collins has been informed by the city that his nifty “Little Library” is in violation of zoning ordinances, and has to be removed. Now of course, the real lesson is that inside any organization there are pinheads who are sticklers for the rules, and freedom and democracy are advanced by laughing and shaming them into better behavior, not by doing away with governance altogether, but you can bet that this story will get traction on the right as an example of why government is no damn good, ever, and on the left as an example of “Kansas.”
Spencer was motivated to set up his little library after hearing about the Little Free Library movement, which seeks to share books for free from homemade book repositories with one simple rule: “take a book, return a book.” And Spencer being one of those bright hyperliterate kids that far too many of us can achingly identify with, he set up his very own Little Library, complete with a bench for people to sit and read on, and stocked it with some of his favorite books, like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Roald Dahl’s The BFG (which is about a Big Friendly Giant, not the most overpowered weapon in a videogame). He set it out on Mother’s Day, which is also so cute that we are having a hard time not just plotzing right here at our desk.
But a month later, his parents received a letter from officials saying the library violated the city’s zoning ordinance and needed to be removed or they would be fined. The city prohibits people from having structures on their property that are detached from the physical house.
City officials justified the move because they said they “need to treat everybody the same,” says Richard Coleman, noting they can’t just ignore the two complaints they’d received because “we like the little libraries.”
And right there is your Buried Lede, kids. This isn’t just a tale of government overreach, this is a tale of unidentified busybody jerkhead neighbors who complained that a smart little kid had a cute little library in his front yard, probably because property values and socialism and god knows what else.
In any case, we are not too terribly worried that this will end with either a permanently dismantled little library or with an armed standoff between Spencer, his hundreds of armed Literary Militia supporters, and the city government, because Spencer is doing exactly what decent people do when confronted with rank schmuckery and/or bureaucratic stupidity. He’s alerted the media (glad we could help, kiddo!) and he’s got a Facebook page, and best of all, he says he’s going to try to convince the city council to amend its zoning code to allow the little library. We have a feeling that cute kid + nerdy popular cause + idiocy in high places is probably a recipe for success, and we hope that Spencer prevails. Maybe he can compare notes with Olivia McConnell, the awesome nerdgirl who eventually prevailed against dumb creationists and got South Carolina to name the wooly mammoth as its state fossil.
Now, not to take anything away from Spencer and his small-scale wonderfulness, if we could just get more funding for actual community libraries… Maybe after he straightens out the dopes in his local government, Spencer will take that on, too? Gotta like a kid who wants everybody to enjoy books as much as he does.
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