Are Little Free Libraries Illegal?

Are Little Free Libraries Illegal?
image courtesy of:
image courtesy of:

You may have seen these little structures, slightly larger and more decorative than a birdhouse or mailbox, standing in people’s front yards near you. If you’ve gotten up close, you’ve noticed that they’re full of books and usually sport a sign that says “Take a book, Return a book”. These are little free libraries. The basic concept is that the community puts books in and shares freely.library-video

However, some people are starting to run into an issue. Apparently these little free libraries can be against local building codes. One man in Leawood KS is being faced with fines for his little free library. While he says his neighbors all enjoy the idea of the community library, one neighbor told KFVS news that it was an “eyesore”, so it seems like these tiny homes for books aren’t universally loved. You can get more information about what is going on in Leawood by reading the entire news story, which has a video with interviews as well.

If you’d like to participate in a community library experience and find a little free library near you, here’s a map of their current locations.


We’re curious to hear what you think about these. While we fully support the idea of sharing information freely, and many of us here at make think they actually look pretty cool, we have to acknowledge that they may very well be against local codes. What would you think if your neighbor built one? What if it wasn’t as pretty as the examples we’ve seen?



0 thoughts on “Are Little Free Libraries Illegal?

  1. Aristarco Palacios says:

    “What if it wasn’t as pretty as the examples we’ve seen?”

    I’m a Maker. I’d make a better, prettier, more awesome one, and give it to him/her for free! DUH!!

  2. Oyeaegalis Williams says:

    I think they are WONDERFUL, SO what if it isn’t as “pretty”, it is the fact of CARING, sharing, and trusting each other. Transfereing knowledge, hopefully into the next generation, children ARE what they see their adults DO!

  3. BostonIsStronger says:

    sounds to me the person who said it was an “eyesore” probably isn’t much of a reader. hah. too bad for him… i’d tell him to suck it. :-P

    1. Aristarco Palacios says:

      I’d give him a knowledge punch. I mean, drop “Gravity’s Rainbow” on his (empty) head.

  4. Rozetta Hahn says:

    There is one story about an 11 year old who built one and was keeping it stocked. The town said his was illegal as well.I love them and think they are wonderful. We have donated many books to one.

  5. tronixstuff says:

    Idiots. Anything that encourages people to read is a good thing.

  6. TerryGauchat says:

    Support your local PUBLIC library system instead.

    1. Aristarco Palacios says:

      Support both instead.

    2. Travis Hughes says:

      Why not both?

  7. Richard Lee Sumrall says:

    I have seen birdhouses that are almost as big as these and not maintained are far more of an eyesore than this.Anyone putting one up is going to maintain to make sure the books aren’t weather damaged.

  8. whatisacncdotcom says:

    So is a Dog House, Birdhouse, or Mail Box Illegal?
    what’s the difference, it’s not like someone is living in it!
    Noooo Someone might read!!!

  9. whatisacncdotcom says:

    But hey, a person can buy a high power gun without any trouble! Reading is bad, guns are good right?

    1. notaprogressive says:

      Don’t be stupid … oops too late!

  10. Andy III says:

    It’s a shame that someone would call a little library an ‘eyesore’… but sadly, a quick run through the comments section on your local news website will give you an idea of the kind of people who live in your immediate area. The results can be disturbing and shocking.

    There are some very sad, very mean people pretty much everywhere…and they have a LOT of time on their hands.

    Here’s hoping that as this idea grows, local governments will find ways to classify them and make them 100% legal. Then grumpy people with nothing better to do can go look for new targets.

  11. CandleAshes says:

    I don’t think the one in the video is particularly attractive (to me personally) and I still don’t see why this would be illegal, especially if it’s on the person’s property, or why anyone would mind it. Why exactly are these illegal? Are dog houses and free standing mail boxes illegal as well in that area? Even if it was just a cardboard box – this is awesome.

    People being encouraged to share and read?!? We must nip this in the bud immediately!

    1. DrDenim says:

      A lot of stuff on your house may be illegal. I don’t want my neighbors to leave toilets on their lawn. When I try to sell my house that would be bad for me. So there is a reason

      1. CandleAshes says:

        Did you just equate a library to a toilet?

  12. Todd Decker says:

    If you feel motivated to do so, please make a statement and log a one-star review on the “City of Leawood, KS – City Government” Facebook page.

  13. Annie Romano says:

    I do not see The Book Booth: America’s Littlest Library on this map. How do we get it on there? &

    1. I'm right, you're not. says:

      Check out That will tell you how to get it on the map.

      1. Annie Romano says:

        Thanks! I will check it out!

  14. Matt says:

    We have one in our post office. Also the Kiwanis put them up in local businesses using coin operated newspaper stands (no coin required.)

  15. AllSeasonRadial says:

    I’m just glad that the alleged “illegality” of these quaint little structures wasn’t about copyright.

    I think it would be great if a community put up standards and codes for these purposes. If people used these as a way simply to get rid of books, they would soon become an eyesore and worse. Libraries are a responsibility to maintain— even the small ones. If everyone who used these free libraries noticed things like, “it needs a little paint”, “the window’s cracked or broken”, “these books are moldy”, etc., and then repaired the issue, I bet nobody would have anything to say about them (except for the neighborhood curmudgeon who will always find something to complain about).

  16. the_gadgetman says:

    Title should really be “Are ugly structures illegal?”. Not that the answer is necessarily yes.

  17. Jerry White says:

    I am Guessing they are wanting to make More new laws Now
    then make you pay for a license and Get insurance and meet to color codes
    add a ADA Parking Spot maybe even a drinking fountain and a mop sink
    Don’t forget You will need lighting along the path. And soon more will follow

  18. Jerry White says:

    it should be My Yard My Property My Taxes So stay out of my Business.

    1. DrDenim says:

      Except when your run-down dump degrades the value of the whole neighborhood, and soon you have the next Detroit. That’s why.

  19. Robert van de Walle says:

    When did we join this over-reaching HOA our municipalities have become? Let’s gather the idiots and give them a one-time payment and move them to the same village.

  20. Jennifer says:

    There are mailboxes on my street that are rusty, wobbly, and have the doors falling off. But the Little Free Libaries are “eyesores?” Please. Go libraries go.

  21. Court Kizer says:

    Fuck this bullshit. Seriously we don’t need a government to tell us how to live together like humans. Vote anyone out of office who promote these laws, and pass new ones that expressly permit you to do whatever the fuck you want

  22. Robin Ratcliff says:

    Call Leawood Code Enforcement and voice your outrage!

  23. bababoochick says:

    It only takes one person to complain to ruin a good thing. Cities need to require some kind of petition to justify fining a person based on a consensus. I really hate these kind of people. Apparently only four people complained about the Sriracha plant in Irwindale, CA forcing the owner to fork out thousand of dollars in a legal battle with the city who wants to force the closure of a large company that employ hundreds of people, just because they are “affected” by the chili processing. Only four people complained and a business owner is hammered by the system. This is B.S.

  24. Douglas Smallen says:

    Always an A$$hole in every Neighborhood!

  25. Antron Argaiv says:

    Perhaps the guy should request a hearing and bring a lawyer? Code Enforcement is all well and good, but it might be worth carefully looking into the definition of a “free standing structure”. As others have pointed out, it seems that this would outlaw lawn ornaments, birdhouses and benches (like the one in the picture above). Perhaps there’s room for negotiation?

    And this guy:
    is ready to go to court. Sounds like these LFL guys aren’t all pushovers.

  26. Jack Coats says:

    It would be hard to be as ugly as the ‘rural mailboxes’ that many of us put up with.

    But when we move to a community or subdivision we agree, often in writing, to abide by the ‘subdivision rules’ or zoning ordinances. If we want to do ‘something different’, we may have to jump through the hoops to have it ‘authorized’.

    Abiding by the rules, or changing them from within the system, is just of being a good citizen. Don’t just take some old curmudgeon’s opinion as gospel.

    1. DrDenim says:

      I moved to an HOA and follow their laws. If I wanted to build junk on my lawn I’d move to the country. It’s part of the deal

  27. Idahoser says:

    reminds me of geocaching

  28. Rob Grant says:

    if it was just a single neighbor who complained that it was an eye sore, here’s what i’d do

    1) take library box down
    2) make new one modeled EXACTLY like that neighbors house
    3) put a sign “if this is still an eyesore, then imagine how we feel about you. Pls, take a book, leave a book”
    4) win the argument

  29. Rob Grant says:

    question of curiosity, if he bolted it to the side of his house, it’s no longer a free-standing building.. it’s also not a public space, so no code violation there, it’s fully accessible..etc.etc…

    is that then okay to have it?

  30. DarkStarPDX says:

    The law seems fairly clear, no free-standing structures are allow in the front of the property. If you watch the video, you’ll note that there are no mailboxes either. With that said, my city has no such law regarding structures in the front yard, however it would have to be installed 5 feet from the property line to be legal.

  31. twoherbs says:

    Love em! Great idea…..I’m thinking of building one in my neighborhood.

  32. bethbot says:

    people who call a small, free library that encourages neighbors to share with each other an “eyesore” need to a) take a HUGE chill pill and b) remember that they can’t take their precious lawn/house/mailbox/car with them. Life is in the experiences, the moments, the learning, the sharing that we DO WITH EACH OTHER. You’re going to crush this child’s attempt to do something kind just so you don’t have to look at this cute tiny structure? PUH-LEASE. there are actual issues in this world that would love your attention.

  33. Dan says:

    Neighbors do all sorts of things with their yards and not all of it is something that I’d necessarily do with mine. It’s their choice. As long as it’s not obscene or poses a danger to the community I don’t think my opinion should have any affect on what my neighbor or anyone else should do. Live and let live.

  34. kronos says:

    The more you use your local Library the more funding they get……same concept

  35. Caroline Lefebvre says:

    We built one and installed it in the little (owned by the town) circle in front of our houses. We asked for the town’s permission (and got it!) after they read about it in the local newspaper. Annoying to have to ask, but in light of this article I’m very glad we did.

  36. Sugimasa Aoki says:

    Hello!I am a japanese LFL steward.I do not have a garden where install a little structures.I prepare my LFL into bookshelf in my shop.It is not easy to install a little structures in Japan.


I get ridiculously excited seeing people make things. I just want to revel in the creativity I see in makers. My favorite thing in the world is sharing a maker's story. You can find me on twitter at @calebkraft

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