Theft at the Little Free Libraries

B. S. Johnson omnibus 414QPWDQFFLToday we saw a copy of the B. S. Johnson Omnibus at a used bookstore.

Good news, you say.

It would be, except it was my copy.

Little Free Library

Little Free Library

This summer I donated it to a Little Free Library, one of the free book boxes that have popped up in front yards and on trails. There are about 25,000 in the U.S. and 40 other countries.  The signs say, “Take a book. Leave a book.”

When I revisited the LFL, I was pleased that someone had taken the Johnson, since I doubted that anyone knew his experimental writing.   (I blogged about his very weird novel, House Mother Normal, here).

This particular Little Free Library is on a trail.  Depressing to think that somebody is stealing the books and selling them.  Well, readers must get some of the books.

There have been thefts at Little Free Libraries in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Pioneer Girl book5After the thefts in Lincoln, the University of Nebraska Press donated multiple copies of some of their books to the Little Free Libraries.  They  include “Pioneer Girl” by Andrea Warren, “Beaver Steals Fire” by Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and “Grandpa’s Third Drawer — Unlocking Holocaust Memories” by Judy Tal Kopelman.

According to the Omaha World-Herald,

It was incredibly lucky timing,” said Rosemary Vestal, publicity manager for University of Nebraska Press. “This did not come from the libraries being emptied out. This was in the works before that. But it was really lucky that we could help out in this way.”

It is discouraging that thieves would steal from Little Free Libraries.  The books are free:  someone took them.   I guess you have to keep trying, knowing that sometimes books will get into the right hands.  But I probably won’t donate to the trail location anymore.

8 thoughts on “Theft at the Little Free Libraries

  1. That’s really sad – but you’ll get nasty people everywhere. How bad that they’ll deprive other people of reading matter. I guess it’s best to have the libraries in fairly populated places.


  2. I suppose the best that you can hope is that whoever stole it at least read it before they sold it on. I have been very envious of these Little Free Libraries. We could certainly do with some in Birmingham at the moment. Our library service has no money to buy new books and has appealed to the public to buy them for them. If it goes on this way we shall soon only have a service if we adopt a system like this.


    • Yes, perhaps they read it, though not likely. Really sorry to hear about the library situation in Birmingham. I do believe I read about it in The Guardain. Anybody can start a Little Free Library: you can buy kits at or build your own! There are many in my neighborhood, and some have been built by volunteer organizations on trails and in parks. They’re a good thing, though honestly I seldom find anything I want to read. We do need our public library system!


  3. We don’t actually know it was stolen. If someone exchanged it for another book when they first took it and couldn’t find another book they wanted to exchange it for when they went back to the library, is it actually theft to sell it elsewhere? Does it depend what the book they exchanged it for was worth?


    • Well, you can’t really steal a free book at all! And I’m sure they got no more than 50 cents for the book: that’s the way it works around here, and then the seller jacks up the price. We assume the worst, partly because our favorite Planned Parenthood book sale is now overrun by book scouts. It’s a knotty problem, and I am Puritanical here: I think it’s better to pass the book on to, say, the Planned Parenthood Book Sale than sell it, even if they did a trade. But we’re not like poor Lincoln: six of their Little Free Libraries were wiped out of books!


  4. Aw, that’s unfortunate. Almost always, I opt to donate or share my books. But there have been times when I have literally made my rent by selling off some of the books on my shelves (and, no, we don’t get more than you’ve suggested for second-hand books up here, either, in case you were thinking of moving because the market is so lucrative – haha).

    Nonetheless, those are my own books, and what you’re describing is something quite different. Every one who donated did so on the precept that the books were there to share, not to profit from, even if was only a small sum. If you do reconsider donating to that location again, perhaps you could include a note, which might reach either the person who is taking them or a bookseller who is unaware of the origins?


    • What a good suggestion! A note might help. I’ve sold my own books before, too. It does seem there’s an ethical breach in selling books from a Little Free Library. I did notice that several other nice books were missing from this location: someone had donated an almost complete set of Beatrix Potter. I hope the book scout didn’t get it…


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