Take a Book, Leave an Argument

My Little Free Library is a laid-back book box. (At the moment, it is closed for the pandemic; this photo was taken pre-covid.)

About a week ago I wrote of the surprising level of contentiousness on an online forum for people who love their old houses. That’s not the only group I belong to that seems innocuous but is sometimes the site of bitter arguments.

The other group that gets weirdly argumentative is a discussion site for Little Free Library owners, called “stewards.” These are Little Free Libraries, those boxes of free books you often see in front of houses (including mine). Little Free Library stewards a nice, neighborly group of people who just want to give away books, right? Well, usually.

But there is a recurring battle on the LFL page because some stewards are hardcore about setting and enforcing rules about their book boxes and others are more relaxed.

Stewards of the hardcore type want to enforce strict rules: rules about users who take a book without leaving one, users who keep the books instead of returning them, and users who take too many books. Other LFL stewards are happy to have users take whatever books they want and in whatever number, do what they want with the books, and donate books to replace the ones they take only if you feel like it. I am personally of the laid-back faction.

Typically, a strict steward will express outrage that someone took most of the books from the LFL, and will ask what other stewards what they do to prevent this from happening. The strict stewards jump in to commiserate. A laid-back steward responds, “I don’t mind if users take a lot of books; that’s why I have them there. It’s all good.” And then all the other strict stewards blast away at the laid-back steward.

Now and then, someone from one side or the other will start a new thread to say, “I’m so disturbed about the way some stewards minimize our pain when we’re upset about people stealing all the books….” Or, conversely, “I’m so sick of stewards complaining about all the books being taken. Can you just chill out? It’s not stealing if you say the books are free. People are supposed to take the books! That’s what they’re there for!” And then everyone jumps into the fray.

They do like their drama.

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