When it comes to getting people interested in reading, the Little Free Library is a great idea, as we’ve reported here a number of times before. But sometimes even Little Free Libraries can run into a tragedy of the commons. BookRiot and Melville House report that some people in different places have come out to find their Little Free Libraries entirely cleaned out—every single book taken by some unseen thief.
Of course, you can wax philosophical about the issue. If a book is free, can it truly be “stolen”? In a sense, no—if the person taking it actually means to read it. But someone who comes along and cleans out twenty or thirty titles probably doesn’t mean to read them all. They probably mean to get their jollies by making sure nobody else can get any books. It’s like what happened to that hitchhiking robot in Philadelphia a couple of days ago—some people like to destroy things rather than build them up.
(Of course, there are people out there who are so book-hungry they’ll take anything they can get, but the odds are pretty good that they’re in the minority compared to the jerks.)
But on the other hand, this kind of malfeasance can usually be relied on to stir up the community. After all, the vast majority of people are good. If they see a little free library as a community resource, and someone vandalizes it, they’ll step up to help out.
BookRiot has some good tips for helping keep Little Free Libraries safe. They include putting fliers inside to explain to people what they’re about, stamping each book with a “this book is free!” notice to try to prevent people from selling them to used bookstores, and letting the community know if you’re being ripped off.
And I would add, don’t give up—you’re doing something good in the world, making books available to people for free. Don’t let the jerks get you down.