Steward Maria Gallegos loves and daily cares for her cute, little-red-schoolhouse-themed Little Free Library. It was a big hit in her small town of Dillon, Montana.
When her neighbors informed her that the Library had been vandalized, with threatening words scrawled in pink lipstick on the front window and a broken bottle left inside, Maria was disheartened. Why would someone damage a Little Free Library?
We’ve found that, in nearly every case, the culprits are kids or teenagers with a little too much youthful energy, misdirected at Little Libraries out of boredom or convenience. Occasionally it’s a random person, drunk or otherwise intoxicated, just passing by who lashes out at the nearest object. In one exceptional case, Mother Nature herself struck a Library covered in keys and wound up burning it to the ground.
In Maria’s case, two local teenage girls were responsible for the vandalism. After a brief call to the police, Maria decided she’d prefer to work it out privately with the girls’ families. The girls were reprimanded by their parents and worked off their debt by scrubbing down the Library and raking leaves in Maria’s lawn one afternoon.
“Dillon is a small town where news travels fast. I have had many people approach me with words of support and sympathy. One neighbor even came over while the girls were out working and told me how pleased he was that we lived in a rural area that still supported such punishment for juvenile behavior. I know that a lot of eyes will be watching out for the well being of a tiny library,” Maria happily reported.
Does everyone always follow that simple rule of exchange? No. It took me a while, but I soon realized that the whole idea behind my LFL is to share my love of reading, not police those that choose to not read the very visible sign posted on the door on my Library: Take a Book, Leave a Book.”
We asked Maria what advice she could offer to other stewards who have had similar experiences with vandalism or theft. She warned that her approach may not work for everyone, but that it has been highly successful for her. Here is what she advised:
- I have made my Library as public as I can. A large article about my Library was published in our local paper and I visit local organizations, clubs, and schools. Every spring I lead classes to and from my Library on “ book exchange field trips.” I send out fliers to parents just before school lets out for the summer, informing them of the Library, its location and its purpose.
- I am often outside when people visit my Library. I make it a point to approach them. I introduce myself and happily share my enthusiasm for reading, and welcome those that visit, whether it is their first stop, or their 100th.
- Our local police officers have children who exchange books, and those same officers keep an eye on it. I often see them looking it over carefully as they slowly drive by in their police car…and I exchange a smile and a wave with them. Not only is my little red schoolhouse Library very visible, I try to be, as well!
- After my Library was vandalized, I did (angrily) consider installing a ‘candid camera’ to monitor patron and vandal activity…but I am not convinced that is the right answer. I can always remove the Library completely. A sad thought, but a possible and simple solution.
“If all of my patrons helped themselves and did not leave a book in return, I would soon simply not have a Library at all,” said Maria. “Does everyone always follow that simple rule of exchange? No. Do I expect everyone to? No, although initially I did. It took me a while, but I soon realized that the whole idea behind my LFL is to share my love of reading, not police those that choose to not read the very visible sign posted on the door on my Library: Free Book Exchange, Take a Book, Leave a Book.”
“There are those that take books and do not ever leave any. On the other hand, I have patrons that drop off entire boxes of lovely books, and never take any in exchange. I think it all evens out in the long run…I built my LFL because I love the heft, and feel, and smell of ink and paper between my fingers and the amazing adventures I take without ever having to leave home… I hope to offer this same amazing thrill to all who have or who wish to cultivate a love of reading,” Maria concluded.