Rebel with a Little Cause

Who Knew a Little Free Library was a No-No?

Rebel with a Little Cause

I’ve been working hard to adjust to life in Reno. It’s a far cry from NYC, Las Vegas, and Berkeley, but I’ve been doing pretty well. Sadly, however, things took a turn for the worse last week, no thanks to a letter from the neighborhood homeowners’ association. Now, I’m a rebel with a little cause.

It all started when I suggested we erect a Little Free Library in our little gated community. You’re probably aware of Little Free Libraries, but on the oft chance you’re not, here’s a bit of background:

The first Little Free Library was built in Wisconsin in 2009 to promote reading and literacy. Since then, the movement has taken off faster than a new Tom Clancy thriller on the bestseller charts. There are now more than 90,000 public book exchanges registered with this non-profit organization in 91 countries. Each year millions of books are exchanged. The organization has been honored by the National Book Foundation and the Library of Congress.

This is the first (and last) time I’ve ever lived in a gated community. I already knew the rules are strict. In the Fall, we wanted to add a few shrubs and flowers to our front yard. We had to submit detailed plans with a drawing, a form, and pay $500 for the review process because you CAN NOT make any modifications to the front of your property without getting approval of the HOA — which, while it officially stands for homeowners’ association, could just as easily stand for Head of Everything, since the organization governors everything from exterior paint colors, landscaping, parking, and as I’m now learning, even benign well-intentioned community initiatives like Little Free Libraries.

A Rebel with a Little Cause is Born

Knowing all this, I followed “proper channels.” I submitted the suggestion to the HOA, even offering to place the little bitty structure on our property — if that was preferable to a common area, such as the cluster of community mailboxes. I also offered to purchase/build the library and maintain it.

Time passed and then, BAM! Handsome Hubby and I received a formal letter from the august “president” of the HOA, informing us through a series of numbered points detailing the reasons for the denial, which informally can be summarized as “No,” “No way,” and “Hell, no.”

The specifics, however, are amusing:

1. Unsightly
Now, of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but since the library designs vary, I’m pretty sure we could have come up with one that would have met the aesthetics of the neighborhood. So, “unsightly” as a reason for denial, without reviewing even one design plan, seems more than a tad harsh and dare I say it, subjective. What’s with that?

          Does this look “unsightly” to you?

Merged into bullet point number 1., the board said the “only good place” for the library was along the fire road, where it would “not be very visible,” which the board — in its wisdom — concluded, “would make it difficult for people to use.” I’m confused. How does a “not very visible place” make it a “good place?” What about the idea of near the common mailboxes where there’s plenty of space? Yes, I understand that the library could be vandalized, but since I’d be responsible for its upkeep, that would be my headache.

Moving On

My favorite rejection reason — drumroll please — was the “expert” opinion — and I quote — “Minimal interest in using this library since most people read either electronic books or don’t read at all.”

Well, to the first point — “most people read electronic books” — that’s flat out wrong. According to a recent survey on book consumption and book formats conducted by the Pew Research Center, traditional print is still the most popular reading format for both adults and children.

The Pew survey says:

  • 72% of adults in the United States read a book in some format over the last year
  • 65% of respondents claimed they read a book in the last 12 months
  • 37% of Americans claim they only read print books
  • 28% say they read both print books and e-books
  • 7% say they only read e-books.

And to the claim that “most people don’t read at all …” Ouch! Speak for yourselves, HOA. First, I refer you to the Pew study statistics cited above. And even if your representative was correct, won’t you want to do everything in your power to encourage people to read?

Still, the idea of a neighborhood of non-readers is fascinating. Who knows? Maybe it’s a niche market. Maybe the HOA should, in fact, build an entire market campaign around it and pitch it to realtors.

Welcome to our elegant “little” gated community,
home of non-readers!
If you hate books, buy your next house here!
Don’t want your kids or grandkids to read?
Have we got a neighborhood for you!

Of course, as an aging hippy hippie, I’m appealing the HOA’s decision. But I admit in rough and tumble gambling town, it’s fair to say the house — and the HOA — odds are stacked against me.

Still, I’ll persist. After all, I’m a rebel with a little cause, a Little Free Library cause.

What’s the best that can happen? I win. The neighborhood readers and recycling win. The Little Free Library movement grows. After all, if it was good for the Library of Congress and neighborhoods across the country and world, it should be good for our little gated community.

We could share some books, some chit-chat, maybe start a book club and exchange some ideas. Maybe form some new friendships.

Then what? Some people may want to paint their houses different colors. Plant non-approved flora. Overthrow overly restrictive HOA rules. Anarchy!

And then, who knows? There could be music in the streets. Block parties with DJs! Rock and roll.

Yes, THIS is what happens when you let people who read books move into your gated community!

📚 📚 📚

Credit to Amanda B. for the title of this week’s blog title, “Rebel with a Little Cause.” Credit to Amanda also for her abundant love, good humor, and hospitality. She is the best “almost” niece I’ve ever had/have.

4 replies
  1. Ellen Van Winkle
    Ellen Van Winkle says:

    So sad. We have one and yes, people, young and old, do read. Books come and go. Our neighbors like it. So very glad we don’t have to deal with HOA pettiness.

  2. Judy Keele
    Judy Keele says:

    First-I hope you’re sending personally addressed copies of this marvelous blog to each member of the HOA board. Next – I think you turn this “little Cause” into a big deal editorial in the RGJ, and finally – I am happy to join you as we canvas your gated community leaving a copy of this blog on every door! I’m thinking you might find a few “NEW Reno FRIENDS” who are lovely REBELS – just like you!


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