SHREVEPORT-BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - Stacks of books have popped up on front steps and sidewalks around Shreveport's Highland neighborhood in a show of solidarity with the operators of a local Little Free Library shut down by a zoning violation.
The movement is in support of the Highland neighborhood couple who received a cease and desist letter from the city last week advising them that the tiny library was in violation of local zoning law, calling the free book swap program a commercial business in a residential area.
Since the city "threw the book" at the Little Free Library in the 500 block of Wilkinson, some people have set up books along their sidewalks. Those participating in setting up their own "free libraries" say they're not necessarily doing it as a protest, but rather to show support.
The little libraries have been popping up all over the world, the result of an international movement to make reading easier for everyone.
Shreveport City Councilman Jeff Everson has since met up with the MPC and says he plans to look at how other cities have handled similar situations involving the libraries.
In an interview with KSLA News 12 on Friday, Everson said "If we need to make a change to our ordinance, if there is something that we need to do, then I am happy to push through to city council."
According to the Little Free Library website, two libraries are registered for the Shreveport area and one in Bossier City. However, there are several that exist in the Shreveport-Bossier area that are not registered on the site.
As for the single anonymous complaint that led to the closing of the library, Everson says, "If there are people that have a concerns about them this is their opportunity to have those addressed so that we don't see those in the future."
A group in support of the Little Free Libraries has started an online petition calling for the MPC to overturn and eliminate citations to Little Free Libraries based on zoning code of ordinances 106-236. The group says that trading and/or borrowing books does not generate income and asks for people to sign and show their support. The group also says "the day we cannot help and teach our community through good deeds is the day we fall further apart as a society."
So far, the petition has over 1,000 signatures.
On Saturday, Lea Desmarteau, Chair of Shreveport's MPC, took to social media to issue the following statement via Facebook:
"Regarding Little Free libraries (LFL) - As board Chair of the Shreveport's MPC, I want to ensure our citizens of this fine city that the MPC Board immediately started and continues to address the issue with our current zoning ordinances and the placement of LFL's. MPC stands united that LFL is a great movement for our community. The MPC Executive Director, Mark Sweeney, and I have directed our staff to research other cities that have LFL to assess modifications of our current ordinances to allow Mr. and Mrs. Edgerton's LFL, and others, to exist. I kindly ask that you bear with us as we go forward with a timely solution.
Our current zoning ordinances are antiquated therefore, unfortunately lead to these types of situations. However, there is a silver lining. The MPC is in the process of massive rewrite of these antiquated codes and ordinances. This has not been done since 1953! We are aiming to have The Unified Development Code completed by the end of the year, then it would need to be ratified by city council and parish commission. In the meantime, MPC will hold several meetings for public input. I will be posting the schedules dates. I truly appreciate everyone's involvement and passion for community initiatives, like LFL, and will expect that you all will show up for our UDC public forums. Your voice is needed and valued!"
On Sunday, Desmarteau told KSLA News 12, "I'm encouraged to see passion. All I can say is yes we would like to be able to look at re-opening the library and getting the ordinances set and people can be in compliance so more can open."
City of Shreveport ordinance section code 106-236 states: R-1A, R-1B, R-1C, R-1D and R-1H districts generally. These districts are composed mainly of areas containing one-family dwellings on large building sites and open areas where similar suburban residential development seems likely to occur. In the urban, one-family detached residence districts, few two-family and multifamily dwellings are found, in spite of their more urban location. The district regulations are designed to protect the residential character of the areas by prohibiting all commercial activities; to encourage a suitable environment for family life by including among the permitted uses such facilities as schools and churches; and to preserve the openness of the areas by requiring certain minimum yard and area standards to be met.
According to the Bossier Metropolitan Planning Commission, there have not been any issues with the Little Free Libraries in their city. However, they say they are looking into adjusting their zoning code, just in case.