Mini-library in Hintonburg must come down after bylaw complaint

A little library in Hintonburg has been threatened with closure as early as Sept. 16 in response to a complaint.

Officials ordered homeowner to remove outdoor book boxes by Sept. 16

Mimi Golding's Little Free Libraries must move after the City of Ottawa bylaw department received a complaint. (CBC)

Inside Mimi Golding's outdoor mini-library is a book called The Practice of Sociotherapy, which is the study of human enrichment. But one person's enrichment appears to be another's eyesore.

Golding said city of Ottawa by-law officials have ordered her to remove the outdoor book boxes in front of her Hintonburg home at the corner of Oxford Street at Pinehurst Avenue after they received a complaint.

She said it was discouraging to get the notice.

Mimi Golding started her first free library box four years ago and has added three more as demand grew. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)
"Deep sadness, just deep sadness and this made me not want to leave the house," said Golding. "You lose your sense of community you start feeling why bother and why are we here,  you just want to pack up and go." 

Golding and her husband Tim installed the first of their wooden boxes on the edge of their lawn four years ago and they've added a new box every year to keep up with demand.  

The half metre wide boxes are built on wooden stilts and the door is a window containing the books inside. They now have three boxes for adult books and one for children — what she calls The Littles Library.

Golding said the bylaw infraction pointed specifically to the library being on city property, though she was also asked to trim her overgrown lawn and to tidy up the bikes strewn in the yard.

Little free libraries movement

Their initiative is part of the Little Free Library movement begun in 2009 in the United States when Wisconsin man Todd Bol built a wooden replica of a one room school house to honour his teacher mother. Bol mounted it on a post on his lawn and his book exchange began.

There are 40,000 similar book exchanges around the world that promote curbside literacy and 19 of them registered in Ottawa. The idea is simple: you take a book or deposit a book without fees, fines for a late return on a book. 

Golding says while the boxes might be on the city's right of way she did ensure when they were installed that they didn't block pedestrians or impede snow ploughs.

A notice placed on one of the little libraries in front of Mimi Golding's home warns community members that the city had received a complaint about the wooden box. (Laurie Fagan/CBC)

She quickly adds that with four daycare centres in the neighbourhood and a lot of seniors so there is a big demand for the books. She says different genres are popular depending on the time of year.  "Bodice rippers are popular in summer and more cerebral (books) in the winter," said Golding.

"It's very interesting to hear people chatter about it or watching people walk away with books," said Golding. "It gives you the warm and fuzzies to think that you're doing something small by volunteering in the community."

Library as community builder

In Centretown, Ariel Troster put up her wooden mini-library box two weeks ago.  She knew about the Little Free Library movement and thought it would be fun for her four year old daughter.

Troster is concerned her pole mounted box may infringe on city property but adds the neighbours love it  She is flabbergasted a neighbour would complain.

"I think that's ridiculous. I can't imagine anything harmful about a free book box and  I really can't imagine the type of person who would object to people sharing books — it's become such a community builder already," said Troster.

"When neighbours saw us putting it up they got excited and my daughter likes to wake up every morning to see if there are any new children's books." 

Risky to use city property without asking, says councillor

Kitchissippi councilor Jeff Leiper, who represents the Goldings, says he got a great book from their service earlier this summer. 

"Technically they are in the city's right of way and it's always risky to put something on the city property without asking for permission," said Leiper.

"When it's on city property it is vulnerable to complaint. We should find some way of normalizing these little libraries and I think it might be time to take a look at how we can ensure that if they're on a city right of way at the end of your front lawn that you're doing it in a legal way." 

Leiper says perhaps the city could issue the Goldings's an encroachment permit to ensure that the little library can stay in the spot it's on now. 

The notice to the Golding's says the library must be removed by Sept. 16 or the city will take it down and bill them for the cost of removal.