Skip to main content

Can you really steal a free book? Empty libraries get refilled

Instead of the 'Take one, leave one' approach to Little Free Libraries, some people take them all and leave nothing.

The whole idea behind Little Free Libraries is to give away books.

But the underlying principle is "Take one, leave one." It's not "take all of them and leave nothing behind for anyone else."

Sometimes that's what happens, though. Especially in St. Paul over the past few months.

The Pioneer Press had an article this week featuring a couple – Bethany Gladhill and Patrick Rhone – who said theirs had been cleaned out a dozen times and they'd finally decided to just shut the library down for awhile.

The newspaper found it was not an isolated case and that people in several neighborhoods had commiserated online about thieves emptying Little Free Libraries.

But as the story spread, a funny thing happened. The book lovers who operate the libraries rallied around Gladhill and Rhone, bringing them a new supply of books. By Wednesday afternoon their library was lending again and the Pioneer Press had added a postscript to its story.

Where'd these things come from?

A Hudson man named Todd Bol is credited with starting the Little Free Library movement by building a model of a schoolhouse as a memorial to his mother, stocking it, and putting out a "Free Books" sign.

The idea caught on. Since 2009 the number has grown to nearly 10,000 and they're now in 48 countries, organizers say.

What's with taking them all?

It seems a long shot that the take 'em all approach to Little Free Libraries comes from people yearning to read the 20 or 30 books that typically populate one.

More likely they plan to sell them at used book stores. The Library folks know this, though, and have shared some strategies to limit it.

Using a stamp to mark the inside cover or first page as a Free Library book is enough to cause most bookstores to reject those books.

The Little Free Library Foundation has a design that can be downloaded and reads "Always a gift, never for sale."

A spokeswoman for the Half Price Books chain told the Pioneer Press theft from Little Free Libraries is "definitely something we know about," adding "We do not buy those books."

Next Up

Crisp & Green

Crisp & Green opening 13th store in Twin Cities in July

The fast-casual salad and grains restaurant has exploded onto the food scene.

FLickr - Target Field 2019 - mark grabe

Twins to host post-game concert with country star at Target Field

Country singer Cole Swindell is expected to perform for up to 75 minutes after the conclusion of the Blue Jays-Twins contest.


Canton Restaurant closes after nearly 40 years in Burnsville

It's the end of an era in the Twin Cities restaurant world.

Screen Shot 2022-06-27 at 12.47.20 PM

Luck strikes in Minnesota: lottery winners in Duluth, Grand Marais

The North Shore just so happened to be a lucky place to be this past weekend.


Minnesota's COVID-19 update for Monday, June 27

BA.5 is expected to become the dominant subvariant in Minnesota.

police lights squad car

60-year-old woman arrested after firing shots inside Spicer home

SWAT evacuated nearby residents during the incident.

Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line booked to play at the Minnesota State Fair

The band is the second country music act to be booked this year.


First case of monkeypox confirmed in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Health says the risk to the public is "considered low" at this time.

lightning, storm

Isolated severe weather in Minnesota on Tuesday and Wednesday

Definitely not a slam dunk either day, but the chance is there.


Driver ejected in fatal crash on Shepard Road in St. Paul

The driver of a Dodge Ram was ejected and died at the scene.


Unhappy with the election? Here are 5 things you can do about it

Instead of moving to Canada or sleeping for the next four years, there are lots of things you can do to channel the post-election blues into something productive.

Looking for a book? Google now tells you if it's at your library as an ebook

The new feature works with public library ebook systems.

Minneapolis cops build Little Free Libraries – and keep a couple in squad cars

Minneapolis officers will have Little Free Libraries in squad cars.

As drought and famine get worse in Africa, a MN group tries to help

Drought in the Horn of Africa means livestock are dying and crops aren't growing.

Winners! MN group behind America's first domestic violence shelter gets prize

Women's Advocates gets $64,000 from the Opus Foundation for winning the online vote

Winners! MN group behind America's first domestic violence shelter gets prize

Women's Advocates gets $64,000 from the Opus Foundation for winning the online vote

Here's how you can use all those empty gift boxes to do something good

It's a win-win all around: Do some good, declutter your house, and avoid creating more trash.