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."

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