In the course of one week, someone, or maybe more than one, has cleaned out the Little Free Libraries of several neighborhoods, leaving empty shelves for the next bookworm who happens past.
No less than 50 of the Little Free Libraries have sprung up in Lincoln, but this is the first rash of thefts from them reported.
Some libraries, often fancy boxes on posts, offer dozens of books, but others offer more. All have one thing in common – the books are free to readers. Take a book, or maybe two or three, possibly a young adult novel, but also bring one to share.
It’s in the spirit of community sharing, so it doesn’t mean take all of the books from one library, and also from that one, and also from another one clear across town.
Megan Ockander of 1620 SW 26th St. noticed her little library needed a bit of restocking for aesthetic reasons and planned to take care of it when she returned from a swim.
Since May, she’s kept an inventory of 40 books on two shelves, separating them into children, young adult and adult sections.
Returning refreshed from the pool after three hours, she noticed that more than half of her books were missing.
There have been times in the past when a few have disappeared and without a replacement, Ockander said, but this was clearly theft.
“It was obvious people had taken more than they could reasonably read,” she said.
And while she was the first of the city's library stewards to notice, her alert sounded familiar to others.
Since Tuesday, books have disappeared from six of Lincoln’s Little Free Libraries. Surprisingly, Ockander said Sunday, the thieves targeted various areas around Lincoln.
Some handmade bookmarks Ockander had placed inside her Little Free Library also went missing. She worries the bookmarks may provided addresses that led to other thefts.
Without more evidence, such as video footage, there is little the Lincoln Police Department can do to, Capt. Danny Reitan said Sunday.
“Books, generally, unless they’re marked in some fashion, are difficult to trace,” he said. “Unless someone sees it happen, we’re kind of hard-pressed to make any clearance on it.”
Affected communities have looked to their own for a solution, and some, said Lacey Losh, another steward of a Little Free Library, now have more replacement books than they can handle.
“For a lot of us, we’re very community-minded. We’re really doing this on the honor system,” Losh said. “The worry is if folks come and take the books on a consistent basis, suddenly we’re going to run out in our personal collections.”
For added security, Losh said, some stewards have considered placing libraries closer to street lights or adding a battery-automated LED light inside them. As an added benefit, she said, patrons could better view the books at night.
Ockander, on the other hand, will begin stamping her books with their location of origin. For her library, that’s “Westside Story.”
Her recommendation to others is to keep a closer eye on their libraries.
“It really does steal the next person’s experience,” Losh said. “The next person is either going to have few choices or no choices at all.”