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A Little Free Library could end up costing Southminster United Methodist Church up to $500 in city fines.

Neighbors installed the "take one, leave one" little library on the southwest corner of 16th and Otoe streets two weeks ago, and the city wants it moved.

While the library itself doesn't violate any code, Public Works Director Miki Esposito said its location — between the sidewalk and Otoe Street — violates a rule requiring property owners to keep the public right of way cleared.

“(The city) uses that area for snow storage in the winter, light poles, mailboxes, things like that," Esposito said. "And I imagine these little libraries are meant to congregate people like a water cooler, but we don’t want people hanging around near the road by the curb.”

A public works employee inspected the library and wrote a letter to the church June 30 detailing why the library must be moved, giving July 10, Thursday, as a deadline.

Barbara Arendt, head of the Indian Village Neighborhood Association, coordinated the library project and said she was shocked by the letter.

This isn't the first little library built in a Lincoln right of way, she said. While doing research for the Southminster library, she visited most of the 25 Little Free Libraries she knows of in town and found that a good number had been built between the sidewalk and street.

At Southminster, putting the library in the right of way kept it away from the church’s sprinkler system and in plain sight for neighbors, Arendt said.

“The more we thought about it, the more the public right of way area made sense,” Arendt said. “It’s public right of way, it’s a public library, to me it sounds like it goes together. But the city disagrees.”

Arendt contends the library is no more dangerous than a light pole or utility box. She also questions why moving this library is a priority.

"I live across the street from an abandoned home, which the city knows about," she said. "It’s on their list, and I’m on them continuously about it. There are raccoons, paint falling off 25 percent of the house. It’s in violation of a bunch of codes, and yet it still stands there, rotting away."

Little Free Libraries are gaining popularity around the country. The website littlefreelibrary.org lists a dozen of them in Lincoln, but other sites list more than twice that number.

This is the first Little Free Library to be put on notice here. In Leawood, Kansas, this week, a 9-year-old boy who was forced to remove his little library from his front yard was allowed to put it back after arguing his case in front of the city council.

Esposito said she and Arendt have talked about relocating the Southminster library. It probably won't be moved by Thursday, Esposito said, but she is working with Arendt to delay the fine for a week or two.

“It would set not a very good precedent with allowing (little libraries) to be in the public right of way,” Esposito said. “They’re a really cool idea, and we don’t want to discourage it, but we just want it off the right of way.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or cheady@journalstar.com.

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