Gretchen Schuldt

Books Aren’t Banned Here

Little free libraries are welcome in Milwaukee -- unlike in Whitefish Bay.

By , Wisconsin Justice Initiative - Nov 20th, 2012 10:00 am
Little Free Library in Story Hill.  Photo by Gretchen Schuldt.

Little Free Library in Story Hill. Photo by Gretchen Schuldt.

Score another reason to live in the city: little free libraries are welcome.

Essentially banned in Whitefish Bay (they are legal in back yards, but not in front yards), little free libraries remain unfettered purveyors of literacy and community in Milwaukee.

And that isn’t going to change soon.

“At this point in time, the mayor has no interest in regulating or prohibiting,” Patrick Curley, Mayor Tom Barrett’s chief of staff, assures us via email.

“I would probably hold the very same viewpoint,” says Ald. Jim Bohl, chairman of the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. Bohl would not favor regulating little free libraries unless they became a “problem in some way, shape or form.” And the alderman has heard no such rumblings.

Little free libraries are weatherproofed boxes that provide a place for neighbors or passersby to exchange books. The official little free library mission, according to is to:

  • Promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
  • Build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity, and wisdom across generations
  • Build more than 2,510 libraries around the world – more than Andrew Carnegie–and then more.

Bohl says both he and the Department of Public Works both support a neighborhood group’s proposal to put a little free library in Hartung Park near N. Menomonee Parkway and W. Keefe Ave. The park is in Bohl’s district.

Curley notes there are a number of little free libraries in Washington Heights, “the neighborhood Mayor Barrett and the City Librarian Paula Kiely call home.”

Little free libraries “have not shown up in our complaints” and have not presented problems, says Todd Weiler, spokesman for the Department of Neighborhood Services. If a little free library does become problematic, DNS has tools to deal with it, he adds.

“The key to making the little libraries a success is having someone personally responsible for maintaining each one,” Kiely explains. “That’s why having them on personal property is actually preferred.”


5 thoughts on “Books Aren’t Banned Here”

  1. Mr. Michael Horne says:

    I have one on my street, in the 1600 block of N. Marshall Street, installed by neighbors at their home in honor of their late son. Somehow, it keeps filling up with children’s books, and the kids are on to it.
    There is another in the 1100 block of E Kane Place, at the entrance to Kane Commons. Both are operating without incident, replenish naturally, and are a source of community.
    The prohibition of the libraries also shows us that suburbia is a matter of mentality as well as geography since Whitefish Bay is a fully-sidewalked (99 miles!), gridded, urban community.

  2. Edith Wagner says:

    Badgers! See the Winter 2012 (page 32)
    On Wisconsin alumni magazine. Great story about Little Libraries in Madison.
    I’ve not seen one in Riverwest. Perhaps it’s because I’ve not done it. I’m thinking! I’m thinking!

  3. tom williams says:

    As a Whitefish Bay resident, all I can do is shake my head in shame and embarassment. This is but one more symbol of the village’s lack of creativity and, despite our conservative and thus one might think, pro business attitude, one more example of how we do all we can to maintain a past that never was for a future that will never be. Study the history of the rebuilding of the Bay Shore Mall and how the Village did all it could to stop that. Consider how the shopping area on Silver Spring continues to struggle while other suburban strips prosper and ask why in a middle to upper middle class area there is but one restaurant of any mention. No, we dare not allow little libraries for what if people started reading and thinking about how life might be more interesting? Nah we crave dull silence. peace yw

  4. Mr. Michael Horne says:

    You’re right, Mr. Williams. And for a town full of Catholics, it is damned hard to find a place to drink. Got to travel all the way up to the Town Club in Fox Point. ‘Twas not ever thus.

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