Thieves target Little Free Libraries on residential streets in North York

Locals unsure how to prevent the pilfering from reoccurring


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Local resident Michelle Flax set up her Little Free Library (LFL), a rustic wooden box housing used books for free perusal, three years ago on her front lawn around York Mills Road and Leslie Street. Since then, she’s enjoyed being able to share great works of literature with her neighbours. But recently, she’s found those books pilfered overnight. 

“Over the past three or four months, the little library has been completely emptied,” said Flax. “This has happened about five or six times. Somebody just put new books in a few weeks ago, and it got emptied again. It didn’t happen before.” 

The Little Free Library, a non-profit organization based out of Wisconsin, sells library kits, which cost from $90 to over $1,000, as well as a range of accessories for community-minded book lovers (known as “stewards” in LFL parlance). For the most part, these libraries are set up based on an honour system: neighbours unload used books, and people can take a book to read, return it or replace it.

However, book thieves taking all the books at once, though uncommon, isn’t unheard of. 

Sean Evans, an LFL steward, noticed a change when he moved and relocated his library from his old house, on Christie Street and St. Clair Avenue West, just a few streets east to Avenue Road. 

“In our [old] neighbourhood, we rarely had a completely empty library,” said Evans. “There was always a good flow. But there have been many times in the past year that I will come out and it will be empty.

Why, I can’t hazard a guess or speculate. But they do disappear.” 

Toronto has more than 50 LFLs, according to a map on the official LFL website. 

Margret Aldrich, the author of The Little Free Library Book and marketing specialist at the LFL, recommends stamping the book to let people know where it came from. She also suggested alerting all local used bookstores where a book thief might try to resell them and enlisting neighbours to keep an eye out for suspicious activity around the libraries. 

Terry Grogan, manager of BMV Books, a used book store at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue, said employees do try to watch out for suspicious sellers. 

However, Grogan noted that, whereas stamping the first page of a book might help, there may not be a foolproof way to safeguard used books from theft. 

“Once you put it out there, you don’t get to pick and choose who gets to take the books, right?” 

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