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Ellisville updates legislation to regulate ‘little libraries’

An example of an outdoor book exchange box, or a “little library.”

On March 15, the Ellisville City Council passed, on a 5-2 vote, a bill updating city regulations regarding outdoor book exchange boxes, otherwise known as “little libraries.” The boxes are exterior accessory structures that advocate the sharing and swapping of books and other reading materials among neighbors.

The upgraded legislation states that all outdoor libraries cannot impede pedestrian circulation, cannot obstruct visibility at intersections and are limited in size to a maximum height of 6 feet 6 inches and a maximum width and depth of 3 feet.

“They’re all customized,” said Ada Hood, director of Planning and Community Development. “Some of them look like little houses or dollhouses. I’ve seen one that also looks like an old phone booth.”

In terms of location, any and all exchange boxes must be located a minimum of 5 feet from any property line and will not be permitted in the public right-of-way or on any public property unless placed there by the property’s owner. In addition, each library also must be constructed in such a way that the contents are protected from the elements. Each library would have to comply with the city’s property maintenance code and protocol in regard to accessory structures on private properties.

“[The boxes] have to be in good condition,” Hood said. “The covering has to be in good condition. If it’s stained, the stain needs to be in good condition. The paint needs to be in good condition.”

In addition to feedback regarding the library size and maintenance, concerns about traffic and upkeep also were posed by some councilmembers.

“I think it impedes traffic, and you might have shoddy structures built all over the city, and we have a great library in the middle of our city,” Mayor Adam Paul said. “I think it’s cute and a great idea, but I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to have some weird structures.”

Other members on the council saw the libraries as an opportunity for community bonding, especially in neighborhoods.

“I think the way these little libraries are set up is to work in small communities,” Councilmember Mick Cahill [District 2] said.  “So in some neighborhoods, you’ll have this set up so it’ll just be neighbors sharing books with each other.”

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