What The F is the Matter With People?

burned library

There’s been some terrible shit happening these last few weeks, and though it’s no secret I love Little Free Libraries, I realize this is not on par with the other awfulness we’ve seen but we can’t deny there are serious issues unresolved. Serious issues. A reader reports:

“Little free library set on fire right next to the North Columbia Heights Community Garden in the alley between Park, Sherman, Lamont, and 11th.”

Update from another reader:

“I reported the arson to the MPD this morning. Two very nice officers came and informally looked at the damage. However, they didn’t take a formal report because I don’t own/run the Little Free Library. They said they would take a formal report from whomever owns/runs the library. I’m not sure who that would be. Maybe a PoPville reader knows?”

Another follow-up: I want to commend the MPD and the six officers that came by and investigated the burnt library this evening. One of the officers also took statements from me and one of my neighbors. They’re trying to contact the community organizations in charge of the Little Free Libraries.”

97 Comment

  • WTF is wrong with people?

  • The Hyatt Hotel (downtown DC near 9th & G) had a free library located in its lobby for eons and now its no more..sad to see it gone.

  • samanda_bynes

    i’m all for tiny acts of chaos in the city (like, the residents who had a buddha placed on their porch, or a gnome stolen one night and returned elsewhere the next), but this makes me so sad. LFLs are adorable and just signs of a community.

  • I am sure that someone sees these as a symbol of gentrification….

      • Absolutely. I used to date a black girl whose family criticized her for reading. They saw it as a white activity and you’re selling out if you do it. And let’s admit it– these LFLs are a sign of privilege. Someone has to have extra time and money to build and manage one.

        • How are Little Free Libraries a sign of privilege? I don’t think this is any systemic expression of rage- probably just some bored teenagers causing mischief.

        • That is the craziest thing I’ve read/heard; about your ex GF’s family criticizing her for reading. As for LFL being a sign of privilege, I see it as a sign of a neighborhood gentrifying. Ironically,I don’t think we would see this in poorer neighborhoods not so much because people don’t have the extra time or the money to build and manage but because they’d be afraid it would get vandalized.

          • Yep, vandalize something meant to inclusively provide resources to better all in the neighborhood…great job, your parents should be proud!

          • Plus the poorer neighborhoods are usually less walkable. You need a dense walkable neighborhood for Little Free Libraries to work.

        • ugh, please don’t take Jill’s account about her black ex’s family has authoritative on how Black people view books. a non-black persons view into one black perspective is not gospel or good research

          • Yes, I have white family members who mock me for going to a “fancy school”. I went to state college. Ignorance knows no color.

          • i hope my white ex boyfriend isn’t going around using me as a baseline for all of his interactions with and thoughts on black people, that would be a damn mess. (white privilege prevents us from judging all of y’all based off one crazy ex or their family… you see how this works now?)

          • I don’t think Jill thinks it’s authoritative — just an anecdote to support BlueStreak’s contention that some people think this way.
            If I remember correctly, Michelle Obama has given at least one speech that urged disadvantaged black students not to perceive succeeding in school as a “white thing.”

          • Anecdotes used to support any argument are dangerous. They can be used to prove LITERALLY anything. i would argue that DC natives (even the poorest among us) have more respect for free knowledge and resources than most people in the country. Why didn’t we assume what we would have assumed had we lived in the suburbs? Some dumb kid had some leftover fireworks and was like, this looks fun to blow up, and they did. Why the heck does this have to be a friggin’ black/anti-gentrifying thing. Kids are dumb and reckless everywhere. My gosh! You guys are so offensive and will defend it until your dying breath.

          • I should add… I don’t remember if those were her exact words. It might have been something more like her countering the perception that success in school means that someone is not authentically black.

          • HaileUnlikely

            caphillnative: I agree with you insofar as I don’t even see how anybody took this to the level of being some sort of symbolic attack on reading.
            That said, I think the value of personal anecdotes is to illustrate that something exists at all as opposed to does not exist, not that something is common or universal. Anybody who takes “I know somebody who believes X” as a statement that “most people believe X” or “all people believe X” seems to have trouble with thinking.

          • @caphillnative: In other words, Occam’s Razor. I agree that this probably was a not a political act, but stupid teenagers being stupid.

          • Oh man, I didn’t mean for that to be a blanket statement at all. I was just confirming that some people associate reading with gentrification and consider it evil. It’s a small subset of people for sure (and the mindset may be more common in rural areas like where my ex grew up) but it only takes one person to do something like this.
            On the other hand, caphillnative’s firework theory sounds plausible too. From a callous teenager’s perspective these do look like fun things to blow up.

        • I’m white and my family discouraged me from reading to the point that my library card was once confiscated.

          I hope my exes of various races aren’t going around the internet talking about how white people don’t value reading because my parents are outliers. Goodness.

        • “I used to date a black girl” – uh, ok. There’s so much wrong with your comment that I don’t know where to begin. Clearly white folks everywhere are erudite and scholarly (hello, Trump voters)? How about chalking this up to your average teenage kid who thinks it’s funny to stir it up rather than making this some ridiculously sweeping commentary on race and class.

        • For some reason, PoP moderated away my comment yesterday stating that black women were in fact the most literate demographic, here is a link to the Pew study backing it: http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/01/16/a-snapshot-of-reading-in-america-in-2013/

        • Let’s stop. She was from a dysfunctional home that happened to be black. There are plenty like them in the hills of West Virginia.

          It has nothing to do with gentrification. It has everything to do with asshole teenagers.

      • HaileUnlikely

        I think this is probably run-of-the-mill anti-gentrifier vandalism, but I wouldn’t read too much into it being a “library” or an attack on reading.
        I basically agree that the Little Free Libraries are a symbol of gentrification. DC has lots of big free libraries, i.e., all of the branches of the DC Public Library, which are also free and contain more books and better books than most of these curbside “libraries.”

        • So… since there are DC libraries, it’s ok to burn LFLs because their books are bad ?

          • I seriously doubt HaileUnlikely thinks that burning LFLs is OK. He’s just pointing out that they’re an “icing on the cake” kind of phenomenon — we’re not in a book desert.

          • HaileUnlikely

            Holy f* that was one impressive leap from what I said to what you are inquiring whether I meant.

        • Yeah, but you can be walking down the street and get a free book right there, that’s pretty cool. And you can take it home and keep it forever if you want. Sometimes gentrifiers bring cool stuff with them; I don’t see why there has to be rage and destruction directed at things that are positive for the community.

          • HaileUnlikely

            I don’t see why there “has to be,” either, but I don’t have a whole lot of difficulty imagining why there might be nonetheless.

    • Yes. Trees also.

    • FWIW, there was a Little Free Library near Washington-Lee HS in Arlington that was vandalized about a year ago – it was really sad to be walking through all the strewn pages.

      I note this anecdote to illustrate that this sort of stuff happens in non-gentrifying communities with lots of million+ dollar homes as well. Sometimes being an asshole is just…being an asshole.

      • +1
        It would be great if we could view individual acts of assholery as the acts of individual assholes, as opposed to some larger statement on race/class/poverty/privilege etc.

      • Arlington has some of the poorest people in the region. They’re just crammed ten to an apartment alongside the million+ dollar homes.

    • I didn’t mean reading. LFL are not things you see in bad neighborhoods. They pop up when 1) people have free time and money to do this and 2) think where they live is nice enough that they won’t be destroyed.
      I certainly didn’t mean to unleash any bigoted tropes about certain groups not liking reading.
      I was just saying you are much more likely to see these in gentrified neighborhoods.

  • Heartbreaking. Not just because someone put a lot of love into building and curating this LFL, but also because the vandalism is the product of someone who grew up in an environment where books weren’t appreciated.

  • NH Ave Hiker

    I hate how so many people in this city have a DGAF attitude.

  • It really feels like the entire country is on the verge of coming unhinged. I have very uneasy feelings, not just for DC but all the U.S. Actions like this only further my assertion that there’s some seriously bad juju out there. Shame on whoever did this.

    • When was America “hinged”? When some subset of today’s problems were being ignored, presumably.

    • SusanRH

      I couldn’t agree more. I am pregnant and I am terrified about the world that I am bringing a child into. I just have a very uneasy feeling about the future 🙁

    • i feel like this too. it’s been heavy on my mind the last week, and it seems my feelings only heighten with every passing day.

    • On the verge? Nope…the hinges are off.

    • I completely disagree. The country isn’t unhinged–more people are just aware of problems that have always existed. If anything, we should be hopeful that better information will enable us to find solutions to long festering problems.
      This was likely the act of bored kids who wanted to start a fire for kicks, and I doubt that it is any kind of social or political statement.

      • I agree with both statements. +2

      • I want to be hopeful that this time of uncertainty and hard conversations are going to bring people together to find and create solutions….I’m just not sure my faith in humanity is strong enough. However, I do agree that this was most likely just dumb, bored kids acting up, not some sort of meta-statement on our society.

      • Prob used a firecracker given the ample amount leftover from last week. They used to do that to mailboxes back when I was younger, looks the part here. Too much free time for these kids these days out of school.

      • True, it is just in our face more because of technology. 24 hour news channels over hype everything for ratings drilling it into the ground leaving us feel helpless and hopeless and unable to form opinions from our own experiences. There are problems but not as they are being portrayed

      • Agreed with Kenyon Dweller on both counts.

      • Agreeing with Kenyon here. And seriously, the world coming unhinged? I know I tend toward the glass being half full, but I’m a little shocked at the extreme pessimism based on what was most likely a prank by some kids (which I’m not excusing, just saying that it is not indicative of all the evils of the world)

    • Read a history of the 60s and you’ll realize things aren’t bad now*. Whatever protests and riots go on now are pretty mild compared to then. And I’m sure the 60s were no more violent or turbulent than some other periods of our history. The more things change, the more they stay the same…

      *Except at least Congress actually passed legislation then.

    • Unhinged? Based on the vandalism of a some books on a random streetcorner in DC? Let’s all get out for a walk and unplug from the constant barrage of media hype about the world spinning off its axis. Times have been better, for sure. And times have been way worse. Perspective, please.

  • This is why we can’t have nice things.

  • This is Awkward

    Gahhh this is sad and infuriating at once! Particularly bc I know the CoHi Mt Pleasant folks are really using the little libraries – we have one at my yoga studio (Past Tense) and it regularly runs out of books. Hopefully no vandalism comes to our little book repository, in which case, come by and help yourselves (or donate)!

  • Performance art in lieu of actually reading Fahrenheit 451?

  • This is the only way to deal with Danielle Steele books. You have to burn them, or they’ll replicate themselves (asexually, of course) and crowd out all the other books.
    Sad, but necessary.

  • Let’s build them a new one!

  • Somewhere, that dude who wrote the “Open Letter from a Former Columbia Heights Resident” is LOLing.

  • There’s a free little library at one of the community gardens along Columbia, as well. I was visiting the garden once (last year) and the books had all been thrown out of the library and tossed around the garden. I picked up most books so they would not smoosh the plants. But a few had gotten wet from the hose and had to be thrown out. Glad the kids didn’t have fireworks! Still annoyed they tossed them all over the garden..

  • Wait, so the police showed up where something had obviously been destroyed, took note of it, but couldn’t write a report because the owner wasn’t there? Sounds like someone didn’t want to do paperwork.

    Certainly nothing would come of it, but shouldn’t the police department have record of it in case “random shit being set on fire” becomes a common occurrence in the area?

    • +1. It’s pathetic. Would they also refuse to file a report if an abandoned house burned down and it wasn’t clear who the owner was??

  • Some punk kid definitely tossed an M80 in here and ran off. I would have done it too when I was a little 13 year-old sh#thead with a long summer break. This has zero to do with political statements and everything to do with adolescent male ennui.

    • to be clear, actual “M-80” firecrackers aren’t really available. Just similar but less powerful ones with knockoff names that are still capable of blowing up a mailbox…err, little libraries

  • The question almost certainly isn’t “what’s the matter with people?”. The question is almost certainly is “what’s the matter with bored adolescents?”. And the answer is that they are bored. And adolescents.

  • While it is generally better to have the victim of a crime/owner of the property on scene to be the complainant (in order to ensure that we aren’t taking a report for a non-criminal matter, or one that has already been reported, etc.), they could also have taken the report as a crime against the community. The Third District is sending someone to take the report shortly.

    Our apologies for any misunderstanding. We do take this very seriously. The Little Free Libraries contribute to the character and vibrancy of our wonderful communities. Not to mention, they encourage reading! But most importantly, it is unacceptable to destroy any property in the District, even if an owner can’t be identified. If anyone observed this offense take place, or has anything additional regarding this crime, please email the Third District Commander at [email protected] with the information.

    Kelly O’Meara

  • While we generally prefer to have the victim of a crime/owner of the property on scene to be the complainant (in order to make sure that we aren’t taking a report for non-criminal matter, or something that has already been reported, etc), the responding officers could have taken the report as a crime against the community organization that operates the garden. The Third District is sending someone to take the report. If anyone saw the incident, or has any additional information regarding the crime, please email the Third District Commander at [email protected] with the information.

    Our apologies for any misunderstanding. We do take this very seriously. The Little Free Libraries contribute to the character and vibrancy of our wonderful communities. Not to mention, they encourage reading! But most importantly, it is unacceptable to destroy any property in the District, even if an owner can’t be identified.

    Thank you,
    Kelly O’Meara

    • Thank you for responding here and moving forward with the report.

    • I did indeed see the incident (as did a few of the neighbors) and there were at least 3 of us who called 911 and waited for the firemen to arrive (and to make sure the fire did not spread). I’ll formally email Ms O’Meara with additional details.

  • I find it far less depressing to believe that this is just a bored teenager burning through (literally) some leftover fireworks from the 4th. That’s annoying, but not existentially upsetting. If I try to interpret this as some statement on gentrification or race relations in DC I’m going to have to just run into a wall.

  • figby

    I don’t mind being the only person to say I find Little Free Libraries twee and annoying like the “Freedge” and adorable cheeky snowball fights/pillow fights/watergun fights. I don’t advocate blowing them up, and I do feel bad for the creator (do we say “maker”?) — but the whole concept is gratingly precious and being sad and heartbroken about this denies something fundamental about life in the city.

    • Very well said, you aren’t the only person, I agree in full – I’m glad you’ve accepted the fundamentals of life of the streets – I agree, books are twee, what sauce and privlege to give away books for free – what denial of fundamentals of hard city livin – these books that should be sold and/or thrown away or donated to a closed location – that grating gentrifiers would like in such a bubble and deny these urban, unmentionable fundamentals. Well said, “figby”, way to stick it to those nonfundamental city livers out there.

    • I’d hate to be a neighbor of the Freedge, but Little Free Libraries are great and shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as the annoying twee stuff listed here.

      • +1 There seem to be a lot of people using them, and they’re like a form of street art. I’m more of a traditional library user myself, but I like seeing them around town the same way I like seeing things like murals and the Q Street Barbies.

    • Oh brother. Don’t you have some matcha tea to make or something.

  • While I’m not sure who built this particular LFL, they aren’t always built by “privileged/gentrifying” homeowners. The National Building Museum had a Saturday program called Design Apprenticeship Program for middle and high school youth that built LFL for various neighborhoods in DC. Regardless who built it, it’s a real shame that someone didn’t have respect for something giving back to the community.

  • Glad to see that MPD finally took some action… but it’s a bit irksome that they had to be publicly shamed for it to happen.
    I get the feeling that higher-level folks in MPD do NOT approve of their subordinates just blowing off/dismissing people like in the original account… but we hear so many accounts on PoPville of rank-and-file officers doing exactly that.

  • Yes. We’re in email contact.

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