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Little Police Libraries

A Kind Reader sent in this article from St. Louis that reports on an unusual crime fighting tactic the local police are taking towards juvenile crime in the Dutchtown neighborhood.

In addition to whatever they’re normally doing that isn’t working, the police are now putting up some of those little free libraries, the little boxes on poles in neighborhoods where people take or leave books.

This effort is slightly different:

Stickers on the libraries will encourage kids to “Take a Book, Keep a Book.” And police officers will be handing out gift certificates to local businesses to children who leave book reports inside the box, said Capt. Dan Howard, who oversees the city’s first district.

No word on whether they’ll be carefully examining those book reports to see if the kids actually read the book, but anything’s better than nothing. The police hope this kind of interaction with kids will be better than “all the bad stuff we encounter them for.” I can only imagine.

The police captain in charge seems like he’s willing to try something other than the usual “arrest and throw into the system” policy that’s worked so poorly everywhere.

In one example mentioned, instead of arresting some bored teenagers for damaging a community garden, he had someone get them together with the people who ran the garden to see whom they had harmed, resulting in the kids working on the garden together instead of committing more vandalism.

Is this all a pipe dream? Will little libraries for potential juvenile offenders help any?

We know one thing. They couldn’t be much less effective than what we have now. Want some depressing statistics?

Illiteracy and crime are closely related. More than 70 percent of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth-grade level, according to the Department of Justice. And two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of fourth grade end up on welfare or in jail, according to the National Assessment on Adult Literacy.

I shouldn’t find that surprising, I know, but librarians don’t tend to associate with that many barely literate people.

We might ask why the kids can’t use the public library. For one, there doesn’t seem to be a public library actually in the Dutchtown neighborhood, even though the article claims it’s the most populous in St. Louis.

Based on Google Maps, the nearest one seems to be the Carpenter Branch of the St. Louis Public Library, about a mile or two away depending on which part of the neighborhood people live in. Bored teens might not be willing to walk that far. Given the crime, they might not even feel safe walking that far.

Not that the SLPL is avoiding the neighborhood deliberately that I know of, although based on a map of the libraries they seem to be a bit more spread out in that part of town than if you head further west. Maybe it’s because Dutchtown is also a high crime area.

High crime area with few libraries? Maybe there is some correlation between low literacy and high crime rates!

Where the librarians, and probably the schools, aren’t succeeding with literacy in the neighborhood, maybe the little police libraries will. They can’t hurt.



  1. The link is bad.


  2. Wait… The police are giving out books because its effective at fighting crime? Same thing librarians have been doing for half the cost. The difference in pay between a police officer and a librarian is ridiculous. Sometimes a police officer makes 3x what the librarians make. Is this really an effective use of their money?

    • I Like Books says:

      Consider the cost savings in wages if the police didn’t give out free books–zero, I’m thinking. The marginal cost in labor is nothing. They’re already on the payroll. It’s not like giving out free books is the ONLY thing the officers do.

    • Cut Both Ways says:

      Sometimes a librarian makes 3x what the police officers make. Economics!

  3. Seems like a good idea…

  4. It’s not just about the books. It’s a way to start a relationship.

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