Mini-libraries proposed for Costa Mesa parks

What looks like a birdhouse and acts like a library?

The answer is a book-exchange box. But the issue is moot for now.

Costa Mesa's Parks and Recreation Commission voted Thursday to hold off deciding whether to approve "Little Library Outposts," proposed by the city's library foundation for Tanager, TeWinkle and Brentwood parks.

The birdhouse-like structures, to be created and maintained by the foundation, would act as tiny book distribution centers, no library card needed. Users could take a book to read and put one in to share.

Though the commissioners liked the idea of the mini-libraries, four of them voted to postpone a decision. Commissioner Bob Graham voted against the delay.

The four commissioners said they wanted the idea brought back with their concerns addressed, among them worries about vandalism and inappropriate "propaganda literature" taking over the outposts.

"Unfortunately, our society's got some people who don't appreciate things being done for their benefit," said Commissioner Kim Pederson.

Commissioner Dean Abernathy warned, "Maybe they will be birdhouses if they don't have the right people using them."

Barbara Steck, president of the library foundation, said her group would be responsible for any vandalism, which, according to her research, is "miraculously" rare in those three parks.

The mini-library concept "has been very successful in other cities," she said. "They do it quite successfully in L.A."

The foundation also plans to get sponsors for the outposts and monitor the locations weekly. Steck said the boxes would provide exposure for the foundation and boost plans to convert the Neighborhood Community Center into a large library.

"The idea is to really involve the neighborhood," Steck said, adding that the only costs to the city would be for staff to install the boxes.

Chairman Byron de Arakal said he worried that some of the removed books wouldn't be replaced.

"I just think we need to think it through a little bit better, how it's going to be monitored," he said.

Graham said his colleagues were "over-thinking this whole thing. I think we're making a mountain out of a mole hill.

"It's simple," he added. "Let them have their fun and see if it works. Let's get on with it."

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