Police Tweet Describing Non-Returned Library Books As 'Theft' Divides Internet

Bloomington Police in Minnesota received backlash online after posting about "thefts" from a local Little Free Library (LFL). The police department has since backtracked on its use of the word theft, after receiving over 5,000 quote retweets on the post.

On July 2, the Bloomington Police Department shared an image in a tweet of an officer at a Little Free Library, handing over book donations. Little Free Libraries are a rising scheme across the U.S., which aims to act as a free source for books in local areas, working on an honor system for people to return the books after reading them.

"After some thefts from little libraries in our city, officers and staff came together to donate a bunch of books to the libraries. Now people can use and enjoy them again!" they tweeted.

The tweet soon gained traction, with Twitter users confused as to how someone could steal something that is free. "An individual was taking every book from the libraries. It is common that they are then sold for a profit, which is not the intent for the libraries," wrote the police's Twitter account in a later tweet.

But Bloomington Police's clarification acted as a source of further confusion, and upset, for some Twitter users who felt the act was still not a genuine "theft."

After some thefts from little libraries in our city, officers and staff came together to donate a bunch of books to the libraries. Now people can use and enjoy them again! 📚📖 pic.twitter.com/bxXFRwri4S

— Bloomington Police (@BPD_MN) July 2, 2021

"That's still not theft. The LFL works on an honor system, and there's no actual requirement that the books are returned," replied one Twitter user.

"The books are free," responded publisher Haymarket Books to the original tweet. "If you run a little free library (thank you) and you find it unexpectedly empty, please do not call the cops. We and many other publishers would be happy to help you refill it without putting lives at risk."

Bloomington Police further spoke on the issue at hand in a follow-up tweet, marking the use of the term "theft" as human error. "Regrettably, in our previous post we used the word theft to describe books being taken from a free library. We did not investigate this as a theft nor take a report. We simply responded by donating books that our BPD staff brought from home. A human error. Have a safe weekend," they wrote.

For some Twitter users, confusion lied in why the police would assume someone had taken the books to sell, rather than simply kept them after using.

"Oh yeah the huge profits to be made in second hand books. If that's actually what's happening, you have a poverty problem, not a book trafficking ring or whatever you're suggesting is going on here," tweeted one user.

However, some agreed with the police department's stance on the books being allegedly sold, writing: "If the owner of the LFL wanted them sold, they could have sold them. The books are provided so people can READ them, not sell them. Now anyone who would have actually read the books for free will have to pay to read them."

Newsweek contacted Bloomington Police for comment.

A regional free library outside
A free library, with books inside. Bloomington Police's tweet about a Little Free Library gained backlash online. Getty Images