I heard about the dot org in 2012, loved the idea, paid $25 or something for a cute charter sign, and added myself to the map. Not every builder has registered with the world org, when we stewards see a library with no charter sign we sometimes call it a rogue library. They're not bad, but I did write a blog post about why I think you should register. I choose not to publicize them much on the city-wide facebook page I run because when I see a rogue library I'm not sure if they want to be part of something bigger or open to visitors from other neighborhoods.
I've done a LOT involving libraries, and like every very involved volunteer I've had constructive criticism. I wish the organization would come out with an app or text listing of the libraries to make them easier to find, made my own version and offered them the code, they are not interested. Their app has been talked about but delayed and delayed and delayed for a good two years now. I asked why the charter sign price keeps going up - it's over $40 now. I'll happily pay for a charter sign for anyone in my community who needs one, it's just funny that it's the most expensive component of our scrap-built LFL.
Back to the news of the day. This toronto librarian basically said that little free libraries are more about cutesy "TWEEE!" than promoting literacy, book quality is low, they're going to upper-middle-class neighborhoods and not neighborhoods in need, the organization isn't basing its strategy on research. She claims that the organization is making money but not doing anything all that helpful. She has nothing against individual stewards, if we want to build libraries we should build them, but the umbrella is unnecessary.
I asked the simple questions first: is LFL's mission to promote literacy? No, it's to promote neighborhood book exchanges. So they're doing what they claim to do there.
Then in the comments around the articles, I kept seeing this discussion happen:
1) That organization is stupid, anyone could have done what they did with a free google map.
2) But they didn't.
3) My cousin made a map, it's got 10 libraries on it.
4) What's he doing to get more? Promote it, add to it?
5) Nah he doesn't have time for that.
I had looked at the staff list for LFL, which expands every year, and wondered why they have five paid staff members assigned to "communications and marketing". Suddenly I realized why.
They've succeeded in getting through the noise of the world to me and many others. I wouldn't have built a library if not for them. There are 50,000 registered libraries now and 45 or so in Wichita Kansas. Is it solving all the world's literacy problems? Probably not. But is it a net good? Probably.
And I'm reminded once again that ORGANIZATIONS make things happen. Sometimes for bad, but if you don't want them to be bad, you get involved. Frequently the organizations do good. People use "organized religion" as a derogatory term, when they're not discussing the history of major hospitals in the US. Protesters are usually criticized for organizing when they should just calmly sit at home writing to their senators, but major changes in our democracy have their roots in organizations working for years with lots of people to change policy. We love little simple one person stories, but when we look deeper we see that the one person had a lot of help.
So even though I've had my beefs with the big org, I remain a joiner. I keep buying charter signs. I keep going to meetings - SWE, Toastmasters, church, the makerspace. I help the girl scouts, I donate to amnesty, I join committees, I organize and help people organize. Plant a flag on a hill, everybody go up the hill. That's the only way I've seen anything get done.