Little Free Libraries come with a disclaimer at Urbandale, West Des Moines schools

The little free library outside Webster Elementary School in Urbandale on Sept. 26, 2023 has a notice on it informing that the school district is not involved with the little library.

Some Little Free Libraries on the grounds of schools in the Des Moines metro now come with a disclaimer after the state passed a law banning a variety of books from school libraries and classrooms.

The Des Moines Register confirmed that the West Des Moines Community School District and the Urbandale Community School District are placing disclaimers on the little libraries after the Register reviewed a map showing Little Free Libraries at schools in the metro. There may be more at area schools than are listed on the map.

More: An Iowa school official needed to know if 42 books contained sex. She asked ChatGPT for help

A little library at Webster Elementary in Urbandale now has a disclaimer attached to it that reads "This 'little library' is not funded, sponsored, endorsed or maintained by the Urbandale Community School District and is not in any way part of the Urbandale Schools library program."

The small, enclosed outdoor bookshelves come in a variety of colorful designs and have popped up across the region and country in recent years. They are meant to expand access to books, and people can take or add materials from them as they please.

Why are disclaimers being added to Little Free Libraries?

Urbandale school district spokesperson Dena Claire did not respond when asked via email if the change was related to Senate File 496, the sweeping new state law that bans books with sex acts from schools and restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual identity for younger students. But the disclaimer comes as school districts across the state are figuring out how to comply with the new law in the absence of state guidance, and the language mirrors text in the bill about "library programs."

A Register reporter who visited the Webster Elementary little library early Tuesday evening confirmed that it was filled with books and that the disclaimer was attached.

West Des Moines to clarify little library ownership

The map also included a Little Free Library at Clive Learning Academy, part of the West Des Moines district. Laine Buck, a spokesperson for that district, said the district plans to add signage to any little library on school property to clarify that the district does not own them or manage the content inside.

"They are intended for free book sharing, and because it is a community resource that we believe the broader community appreciates, we currently do not have plans to remove any from district property," Buck said.

More: West Des Moines school board votes to keep LGBTQ memoir 'Gender Queer' on the shelf

She said the new legislation provided an opportunity to consider areas where the district could provide clarity in general, similar to language about community events that the district does not sponsor being included in family newsletters.

The little library map has an entry for McKinley Elementary in Des Moines. Amanda Lewis, a spokesperson for Des Moines Public Schools, said the district does not think the law applies to Little Free Libraries because they are not sponsored by the district, and they are not considered school or classroom libraries.

Little Free Library organization calls move disappointing

Margret Aldrich, a spokesperson for the Minnesota-based Little Free Library nonprofit, said the group was disappointed by the news that schools felt it necessary to use disclaimers. However, Aldrich said, the disclaimers and signs are a good solution that allows books to be shared while protecting schools and teachers.

Aldrich said the group has not heard of similar situations in other states.

The Little Free Library organization officially condemns book banning as contrary to its values, and offers Little Free Libraries as a way to expand access to banned and challenged books.

What is SF 496, Iowa's sweeping new education law?

The new law, which Gov. Kim Reynolds signed in May after Republican lawmakers passed it in the spring, makes significant changes to how public schools can operate in Iowa. It:

  • Bans books depicting sex acts from school libraries and classrooms. Districts have been removing controversial LGBTQ memoirs like "Gender Queer" by Maia Kobabe; classic novels like trhe Pulitzer-winning "Beloved" by Toni Morrison; popular young adult novels like "Looking for Alaska" by John Green; and more.

  • Prohibits instruction and curriculum about gender identity and sexual orientation in younger grades. It remains unclear if that applies to library books.

  • Requires parental approval for students to use different names or pronouns. Districts have interpreted the law to apply to nicknames and have asked parents for permission to use shortened names, like Chris instead of Christopher.

Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.

Phillip Sitter covers suburban growth and development for the Des Moines Register. Phillip can be reached via email at He is on Twitter @pslifeisabeauty.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Some Des Moines metro schools put disclaimers on Little Free Libraries