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Free, but not for the taking

The Grinch. Krampus. Old Man Potter.

Take your pick. At least one of them — or maybe one of their sympathizers — has been stealing books from a little free library in east Medford.

Users of the mailbox-sized little free libraries are supposed to borrow the books and bring them back — or bring other books for exchange. But the guilty parties targeting Linda Osborne's little free library, just outside her home on Hawaiian Avenue, aren't doing that. They're stealing the books outright. All of them. And they've done it three times.

"A lot of people respond, 'Well, they’re free,' " Osborne said. "If you clean them all out, it’s a crime."

Medford police agree. They say the thieves could be charged with multiple counts of third-degree theft, applied to cases where suspects make off with less than $100 worth of merchandise or cash.

The first case occurred Nov. 16. Theft No. 2 happened just after Thanksgiving. The latest happened Saturday while Osborne was out collecting food for a charity drive. She returned to find the library empty. Again.

"It’s unfortunate because she’s trying to do a positive thing," said Medford police Lt. Kerry Curtis. "And she’s kind of going on the honors system."

Osborne said she found one of the pilfered selections lying in the road. An acquaintance spotted another in a gutter.

"Whoever's taking them is just throwing them out, I think," Osborne said.

Osborne said she has had the little free library since September 2015. She saw an article about the tiny libraries and asked her husband to build her one for her birthday. He did. For the most part, it's been well-received.

"People love it. I’ll see them looking and I’ll say, 'Help yourself to a book,' " she said.

Just bring it back or replace it with another book back.

According to https://littlefreelibrary.org, there are more than 50,000 registered little free libraries in the U.S. and in 70 countries.

Osborne tries to keep a good mix: children's books, contemporary thrillers, some nonfiction here and there. A volunteer at the Medford library, she has access to many donated titles.

Osborne said she feels supported by her neighbors and law enforcement.

"They suggested a surveillance camera, which is on my list for Santa," she said.

But even if the guilty party is never caught, Osborne said she plans to keep sharing books with people.

"I am undaunted," she said. "If anything, I am more committed to keeping it stocked. I just would love to really know why."

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Thieves have stolen every book from Linda Osborne's little free library, seen here, three times in the past month. Mail Tribune / Ryan Pfeil