Editor’s note—Reporting for this story was originally completed in the  fall 2022 semester for a JOUR 89A class project called “Smells Like Zine Spirit.” The article has been edited to include recent updates to this developing story.

If you drive by Katie Cohen and Krys Petrie’s house on Trapelo Street in Waltham, you will simply look for the house with the biggest “gay energy.” You will find a rainbow flag in their front yard, and their door is also painted in rainbow colors. Most importantly, you will have seen a little bookshelf in the shape of a house on the sidewalk in front of their house. The bookshelf is one of 150,000 Little Free Libraries that are scattered around the world, according to the organization’s website. Locally, Cohen and Petrie’s library goes by a different name: the Little Queer Library. Now, however, the library is shutdown due to repeated vandalism.

Cohen is a self-described bookworm. “I will have read 24 books by the end of [2022],” Cohen said. Petrie, on the other hand, is obsessed with woodworking. In combination with their love for books and crafts and the desire to find something to kill the time during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Little Queer Library was born in November 2020 as a birthday gift from Petrie to Cohen. When she got the little free library, Cohen saw an opportunity to feature “[books] that encompass the LGBT experience.” On a typical day, there are around 60 books in the library.

“I have always been an advocate of reading diverse books. I think it is important for everyone to read something about somebody that’s different than themselves,” Cohen said. For her, there is more of a personal motivation to operate the library as well. “Having those books out there and giving kids the ability to read about those types of things, so that they don't feel alone in how they personally identify — I think that's really awesome, and I wish that me and my friends growing up had that,” Cohen explained.

According to many local reports, the library was vandalized multiple times in 2022, and many of the books were stolen. These incidents took place when LGBT-related books were being banned across schools in the country, but it did not stop Cohen and Petrie from running the library. “I am a stubborn person,” Cohen said. She saw maintaining the library despite the vandalism as a way to stand up not only for herself, but other queer people in the Waltham community.

After the news about vandalism broke out, Cohen said that the support from the Waltham community became a refuge, allowing them to continue the project. “A middle schooler wrote us a handwritten letter about two pages, just to explain that they were really happy that we were there, and they hope that we kept going,” Cohen described. Apart from the youth, many other community members reached out to them to donate books and give funding to support the library. Cohen and Petrie also branched out their effort to spread diverse voices in Waltham public schools. “We did our first delivery of books [to public schools] last September, and the librarians have loved them. Kids also have put together book displays with the ones they received,” Cohen said.

However, the challenges facing the Little Queer Library are not over yet. On Jan. 24, 2023, the library was forced to close its doors again due to repeated vandalism and threats. “It hurts my heart to do this, but we will open back up as soon as possible,” the couple said via their Facebook page. In the meantime, readers can acquire books from the library’s collection by contacting Petrie and Cohen directly via their Facebook page, Little Queer Library Waltham.