The Bloomington Police Department has faced a social media backlash following a recent tweet describing a spate of thefts from Little Free Libraries in the west metro city.

The department tweeted July 2 that "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."

The department donated "a bunch of books" in response, according to the tweet, which was accompanied by a photo in which a police officer posed with a couple next to one of the free libraries.

The tweet and its characterization of what happened as a "theft" drew criticism from Twitter users who noted that the department omitted the word "free" from its description of the libraries. It received nearly 3,000 comments and more than 5,000 retweets and made headlines locally and nationwide. The Twitter account for the Hudson, Wis.-based Little Free Library nonprofit even chimed in.

"Our stance has always been that Little Free Libraries are free book exchanges where anyone may take books or leave books," the nonprofit wrote.

"We encourage stewards to keep an open mind and remember that the purpose of a little library is to share books — and if people are taking books, that's a good thing!"

In a follow-up tweet, the Police Department said the initial tweet was "human error," and that the department had not in fact investigated a theft or taken a police report.

In response, Twitter users questioned the department's initial insinuation that the books may have been resold.

There are more than 100,000 registered Little Free Library boxes around the world, according to the website

Under the "frequently asked questions" page on its website, the nonprofit suggests that if a steward suspects "foul play," they should consider stamping every book or writing on the spines "to reduce resale value."

"Over the years," the website said, "we've heard from many stewards who've discovered that a book 'thief' really wasn't a thief at all."

Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751