Look out Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, there’s a new competitor in town. Observant passersby on Coffin Street may have seen this strange newcomer to the Brunswick book community as they headed to practice at Farley Field House, or caught a glimpse of it before crossing at the corner of Coffin and Longfellow Avenue.

Perched on a wooden fence, this white box with a glass door that bears striking resemblance to an overlarge birdhouse stands out among the otherwise banal, suburban surroundings of the Brunswick neighborhood. It is covered with quotes from famous works of literature, and its shelves are haphazardly packed with books.  It is inscribed with the title: “Free Lending Library: Borrow a book—return a book, always free—never for sale.”

The library is the brainchild of Jay Ketner, who is a visiting professor of French in the Department of Romance Languages at the College. He constructed and decorated the book house last spring at a community event sponsored by the Curtis Memorial Library in association with the Little Free Library organization, and set it up in July on his front-yard fence.

Ketner cited two reasons for making the library. On the one hand, he sees the library as a way to make books accessible to anyone who happens to walk past it “and see if there was something in there that they wanted to read.”

On the other hand, he sees the library as a tool to educate people and bring them together. He wants, “to encourage people to read, to share the wisdom that people have written through the ages, to make it free, and to give people an alternate way of interacting with their environment and community, as opposed to doing something on a screen or online.”

The library operates on generosity and spontaneity rather than any fixed rules. Although Ketner’s library functions the same way as the Little Free Library kiosks that have been springing up around the world since the organization began in 2009, he chose not to affiliate directly with the project.  He felt the nominal registration fee each library proprietor pays to the umbrella organization contradicted the principle that the libraries are free of cost.

“Anyone’s free to take a book and never give it back, anyone’s free to take a book and never donate a book, people are free to donate a book and never take one,” he explained.

Ketner initially supplied the seed books for the library, but he found that those ran out quickly. However, people began donating their own books to the library, making it “self-generating, with a life unto its own.”

Ketner says that a diverse slice of the Brunswick community has taken interest in his library.

“It’s all kinds of people from the community, of all ages; there are people with kids who take children’s books, there are middle-aged people, there are pre-teens, and even Bowdoin students have taken and left books,” said Ketner.

Tara Palnitkar ’16 recently decided to utilize the library and is currently reading “Les Fleurs du mal” by Charles Baudelaire in her free time.

“I’ve only read a little bit of it—it’s French poetry,” said Palnitkar.

However, not all use has been positive. Two weekends ago, the solar panel that powers the box’s internal light was vandalized and broken. Ketner doesn’t know who did it, but has now set up a sign and donation jar explaining the destruction of the light, and soliciting funds to buy a new one.

Nevertheless, Ketner has high hopes for the future of his library.

“It’s definitely a little part of the campus experience,” he said. He hopes that the library will continue to be a point of connection between Bowdoin and the surrounding neighborhood.

“Bowdoin really is such a bubble,” Ketner said, “and it’s cool to me when the Bowdoin experience overlaps with the community experience, and it’s something for both.”