By Greg Ellison
(Oct. 15, 2020) Tucked away on a tiny cul-de-sac in Ocean Pines is the Bentley Little Free Library, one of two such book exchanges in the neighborhood.
The Bentley book exchange was established by Carol and Paul Vaillancourt as a memorial for their infant son, who died in 2014.
The Vaillancourt family moved from Wisconsin to Ocean Pines in 2019, and among the belongings they brought with them was a small wooden library, reminiscent of a birdhouse, which had become a fixture in their previous neighborhood.
“We thought it would be fun to bring it here and it wasn’t something we were willing to leave behind,” she said. “We brought it here and found that there aren’t very many little free libraries in Ocean Pines.”
The Bentley Little Free Library, named for the Vaillancourt’s son who died at 3 months old, was initially intended for children.
“At first it started out where we were just going to have children’s books in it,” she said. “As it evolved, a lot of people wanted to use it and we just opened it to whatever books.”
The memorial library has proven therapeutic and educational for the Vaillancourt’s 8-year-old daughter, Isabella.
“It’s just a little memorial for us,” she said. “We have a little girl and she likes putting books in it and getting books out of it.”
Little Free Library, a nonprofit organization based in Hudson, Wisconsin, promotes “neighborhood book exchanges,” and has registered more than 90,000 sites nationally since its inception in 2009.
“In our old neighborhood, there were a lot of them,” she said. “There were little free libraries probably every block.”
While the literature exchange rate in Wisconsin was substantial, with reading materials regularly shared among neighborhood “branches,” the trend has also been gaining ground in Ocean Pines.
“We have started to get a little following of people that come down to the end of our cul-de-sac regularly just to look at the little library or put books in it or take books out,” she said. “There are moms and kids that come circling around (and) adults.”
Finding books in the outdoors has gained added popularity during the covid-19 pandemic.
“Especially with the [Ocean Pines] library being closed earlier during the pandemic,” she said. “I’ve had several people stop and tell me, ‘this is great … we haven’t been able to refresh our reading.’”
In one recent instance, Carol Vaillancourt was able to find a literary request through the Bentley Library seemingly by osmosis.
“One of my favorite books is “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho and I was talking to somebody about it this week,” she said.
Expressing a desire to read the written volume after having listened to the audiobook, Vaillancourt said the novel materialized in short order.
“I wanted to get the hard copy and literally the next day it was in my little library,” she said.
While uncertain of the source, Vaillancourt said the coincidence felt especially poignant.
“It was amazing because that’s what the book’s about: if you want something the universe conspires to give it to you,” she said. “It’s a special library.”
The husband-and-wife team, who own the Eastern Shore-based JDog Junk Removal and Hauling franchise, and more recently launched GI Jane’s Resale shop in the Manklin Meadows Shopping Center, have a ready supply if the library shelf ever requires replenishing.
“If it runs low we just grab some books we’ve picked up and put it in there,” she said. “We get tons and tons of books.”