Old public library

Old public library

Prior to the establishment of Wilmington’s first public library in 1871, the Wilmington Social Library existed in a private home for use by a select group of citizens. There were also small libraries in the Town’s district school houses. After approval of a warrant article at the February 1871 Town Meeting, Wilmington’s first public library opened on July 1, 1871 in the rear of the Town Hall, the building which is now the Art Center. Charles W. Swain, a prominent Wilmington citizen who was instrumental in the establishment of the public library, became its first Librarian. He acted as both the Town Treasurer and Town Librarian until 1879. In 1872, a five member Board of Library Trustees was elected. In the 1873 annual report, the Board stated that its goal for the library was to serve not only as an educational institution but a source of social and moral improvement for its citizens. By 1873, the library collection totaled 600 books.

In 1890, the Town Meeting voted to move the public library to the old Centre Schoolhouse located across from the Town Common. The library remained in this location for nearly eighty years. Over this period, the library collection and its use continued to grow. In 1930, the Trustees proposed an addition to the library in order accommodate the increase in the size of the collection. Town Meeting rejected the proposal to enlarge the library. However, alterations were made to the interior of the building and additional stacks were erected. In 1949 annual report, the Trustees once again expressed concern for the suitability of the library building.

The rapid growth of Wilmington, beginning in the 1950’s, impacted the growth and use of its library. In 1962, a Special Town Meeting appropriated funds to purchase the old St Thomas Church on Middlesex Avenue with plans to renovate it for a library. Due to legal difficulties, this plan was scrapped and efforts began to focus on building a new library. In 1967, a Special Town Meeting approved plans to erect a new library on the site of the old St. Thomas Church. The new 15,000 square foot Wilmington Memorial Library was dedicated on Memorial Day in May 1969, honoring four young men who were killed in the Vietnam War – John A. Rich, John J. Fullerton Jr., Robert W. Parent, and Ricard W. Welch.

Library dedication ceremony - Memorial Day, 1969

Library dedication ceremony – Memorial Day, 1969

In 1987, Wilmington Memorial Library joined the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC), a computerized network of area libraries. In 1997, the Friends of the Wilmington Memorial Library was established “to promote public awareness of the library and to provide financial support for services beyond the town’s budget.”

In 1998, a needs assessment pointed to the space and design inadequacies of the current library facility to meet changing service needs. In 2001, a feasibility study was conducted to evaluate the current facility for possible expansion and renovation and to evaluate three other potential sites for a new library – the Whitefield School, the Swain School and the Wildwood Street sites. At the April 2002 Town Meeting, voters approved $550, 000 for the design of a new library at the Whitfield School site. This vote was overturned at a Special Town Meeting in August 2002 due to disagreement about the site of the library at the Whitfield School. Residents wanted to keep the public library near the Town Common.

In July 2005, the library was awarded a $3.4 million construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to build a new 35,000 square foot library across from the Town Common at the Swain School site. In November, 2005, voters rejected the authorization to fund the construction cost balance of $8.3 million. This vote resulted in forfeiture of the $3.4 million grant and plans for new library were put on hold for the foreseeable future.

Given this reality, planning began for the makeover of the current building to best accommodate service needs. The makeover initiative required weeding the collection, removing book stacks, adding new furnishings and public computers as well as painting inside and landscaping outside. The first phase of the makeover was completed in 2007 with positive feedback from patrons and a 20% increase in circulation in 2010. Improvements in the library facility continue to date addressing space constraints and evolving 21st century services.

In 2011, the library adopted the tagline “Community Starts Here” with a corresponding logo that communicated a shift in focus from transactional to transformational library services. This shift in focus was reflected in an increase in collaboration and outreach with local organizations offering programs such as the Welcome to Wilmington Reception and the Preschool Art Show.

In 2015, the Wilmington Memorial Library received a generous bequest of $350,000 from the Barbara A. Johnson Trust plus an additional $36,000 from the Trust in 2018. These funds made possible the renovation of the front stairwell, creating rooms on the first and second floor. In addition, a small meeting space was added on the first floor in the non-fiction area.

In 2019, an outdoor seating area was completed adjacent to the parking lot and wetlands behind the library. The funding for this project came from the 2017 and 2018 Friends of the Library Annual appeal plus state aid funds and other donations. In 2020, this outdoor seating area was dedicated in memory of Peggy Kane, a longtime Friend of the Library, for her dedication to the library and to the town.

In response to a worldwide pandemic in 2020, new approaches to service were developed in order to insure the health and safety of staff and patrons. Going forward, it is likely that virtual programs and curbside service that were offered during the pandemic will continue to be a part of regular library services.
To mark the celebration of the public library’s 150th anniversary in 2021, the Wilmington Memorial Library was rededicated on Memorial Day to all from Wilmington who gave their lives in service to our country.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge and celebrate the staff who have worked at the library, Trustees who have served, and the Friends of the Library who have volunteered to support the library’s mission. In addition, we honor the many people who have walked through the doors of the library in the past 150 years and we look forward to serving the citizens of Wilmington for many more years to come.

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