Library History

History of the Wilmington Memorial 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. The Trustees stated in the 1873 annual report 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 and changes were made to the interior.  In 1949 annual report, the Trustees once again expressed concern for the suitability of 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.  

In 1987, Wilmington Memorial Library joined the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC), a computerized network of area libraries.   In 1998, a needs assessment pointed to the inadequacies of the building to accommodate new technology and to meet the varied services residents now expected.   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.  Despite challenging space constraints, a plan was implemented in 2006 to makeover the worn and dated library facility into a welcoming and user friendly space.  Funding for the makeover came from the Friends of the Library, grants, state aid and municipal support. The success of the makeover was evidenced with positive feedback and a 20% increase in circulation by 2010.  Committed to innovation and good customer service, Wilmington Memorial Library has established itself as an integral part of the community.