WILMINGTON — This September marks the 25th anniversary of the Friends of Wilmington Memorial Library, a membership-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting library services and other needs. Former Friends president and retired recreation director Karen Campbell and library manager Tina Stewart sat down with the town crier and reflected on the past 25 years of working together.
The non-profit group was incorporated in 1997, although Wilmington residents originally created a Wilmington Library Friends Group in the early 1950s. This first Friends Group grew out of the Literature Committee of the Wilmington Women’s Club, which happened to include Stewart’s aunt. The group was short-lived, however, and ceased to appear in annual reports after the early 1960s. Stewart suggested that the then library manager discouraged the group from continuing.
When Stewart became the library’s director in 1996, she shared that she sought support from library regulars she called “experienced users” – library advocates, patrons and members of a monthly book club. called Bookends. Stewart created a steering committee and organized an organizational meeting for this team to explore the idea of a group of friends with the help of the Westford library manager.
The steering committee was chaired by Campbell, who stepped in at the time after becoming a stay-at-home mom to two children in need of adult time. The group officially became the Friends of WML once they incorporated into a non-profit organization so that their donations to the library could provide tax benefits. Campbell described how incorporation required the help of a lawyer and her husband, a tax accountant, to draft their bylaws.
On September 25, 1997, Friends held their first official meeting as a 501(c)3. At this meeting, they elected Campbell as President, Patricia Banda as Vice-President, Terry McDermott as Recording Secretary, Christine Hauray as Corresponding Secretary, and Janet Cahill as Treasurer. They then began their work by collecting donations and providing financial support for the library to meet special needs that the city budget could not meet. In addition to their $10 membership fee, they have launched several promotional fundraisers.
The first annual Friends book sale was held in July 1998 in the library’s second-floor meeting room. Books were donated and stored in one of the members’ houses. The sale required a lot of volunteer time moving and sorting books.
Campbell recalled that only 20-25% of donated books are worth selling, as many are in poor condition or worthless. With the public in support, the Friends continued the annual book sale in the Great Meeting Hall until 2005.
Today, the book sale is run by a book sale committee with volunteers and permanent workers, who have gone so far as to organize the 2020 book sale outdoors during COVID.
“If there’s one thing friends and librarians will do, it’s find a way to provide service,” Stewart said.
When the new library proposal failed the town assembly vote in 2005, the city manager offered the property next to the library, which slowly grew into the bookstore it is today.
At first, Stewart wasn’t so sure about the idea. However, Campbell persisted, and Stewart eventually agreed to use a piece of the property for a bookstore. Campbell described how they returned to Stewart over the years and asked for more and more rooms to be used.
The bookstore officially opened in 2007. Stewart called it a “win-win-win,” where people can donate books, volunteer and fund the library. As the bookstore grew, the Friends remodeled rooms and brought in old bookshelves from the library installed by Stewart’s husband.
The bookstore operates almost free of charge, so most if not all of the money raised goes directly to the library. The use of the vacant property won the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s Innovation Award in 2011.
Campbell described the bookstore as her favorite place in town, where they sell everything from classics to cookbooks.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” she continued.
Other Friends fundraisers — such as the annual jewelry sale and Wilmington House Tours — have funded projects and programs of all kinds at the library, from the repurposing of interior library space to the Peggy Reading Garden. Kane outside and the professional development of library employees.
Campbell shared her appreciation for Stewart embracing the Friends band as it added extra work to her plate.
“[Stewart] is the main supporter of the library,” Campbell said.
She named all the work required, including attending meetings, planning and organizing programming, and marketing and publishing, all of which became Stewart’s responsibility. Stewart appreciated that the Friends essentially kickstarted the library’s programming.
Besides raising donations, fundraising, and suggesting and supporting programs for the library, Friends also advocate and promote the library. One of Campbell’s favorite programs was a panel called Times Gone By and Apple Pie, where longtime Wilmington residents shared memories of Wilmington from long ago. The session was recorded and also featured apple pie baked by Friends members.
Stewart called the Friends of WML hard workers who have dedicated years to the library. Some of the members have been members since 1997, and other founders have recently joined. For Campbell, the social connection and genuine friendships she made with the other members of Friends were significant.
The group has 193 members at the annual membership drive this spring. The board meets monthly and shares responsibility for things like filings, reports, meeting minutes, and other administrative tasks. All members meet annually on the third Thursday in March. The current president is Anne St. Onge.
They are always looking for more members, bookstore volunteers or donations, with donations being accepted on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Friends group also has a Facebook page and can be emailed to [email protected] for more information.
To promote the anniversary, the library and bookstore will distribute 25th anniversary stickers on September 24.