History of the Library

Main Library entrance, circa 2019
Main Library entrance facing Birdsall St, 2019

The history of library services in Wilmington, Ohio, dates back as far as 1816 when the early village formed the Wilmington Library Company so that citizens might enjoy the advantages of a circulating library.

Services were provided on and off again for the next 80 years with private help.

It wasn’t until the George Clinton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution became involved that library services had some consistency.

Wilmington Public Library Association's first library and first librarian, Minnie Farren,  circa 1900
Wilmington Public Library Association's first library and first librarian, Minnie Farren,  circa 1900

In February 1899 the DAR organized the Wilmington Library Association and rented two rooms in the First National Bank building. Services opened to the public in June 1899.

In 1901 the village council created a special levy for the benefit of the library and made it free to the public.

An initial gift of $10,000 (with an additional $2,500) from Andrew Carnegie in 1902 allowed for the construction of a free public library building.

Original South Street entrance, circa 1910
Original South Street entrance, circa 1910

The Wilmington Library opened for business at its present site, formerly known as Martin Field, on June 30, 1904. The city council assumed responsibility for the library until May 1927 when a six-member board of trustees, appointed by the mayor, was formed to conform with Ohio law.

Later the library was rechartered as a county district library with a seven-member Board of Trustees, each appointed for a seven-year term by the County Commissioners and the judge of the Court of Common Pleas in alternating years.

Samuel Walker was also instrumental in the development of the Wilmington Library. When he died, he left instructions that part of his estate be used to support library services.

Children visiting the Wilmington Public Library Bookmobile, 1941
Children visiting the Wilmington Public Library Bookmobile, 1941. Ohio Historical Society collection.

In 1936 the first addition to the original Carnegie building was started using some of the income from the Samuel Walker Trust, thus the addition was named the Walker Annex. Additional funding was provided by the Works Progress Administration.

The Wilmington Library Board wanted to extend service to include the entire county and thus in 1940 the addition of a county-wide bookmobile service, one of the first in Ohio, began.

The service was assumed by the State Library of Ohio and in the late 1990s the library discontinued its participation in the program.

The entire library went through redecoration and repainting, bit-by-bit, from 1952-1956. And in 1961, the library’s second annex included an upper level reading room and lower level garage for the bookmobile.

A variety of renovations and additions occurred in the 1980s. A back door, facing Andrew Street, and a handicapped accessible entrance were installed in the early 1980s.

In 1984 extensive renovation on the interior began including work on the foyer area, installation of a new reference desk, and changing the second floor adult reading room to the children’s room.

A 1987 fund raising campaign collected more than $7,000 toward the installation of the Pauline C. Couden Memorial Elevator. The Walker Annex was also renovated and expanded to include a second floor mezzanine which was completed in 1988.

In 1997 the library doubled in size. This renovation included an addition to both the north and south sides of the original Carnegie building. These additions nearly doubled the space, bringing the size of the Wilmington Library to approximately 20,000 square feet.

The changes to the building included moving all public services to the main floor, moving the main patron entrance to the Birdsall Street side of the building, improving staff work area on the ground floor and providing for electronic-based services. A community room and children’s activity room were also added to the lower level.

CM Branch Caption.pngIn September 2004, the library opened a branch co-located in the Clinton-Massie Media Center, Clinton-Massie High School.

The Great Recession of 2008, the withdrawal of a major employer from the Wilmington Air Park, DHL, and subsequent reductions in state funding forced reductions in library hours of operation at Wilmington and closing of the branch in September 2009.

The following year the library board moved to place a levy before the voters, and in November 2010 voters approved the 1-mill continuing levy.

Exterior of the Clinton-Massie Branch library
Exterior of the Clinton-Massie Branch library, circa 2015

With the passage of the levy, the library restored staffing and hours at Wilmington and reopened its Clinton-Massie branch in August 2011.

Facing its own budget constraints, Clinton-Massie discontinued staffing and its media center in 2014 and contracted with Wilmington for the branch to serve as the high school’s library in the full media center space in addition to its public library services.

Since 1899 there have been 13 library directors starting with Minnie Farren, who had the longest tenure from 1899 to 1942. She was followed by Claire Hague (1938-1949), Esther McCoy (1949-1956), Margaret Davis (1956-1966), Jon Kelton (1966-1978), and acting directors Lynn Drake (1979-1980) and Martha Jo Gregory (1980-1981). James Brouchard became director in 1981 and was succeeded by Mary Novak in 1986, followed by Brenda Williams (1989-1991), Judith Lindley (1991-1992), Judith Meyers (1992-2004), and Nancy Ehas (2004-2018). Our current director is Joe Knueven (2018-).