The Wilson Free Library has a long and storied history. Early in the 1900’s, libraries were only found in large cities. At that time, the Western Federation of Women’s Clubs started a campaign to bring public libraries to rural communities. In 1909, our local women’s group, The Delphic Circle, returned from a federation meeting in Salamanca, excited at the prospect of starting a library in Wilson.
In November 1910, at the urging of Mrs. Jennie Parsons, several people met for the sole purpose of organizing a library in Wilson. Gerald Herbert Swick chaired the meeting and Mrs. Isabelle Wright acted as secretary. A library association was formed and issued a provisional charter on January 25, 1911. Trustees were Charles H. Tugwell, G. Herbert Swick, E. Jennie Parsons, Millicent Crowie and Dr. George N. Smith. The library was opened in a room in the home of Arthurs Dobbs on Pettit Street. Mr. Dobbs served as the first librarian. Later, in 1919, the library occupied rented rooms on the second floor of the “Blake Block” on Young St. In 1929, the property of the Haner Grocery Store was purchased and became the library’s permanent home.
The Wilson Free Library joined with NIOGA services, now known as the NIOGA Library System in 1959. This collaboration greatly expanded the resources available to library patrons. Items not found in the Wilson library, A/V equipment, and reference materials could now be requested from other libraries through NIOGA! It is a great partnership that has benefited the Wilson Free Library tremendously over the years, and happily exists to this day.
In 1989, a grand community project was born. The library board of trustees and librarian Jean Siddall informed the community that they needed and wanted to expand and renovate the library. The goal was to raise approximately $300,000, and expand the library into the adjoining building, nearly doubling its size. It would be a huge challenge for a small town. The community of Wilson rose to the challenge. The money was raised, through almost every way imaginable, with the help of many, many people. There were phone drives, mail drives and door to door solicitations. A myriad of fundraising events were held: read-athons, fashion shows, auctions, afternoon teas, a tennis tournament, and the New Zoo review. Everyone was involved: Delphic Circle and Gnostic Guild, the Wilson Lions and Lakeshore Mothers’ Club. A new Friends of the Library group was formed. Public and private grants were sought out and obtained. Local businesses and individuals contributed generously.
The money was raised, and the construction began. During this time, the library never “closed”. It was temporarily housed in the basement of the Exley United Methodist Church.
Then on Monday, November 18, 1991, the newly expanded and renovated library opened its doors. The “new “ library was beautiful and spacious. Everyone in town was delighted and proud of what they had worked so hard to achieve. One of the first patrons in was Wilson resident, Jan Forsythe. Jan, an avid reader who needed a wheelchair to navigate, had not been into the library in years, because the old library had not been handicapped accessible. For a long time, her husband Ray had acted as courier and would borrow and return books for her. You can imagine what it felt like for her to again be able to visit her beloved library.
Twenty years later, the library is stilled housed in its renovated home. But it has been ever evolving. During librarian Maggie Stein’s reign, around the year 2000, the library’s circulation and cataloging system were automated. This was a very important and critical step into the future for the library. It was a major project and quite daunting, but was capably and smoothly handled by Maggie. And there have been changes made since then. The library has a teen room, online access to digital e-books (OVERDRIVE), magazines (ZINNIO), and music (FREEGAL), email notifications, four internet work stations, Wi-Fi and a new Wi-Fi counter! But some things remain unchanged: the Delphic Circle and Gnostic Guild still meet at the library and give continued financial support, the wonderful Friends of the Library group is still very active, the many patrons, young and old, who frequent the library… and the continued generosity and support from the good people of Wilson.
To this day, people come in and comment regarding what a lovely library we have, especially so for such a small town. And we always tell them the story of the great expansion.
The Latest Chapter
The Board of directors voted in the spring of 2015 to amend our charter with the new name, the Wilson Community Library. The Wilson Free Library was chartered in 1911 as a free association library (free standing not for profit with a board of trustees) which serves the Town of Wilson. Although we’d still be a free association library, the board felt that the name of Community Library would be more reflective of the Library’s overall mission.
The board of trustees had also been struggling for years with the dilemma of seriously inadequate financial support, and looking into opportunities to increase and stabilize its funding. After much research, it became clear that the only viable funding option available to Wilson, through state education law, was to put a funding initiative on the Town of Wilson’s November ballot. Called a 414 municipal ballot vote, the Library asked the voters to approve community-based funding that the Town would collect on behalf of the Library from the taxpayers. On November 3, 2015, the people of Wilson heartily approved the library funding initiative put before them on the ballot, by a vote of 798-546.
This community-based funding has put the Library on much more solid financial footing and, moving forward, will provide the Library with the funding it needs to operate properly. It enables the Library to create new programs and expand services, as requested by our community. Library hours have already been expanded – as of January 1st, the library is now also open on Tuesday mornings and Thursday evenings. The funding enables the Library to restore its new materials budget (what makes a library a library) to prior, much higher levels. It will enable the Library to stay abreast of technological advances. The Library will be able to properly maintain its building. This latest milestone truly ushers in a new, brighter chapter in our long history.
Visionary Concept. Community. Commitment.