1880 - Wilmette had only 419 residents and reading books was a major pastime when about 50 of the residents formed a literary society. Using initiation fees and collections taken up at lectures, the society purchased books for a small library located in the rear of Wilmette's first store, Kinney's General Store.
1882 - The society was incorporated into the "Wilmette Library Association."
1889 - A "Library and Social Club" was organized. Twenty-three members were enrolled at the first meeting. Books were donated, and a small collection was established at the Methodist Church. In April 1892, the group was incorporated as the "Elmwood Library Association."
1895 - A fire destroyed all of the books.
1897 - The Woman's Club of Wilmette rented space over a grocery store and circulated books with club members acting as librarians.
1900 - Taxpayers approved a referendum to establish a free public library by a vote of 62 to 52. A $2M tax issue was authorized. In April of the following year, the first six Wilmette Library Directors were elected. The library was moved to rented space in the rear of a lumber company. The Elmwood Library Association loaned 1,000 of its books to the new library.
1901 - THE NEW LIBRARY OPENED with 1,347 books on its shelves. During the first year of its operation, the library registered more than 500 borrowers and circulated more than 9,000 volumes.
1902 - Andrew Carnegie established his foundation to promote free libraries. In response to an inquiry from the Library Board, he agreed to donate $10,000 for construction of a free public library building, if the village agreed to support the library with at least $1,000 a year and to provide a suitable site free of all encumbrances.
1903 - An advisory referendum was held which presented three options to voters in terms of site.
1904 - The Village accepted Carnegie's offer and subsequently purchased the site of the present library for $2,820.
1905 - A new "Carnegie" library building was opened to the public.
1925 - A Children's Room was opened in the basement of the Carnegie building.
1935 - The library could no longer house all the books in the collection. Books were loaned to various school libraries, and a branch library was located in a vacant school.
1946 - The schools had developed their own libraries, all the branches were closed and the books returned to the main library. As a result, seating space in the library became virtually nonexistent.
1948 - Voters approved a $400,000 bond issue to construct a new library, along with an increase in the property tax rate for library purposes.
1951 - The new building was dedicated. and the old building was torn down. The new building, which received an architectural award for design from the American Institute of Architects, resulted in increased use of library facilities. The architectural firm was Holabird, Root and Burgee.
1959 - It was necessary to convert the second floor auditorium of the new building to a Junior High Room.
1965 - A $140,000 Children's Wing was opened.
1966 - The Wilmette Public Library joined with 21 other area public libraries to form the North Suburban Library System.
1967 - A $150,000 Reference Room/Staff Workroom and Office addition was opened and a basement remodeling project, which provided an Arts Room, was completed.
1975 - A referendum was passed which, effective July 1, 1975, converted the village library to a district library. In December 1976 a referendum to annex the territory encompassed by the village of Kenilworth to the Wilmette Public Library District passed in Wilmette but failed in Kenilworth. (In December 1983, the Wilmette and Winnetka Public Library Districts extended library service to the village of Kenilworth on a contractual basis. This arrangement is currently in effect.)
1979 - A $389,170 project involving an addition of approximately 3,650 sq. ft. and substantial remodeling was completed. This project provided a new central lobby with a single public entrance/exit, an electronic book security system, a computerized circulation system, an elevator, basement shelving space for the back periodicals collection, second floor meeting room, staff lounge and storage space. In addition, it permitted two large storage areas to be opened to house shelving for the library's burgeoning book collection.
1979 - The library joined with a number of other North Suburban Library System member libraries to participate in a CLSI automated on-line circulation system based on the concept of a shared database.
1980 - Wilmette voters passed a referendum to increase the ceiling on the library's corporate tax rate by a vote of 1,813 to 744.
1985 - The Board and staff worked to develop plans for a major addition to the facility. A state construction grant in the amount of $250,000 (33% of the projected construction cost) was subsequently awarded to the library to build Phase I of the addition.
1986 - A $2,900,000 building bond referendum to build Phase II of the four-phase building program simultaneously with the construction of Phase I was held and passed by a substantial (61%) margin.
1988 - The building addition, which essentially doubled the size of the building, was completed.
1994 - A small addition was completed on three levels that added a Friends Book Sale Room, vestibule, and (ultimately) a relocated and expanded Current Periodicals Room.
1996 - The card catalog was closed and scheduled for removal December 31, 1998.
1998 - State Grant funds totaling $650,000 assisted the library in constructing an addition which permitted Youth Services to be expanded. The addition was a small addition that finished off the third floor and allowed an almost total reconfiguration of the library. This addition brought the library's square footage to approximately 66,600.
2001 - Wilmette voters passed a referendum to increase the ceiling on the library's corporate tax rate.
2010 – A Revitalization Project updated the first floor by creating a more open and welcoming space that respected the original building and its historical features while allowing for the evolution of library services and collections. The total cost of the project, $1,200,000 was paid with capital reserves.
2012 - The parking lot of the Library was completely re-engineered to provide an improved surface and better drainage of water by relocating underground storm water pipes and installing a more environmentally friendly permeable paver surface. Capital reserves were used to cover the $300,000 cost.
2015 – The library began a one year, $5,500,000 renovation project that updates the second floor Youth Services area and Current Periodicals room, refreshes and makes fully accessible all public restrooms, installs several sections of new white roofing and replaces nearly all of the library’s heating and cooling systems. In keeping with the library board’s commitment to use environmentally sustainable practices, a portion of the new heating and cooling system is geothermal.
2019 - The library completed an outdoor renovation project, adding new pathways, new seating, a new sign at the corner of Park and Wilmette Avenues, and new bike racks to the outdoor spaces. The approximately $875,000 project created environmentally-friendly spaces with native plantings, an expanded butterfly garden, and included the installation of a heated snowmelt system for the entry plaza and walkways. Outdoor spaces were enhanced with rock seating and other benches to allow for outdoor programs and activities.
Wilmette's most accomodating public space
Wilmette Public Library provides over 70,000 square feet of public space, housing expansive collections of books and audiovisual media, as well as public meeting and study spaces, and access to a range of resources to support the informational, intellectual, cultural, and leisure needs of the Wilmette and Kenilworth resident and business communities.
One of the great strengths of the library's long range capital planning and series of building renovation project over the years is that both the 1986-88 addition and the 1998 addition were constructed to accommodate a fourth floor that would provide another 9,400 square feet, if necessary.
The library's efforts to be responsive to the evolving needs of its patrons have won broad-based usage and support. Approximately 90% of the district's households have active library cards, a much higher percentage than the national average. In recent years, Wilmette Public Library has been nationally recognized as "Five Star Library" by Library Journal for its high statistical performance, placing it in the top 10 libraries in the country among its peers.
The library is supported by its affiliate Friends of the Library volunteer organization, which has provided financial assistance to the library, primarily in the form of supporting programming and original art, through its sale of donated books and media.
The community has come to expect an abundance and variety of quality library programs. Over time, the library has been designed to function as a cultural center and destination as well as a traditional library.
Concerts, lectures, travelogues, workshops, plays, seminars, and artist exhibitions are presented in the Auditorium. Projection equipment and sound system, including an FM system for the hearing-impaired, are available. The Small Meeting Room is equipped with a table and chairs seats up to 20 people. Both meeting rooms may be reserved by community groups for their meetings and activities. A Youth Program Room on the second floor is used for children's programs and storytimes. The library's print newsletter, which includes a calendar of library events, exhibits, and programs is published six times per year and distributed to every household and business in Wilmette. Weekly email newsletters provide up-to-date news and program announcements.
In addition to the library catalog and research computers, Internet workstations and other computers and tablets are available to patrons, including applications to create, digitize, and edit content.
- Anna E. Law, 1904 – 1920 (head librarian, and Wilmette's first librarian)
- Sue Osmotherly, 1920 – 1924 (head librarian)
- Anne L. Whitmack, 1924 – 1942 (head librarian)
- Jeanne (Jane) Des Marais, July 1942 – June 1945 (head librarian)
- Helen Siniff, July 1945 – May 1972
- Leonard Freiser, June 1972 – July 1973
- Dorothy Hasse, August 1973 – July 1974 (acting director)
- Richard Thompson, August 1974 – December 2004
- Ellen Clark, January 2005 – December 2016
- Heather McCammond-Watts, January 2017 – April 2018
- Gayle Justman & Betty Giorgi, April 2018 – October 2018 (acting co-directors)
- Anthony Auston, October 2018 – current