MMA Innovation Award winner, 2011

Wilmington’s Town Meeting in 2005 helped solve the town library’s chronic space shortages, but not quite in the way that library backers originally envisioned.

A warrant article to finance the construction of a new library elsewhere in town fell short of the required two-thirds majority. But Town Meeting did approve the acquisition of land, which included a small two-story house, adjacent to the existing library. The house eventually served not only as storage space, reducing pressure on what had become an overcrowded library, but also as a used bookstore that generates an average of $18,000 per year in library revenue.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Town Manager Michael Caira. “When we initially got the property, we considered whether we would knock [the house] down to expand parking, which was needed for the library. Instead, we found this use, and ended up expanding parking anyway.”

Caira credited Library Director Christina Stewart and the town’s Friends of the Library organization for making innovative use of the house.

Wilmington’s library volunteers had discussed the idea of having a continuous book sale in addition to its annual sale, but there was no room in the library to display the books, according to Stewart.

Initially, library officials and volunteers arranged to use the first floor of the house as a place to sort donated books that were then marketed by an online bookseller. But revenue from the online operation proved meager, averaging only about $100 a month. In the fall of 2006, volunteers who had been sorting the books proposed converting the first floor of the house into a used bookstore.

“The concept was always there, but all of a sudden we had this property,” Stewart said. “We thought, ‘Gee, maybe we can do it here.’”

Volunteers installed shelving – much of it made available as a result of the reorganization of the library that was under way –  in all three of the house’s first-floor rooms. The second floor continued to be used for storage.

Christened the “Book Store Next Door,” the house now receives an average of 400 books, CDs, DVDs and other items a week. More than 60 volunteers have helped out with the bookstore, which is open each Wednesday and Saturday. Hardcover books that would have cost $25 or more new are priced at no more than $2.

For more information, contact Christina Stewart at (978) 658-2967.

The winners of the annual Kenneth Pickard Municipal Innovation Awards were recognized at the MMA Annual Meeting on Jan. 22.