Half a dozen tweens are crowded around several large tables stacked with odds and ends in the windows of the Meekins Library in the center of the small town of Williamsburg, Massachusetts (population 2,500).
Two girls kneeling on the floor are pulling things out from under an old oak table that has been part of the library furnishings since 1897. Two more girls are peering over a friend’s shoulders, excited with each surprise emerging from the boxes. Others stand peering into baskets on another table. Each girl has a whimsical polar fleece scarf draped around her neck and they are comparing patterns and laughing. But, what are they really doing?
Why, they’re supporting their local public library.
Meekins Market, our small library’s holiday tag sale, is part of the newest recycling activity in our community. As a fundraiser and “Friend-raiser,” the Meekins Market offers a fun way for area residents to shop while raising much needed revenue for the library.
The Meekins Market started as an experiment. In recent years our services have been in greater demand, but financial resources have not kept pace. Having been through a series of “clean-outs” with family and friends who were unsure what to do with the still-useful items they were discarding, I wondered if Meekins Library could combine recycling and fundraising in a seasonal tag sale (combined with a community food and clothing drive). It would all be sponsored by the Friends of the Williamsburg Libraries, held in November and Decemberholiday season, when everyone has less free cash yet wants to find the perfect present for their mother or sister or grandparent or friend or classmate or colleague.
The first year we started small: one table with a few items donated by library volunteers and Friends. Most of the items were geared to be affordable for schoolchildren, who could shop for gifts for their siblings and classmates. Featured merchandise included boxes of books for all ages.
One table turned into three, and we made a respectable amount of money and created goodwill all around. The Meekins Market’s initial success gave us hope to extend it for another year.
In its second year, the Meekins Market lasted for five weeks. Building on our first year’s experience, we had a better idea of the kinds of merchandise our community members sought—almost anything useful, decorative, in good condition, and modestly priced. The library was open four days a week, and we added more products each day, luring shoppers to return to see what new items were for sale.
By year three the Meekins Market had become established, and it further blossomed in year four. People of all ages stopped by regularly. Our earnings grew too: Between years one and two, they quadrupled. And between years two and three, they doubled. In year four we grew modestly, just topping the third year’s earnings. We’re constantly reminded that community members have embraced the market because merchandise comes to us, unsolicited, all year long.
Now approaching year five, the Meekins Market is an annual event, eagerly awaited and thoroughly enjoyed. People have not only exchanged objects but also the stories that go along with them—like the small perfume bottle one grandmother had collected that became a present for a local volunteer’s sweetheart.
Libraries like Meekins are the hearts of their communities—far more than the sum of its librarians, volunteers, patrons, building, collections, events, and regional infrastructure. What started as a spark of imagination is now a joyful—and lucrative— tradition in our community.
DARIA D’ARIENZO is archivist of the Meekins Library in Williamsburg, Massachusetts, and founder of the Meekins Market.