South Caroliniana Library

Beginnings at Rutledge College

The Caroliniana's facade in mid-20th century. South Carolina College, chartered in 1801, began classes on January 10, 1805 in what is now called Rutledge College, which hadrooms for lectures, sleeping accommodations for both students and faculty, a chapel, a laboratory, and a library. Upon the opening of South Carolina College, about $3,000 was spent to equip the library with its materials. On February 10, 1804, a public announcement was circulated to newspapers and published in Boston describing the library of South Carolina College: "Library will open with near 5000 volumes, in all branches of learning. The whole of which, we are informed, is expected out of London in the spring of the present year." A visitor to the campus in November of 1805, Edward Hooker, wrote in his diary that only 3,000 of the 5,000 books purchased for the library had been delivered. He questioned the selection of many of the works, and thought there were too many modern works of an "ephemeral" quality. He also wrote, "There are large piles of periodical works, such as the Gentlemen’s Magazine, European Magazine, Annual Register, and others of no more solid worth than these. Some handsome editions of the Greek and Latin Classics and translations--A few books written in the Oriental languages."


Phase 2: The "Library and Science Building"

By 1815, a new building was needed for the sciences. The Board of Trustees asked the legislature for $6,000 to build a fireproof Science Building, on the second floor of which the library would be located. This building was never given a name other than the Library and Science Building and was located on the present site of Legare College. This new library still did not suit the needs of the student population, as many of the books couldn't be reached without a good deal of climbing.

The seeds for a new library building were planted by the mid 1830s. In 1836 a committee of the Board of Trustees wrote a report in which they called the Library and Science Building "unfit": "entirely out of repair, the sleepers and partitions in the lower part of the house being entirely decayed and ready to fall; the roof leaks and the floors are rotten." The committee recommended that a new building be constructed for the sole purpose of housing the library.


The U.S.'s First Free-Standing Academic Library

An early photo of the Caroliniana. In May of 1840 the new library building was completed, the first free-standing academic library in the United States. The architectural design was taken from the design by Robert Mills, a prominent architect of the 19th century.  The Board of Trustees changed Mills's plans in order to build a more economical building. The facade is a match of Mills's Charleston Fireproof Building and the interior of the reading room is a replica of the original Library of Congress reading room, designed by Charles Bulfinch. The library is equipped with large windows and skylights. Not until the later part of the 19th century were artificial lights allowed inside the library, due to the possibility of fire.


Library Acquisitions & Manuscript Catalogs

Also in 1836, College President Robert W. Barnwell told the Board of Trustees that "So long a time has elapsed since any important addition has been made to the number of our books, and so rapid has been the advance of modern literature, that those who have access only to the information which our library furnishes, are almost entirely excluded from the existing commonwealth of learning, and are left in profound ignorance of the very commonplaces of modern science." Soon after this address, the Education Committee of the South Carolina House of Representatives created an annual appropriation fund of $2,000, and this and the tuition surplus fund were to be set aside for the acquisitions budget for the library. This appropriation remained in force until the close of the College due to the Civil War. Books were obtained in various ways: professors traveling to Europe purchased books there for the college, and sometimes private libraries were offered to the Board of Trustees for sale. The largest private purchase was from Mr. Binda of Sumter District. Dr. Thomas Cooper’s library went up for sale, but the trustees did not purchase it.

Two interesting facts about the library are that it had closed stacks and that the librarian's living quarters were located on the ground floor. There were three published manuscript catalogs between the years 1807 and 1849. A fourth catalog, written by the Civil War era librarian C. Bruce Walker, was completed in 1867. Some books were lost due to the inaccuracy of the early catalogs, and in February of 1865 more were lost to the fire set by Sherman’s army: although the college and library were not burned, 97 volumes burned in the homes of the borrowers. In 1916, in A History of the University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC, The State Company, 1916), Edwin L. Green, wrote that "the recataloging of the books according to the modern card system is well advanced towards completion."


Civil War & Reconstruction Era

During the antebellum era, the library was considered one of the College's proudest possessions: in 1858 it boasted 21,400 volumes, rivalled in size only by the library of the University of Virginia. The Civil War and Reconstruction era brought major changes to the College. In 1861, the entire student body volunteered for service in the Confederate army. In 1862, the library remained a library, yet other campus buildings were converted into a Confederate army hospital. Following the Civil War, the buildings of the college were standing but in need of repair, books were unbound, the catalog unprinted, and very few additions were coming in. Between 1860 and 1866, only 3 books were added and all periodical subscriptions had ended in 1860. The years 1862-1873 continued to be difficult for the college. Enrollment was low, yet in 1869-1870 the legislature allocated an annual $2,500 for the library, the same annual allocation as before the Civil War. With this money, librarian Walker purchased 632 books in 1870, the first substantial acquisition in ten years.
A vintage photo of the Caroliniana.



The 1880s continued to be lean years, with no funds appropriated for the Library’s collection. By 1887, the Library had only acquired 400 books in seventeen years. During his administration, President McBryde became concerned about the "poverty of the library," and in 1889 allocated $1000 for it use. Since before the Civil War, the duties of librarian, treasurer, and secretary of the Board of Trustees were all the job of one individual. During the late 1880’s and early 1890’s the job of treasurer became the dominant of these three and the Library came to be neglected even more than it had been previously. No longer was the University of South Carolina Library the prize that it was in pre-Civil War days. With the administration of President Frank C. Woodward in 1897, the Library finally received some much-needed attention. Woodward noticed the lack of recent literature in the collection and the now practically unreadable and still unprinted catalogue compiled by C. Bruce Walker. Woodward collected enough funds to make some repairs to the Library and took on the role of librarian and treasurer himself. In actuality he delegated the duties of librarian and treasurer to his clerk Margaret Rion. Woodward hired a professionally trained librarian, Ellen Fitzsimmons, to begin recataloging the collection of 30,000 books. In the summer of 1898 the Cutter classification system was used to replace the popular Dewey system. Ellen Fitzsimmons was to train Margaret Rion to continue the recataloging project estimated to take two years. Two years stretched into many more as Margaret Rion, whose status had been raised from clerk to librarian, struggled to get the resources she needed to complete the task of recataloging 30,000 books. After 1900 the Library holdings grew very slowly. By 1908, it owned 31,977 volumes, an increase of only 3,377 in 38 years, though its holdings remained uncataloged.



By the 1920’s the library was still struggling with meager resources, and some students complained about the outdated books and lack of newly acquired materials. The headline of an April Fool's Day edition of the Gamecock, the University newspaper, read "University Library receives new book." Another student was quoted to have said that the Library was "the most antiquated and outgrown at any American university." By 1913 less than half of the 50,000 books in the library had been cataloged and no one knew where all the books were. By 1924 the building was described as "wholly inadequate" and in 1927 the fireproof wings were added. The east wing had room for 100,000 volumes, the west wing for offices, meeting rooms and a South Caroliniana Center. By the late 1920s, the annual appropriation for new materials was $6,000 per year as well as additional funds for special purchases. In 1922, the University Librarian was awarded faculty status.


1940 to present

In 1940, McKissick Memorial Library became the main library of the campus and the name of "South Caroliniana" was given to the old library. South Caroliniana now houses the materials that pertain specifically to the state of South Carolina. The Library contains two memorial rooms, the Olin D. Johnson Room and the Henry Plimpton Kendall Room. Behind South Caroliniana is a rose garden dedicated to the Columbia Garden Club’s deceased members. In the front of the building a plaque was hung in memory of the 531 alumni of the University who served in World War I. Also in the front of the building is the tomb of former President J. Rion McKissick. Books were circulated through Caroliniana until 1981 when the Library's circulating materials were moved to Thomas Cooper Library.


The Caroliniana Collection

A recent photo of the Caroliniana from the second floor.As early as 1906, the University of South Carolina saw the need for a special collection of materials relating to the state of South Carolina. In 1931, President Davison M. Douglas established the "Caroliniana Committee," which had the responsibility of overseeing the establishment of a local repository of South Carolina materials. In 1937 the Caroliniana Committee became the University South Caroliniana Society. Many South Carolina materials had been taken to the repositories of neighboring states. In 1940, with the addition of McKissick Memorial Library, South Caroliniana Library was designated a state repository, which means it has the duty of documenting the history and literature of the state of South Carolina.

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Last updated October 12, 1999.
Some photos courtesy University of South Carolina Archives
This page created by Joellen Fletcher