Thomas Cooper Library

Phase I: The Undergraduate Library

An early photo of Thomas Cooper Library. In the mid-1950s, a shortage of space developed in the McKissick Memorial Library for both books and student seating. Instead of remodeling McKissick, it was decided to begin plans for a new separate undergraduate library. In the fall of 1959, the new Undergraduate Library (part of which became the present day Thomas Cooper Library) was opened. It was the first undergraduate library in the South and only the third in the nation. Designed by Architect Edward Durrell Stone (designer of the Kennedy Center) and the firm of Lyles, Bisset, Carlisle & Wolff, the new air conditioned library was 40,000 square feet and had seating for 600 students. There was room for 60,000 volumes in the modern "open stacks" and storage for 150,000 more. The cost of the building, including furnishings, was $900,000. The open area in front of the building was known as Old Melton Field and was used as an athletic playing field and for ROTC drills.

A period photo of Thomas Cooper Library's interior. The Undergraduate Library's collection was selected to assist undergraduates in course work and to provide recreational reading. Simple reference service was available, and reserves for both graduate and undergraduate courses were kept here.  McKissick remained the main library on campus. The Undergraduate Library provided students with study space that was no longer available at McKissick. In fact, the Undergraduate Library became so popular on campus that it developed into a second informal student union.

In 1963, the architect's design of the library won the coveted First Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in cooperation with the American Library Association and The National Book Committee.


Library Expansion

On September 1, 1967 the Science Library opened its doors for the first time in the new Physical Sciences Building, but it was apparent that the facilities would not accommodate the needs of the Science Library for long. Likewise, the Education Library, which had been housed on the second floor of Wardlaw College for decades, would also soon need more space. Furthermore, by 1967, it become obvious that the University library collection had outgrown both McKissick and the Undergraduate Libraries. In 1968, original plans were made to erect a new library behind McKissick, however, it was decided that the site was too small.  In the meantime, University officials concluded that the Undergraduate Library Collection was no longer meeting the needs of the students. A decision was made to integrate the now ill-suited Undergraduate Collection into the General Collection and house it in the proposed new central library. According to this plan, space would become available at the back of the existing Undergraduate Library.  The future site of the new central library had been found. The back of the existing Undergraduate Library would be removed and an addition would be built onto the existing structure.


Phase II: Thomas Cooper Library

Building a New Library

In the Fall of 1971, 25 percent of the rear of the existing building was removed and construction began behind the Undergraduate Library. Four floors were to be added underground, and the three existing floors, which was about 30,000 square feet, were remodeled and an extension built onto them. The two buildings were joined together, producing nearly 290,000 square feet of space, keeping the original award-winning design, and creating the Thomas Cooper Library.

The "pond" and water fountains in front of the library were added during the construction of the new Thomas Cooper Library. The landscape architect's design for the area was almost discarded in favor of a parking lot. The park benches and water were only approved because engineers suggested that on hot days, cool water could be circulated through the building and hot air taken out through the fountains. The "pond" has been a home over the years to ducks, geese and even an alligator. The alligator, however, was a student prank.


The Move

The move to the new library began on May 6, 1976 and was completed only nineteen days later. A total of about 35 staff members and 60 student assistants packed, moved, and shelved about 1,000,000 volumes. The new Thomas Cooper Library project cost $9,450,000, and had capacity for 1,500,000 volumes, 2,531 seats, and 45 miles of shelving.

Ultimately the project consolidated five libraries under one roof.  The slow process began with the government documents and microform collections, which were moved to the Undergraduate Library prior to construction. The General Services Library, which served the two year programs at the University, was incorporated into the collection of Thomas Cooper just before the big move. The nineteen day move consolidated the General Collection from McKissick, the Science Library from the Physical Sciences Building, and the Education Library from Wardlaw College into the new library.  The Thomas Cooper Library opened for business at 8:00 a.m. on June 6, 1976, within the original budget which was estimated in 1970. The new Graniteville Rare Book Room and Thomas Cooper Library were dedicated on December 7th and 8th, 1976.


The Library Grows

The Map Depository housed in the Calcott Building within the Geography Department officially became a part of the library system in September of 1975. The Map Library was moved to its present location on the 5th floor of The Thomas Cooper Library during the break between spring and summer classes in 1986. Yet another collection was added in 1985 when the Instructional Film Library was transferred from the Instructional Services Center to Thomas Cooper. The Film Library, which included 3,022 films (and now includes The Movietone Newsreels, given to the University by 20th Century Fox), was located on the ground level of Thomas Cooper, but is now located on Wheat Street. The Math Library opened on January 21, 1985, on the third floor of Leconte and remains a separate branch library.


Technology Leader

The Thomas Cooper Library has always focused on the area of technology. The original Undergraduate Library installed a Light Pen System which was used for circulation in 1959. The first library computer installation occurred as early as 1971 when the Technical Services area started using a computer ordering system. In recent years, computers have slowly taken over the library. The Student Computer Lab opened in Thomas Cooper Library on December 7, 1989, occupying the 5th floor of the library. The first CD-ROMs were introduced in Thomas Cooper between 1989 and 1990. This was also the first full year of the new electronic library catalog, USCAN. The "POD" area or computer research stations of Thomas Cooper developed gradually with the arrival of the technology, and was completed with 36 work stations and printers between 1994 and 1995. The Internet was introduced into this area in 1995. In February 1999 Thomas Cooper began offering web-based access to the electronic resources that were on CD-ROMs.

Thomas Cooper Library has evolved over the years with the addition of new collections and new technology. The Library has continued to respond to the constantly changing needs of the University community. The Library has grown from 60,000 volumes in 1959 to over 2.6 million books, 3.5 million microform items, and 14,000 current serials.

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All photos courtesy University of South Carolina Archives
Last updated October 22, 1999
This page created by Judi Brown