Background and Purpose of the Oral History Project on South Carolina Librarians

Librarians and archivists have always been the foremost collectors and protectors of recorded knowledge. Unfortunately, they have not been very good at collecting and protecting the records of their own history. South Carolina librarians and archivists share this fault. Recognizing this, in 1985 I wrote proposals to the South Carolina Committee on the Humanities, the South Carolina Library Association, and the South Carolina State Library to initiate a project titled "South Carolinaís Library Heritage" that would begin efforts to preserve and promote the history of libraries and the work of librarians in the state. These three organizations provided $20,000 in funding (and the College of Library and Information Science matched those funds) to do the following:

1. Update a earlier bibliography of the history of SC libraries;

2. Survey all libraries in SC about the resources they held that could be used to write the history of their library;

3. Conduct oral history interviews with SC librarians who have been influential in the development of libraries in the state;

4. Create traveling exhibits that told the story of South Carolina libraries and librarians.

The South Carolina Library Heritage Project began work in September, 1985. That same semester, Robin Copp, began work on her joint degrees in Library and Information Science and Applied History, and I was fortunate to convince her to be the Projectís Graduate Assistant. Most of the accomplishments of the project are a result of Robinís hard work (she is now Librarian, South Caroliniana Library, USC).

The updated bibliography and the results of the survey are now available for searching and continued updating at: and I encourage researchers to use it and update it at his site. Thanks to Donna Teuber, of Richland School District 1 for making the bibliography accessible via the Web and providing it a temporary home.

Two traveling exhibits were prepared and we made available to any institution in the state that wanted to show them. Thanks to Dr. Robert E. Molyneux and the students in his "Putting Content on the Internet" course, they are now available on the Web as follows:

From Village to State: The Foundations of South Carolinaís Public Library System

Adventures in Faith: Library Services to Blacks in South Carolina

During the five years that the SC Library Heritage Project was operational, 15 oral history interviews were conducted. I selected (with the help of an advisory group of long-term SC librarians) the interviewees because of their leadership roles in the development of different types of libraries in the state. Also, in keeping with one of the major purposes of oral history, I selected these folks based on whether their work had been well documented in other resources (such as personal papers or archival records deposited somewhere) that were available to researchers. (None of the interviewees had deposited their personal papers anywhere and archival records of their work was not extensive.) The Project also emphasized interviewing African-American librarians in the state because their stories were the least well documented; 10 African-American librarians from a variety of types of libraries were interviewed.

Prior to each interview, Robin and I did extensive searching of published and archival records (very little of the latter) on the interviewee so that we had as complete a background on them as was possible with our limited funding. All of the interviews were structured interviews, recorded on audio tapes, transcribed and returned to the interviewees for correction, editing, and a decision about release of the interview for research purposes.

For various reasons, including the death of several of the interviewees, some of the interviews were never completed. Most of the interviews were released in their entirety but some carry restrictions. I hope that the incomplete interviews will eventually be completed and made available.

Permission For Use

Restrictions on the interviews published on this Web site are noted on the interview. Permission to quote from these interviews in a published source (including Web publications) should be obtained from: Robert V. Williams, College of Library and Information Science, Univ. of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 (or e-mail ).

The Interviewer

Robert V. Williams is Professor, College of Library and Information Science, University of South Carolina. He has taught at the College since 1978. His teaching and research areas are: history of libraries and Information Science, special libraries management, government information, business information, and research methods. He was an archivist, records manager, and information services manager prior to his coming to USC. He has published several articles on the history of libraries and Information Science.