Lexington County (SC) Public Library System
The history of public libraries in South Carolina dates back to colonial times. Our state is proud to claim America's first public library, which was established in Charles-Town in 1698 through the zealous efforts of Reverend Dr. Thomas Bray, an Episcopal clergyman. The South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation that year, which is recorded in the Journals of the Common House of Assembly of South Carolina, providing £53to be paid in London for "Bookes Belonging to ye Library of Charles-Town in Carolina." The General Assembly showed its gratitude for the library by appointing a committee to write a letter to
Library societies and subscription libraries sprang up in various parts of the state during the 18th century, but not a single public library was established after the one in Charles-Town for another 200 years. Finally, in 1898, the Marion County Library opened in the Town of Marion.
In 1969 the General Assembly established the South Carolina State Library both to serve as a general state library and also to create and improve public and institutional library service throughout the state. By 1977 tax-supported public library systems were available throughout all of South Carolina's 46 counties. Today 9 counties benefit from 3 regional systems that serve from two to four counties each, while the remainder of the state is served by single county systems.
This study will examine
the public library system in Lexington County from its humble beginnings
early in this century right up to the modern, full-service library it has
become at the brink of a new millennium.
For many years Lexington County residents questioned why their library system had been based out in the "twin-cities" of Batesburg-Leesville, when the town of Lexington was the county seat. The town of Lexington received its municipal charter in 1861, making it 14 years older than Leesville (1875) and 16 years older than Batesburg (1877). The simple answer is that the library system was based in Batesburg because citizens of the Batesburg-Leesville community took the initiative in pioneering the county's original library.
Jane Griffin, who later became the library's second Director, records in a student paper that what is now the county-wide system began with discussions at the April, 1912 meeting of the Batesburg Woman's Club. As soon as the club decided a library was needed, it began arguing where to put it! Eventually an agreement was worked out, and 325 books were placed on a donated shelf in the Batesburg Town Hall. The little library opened officially in September of 1912, and was called The Batesburg Library.
The stated purpose of the Batesburg Library was to serve Batesburg, Leesville and the surrounding areas, but books did not circulate free of charge to all residents of the county as they do today. Instead, members were charged $1 per year for dues, while non-members were charged a rent of ten cents per book. The "librarians" were volunteers from the Woman's Club.
The small Batesburg Library collection grew its way through five different homes in its first eight years, including the post office, various banks, and an Episcopal Chapel. By 1920 there were 1,175 books and 60 dues-paying members. In 1926 the town of Batesburg began regular support of the library with $25 per month donations. By 1928 the collection had grown to 2,000 books, and an insurance policy was purchased valuing the collection at $1,000.
During the depression years of the 1930s the Batesburg Library received assistance from the Community Service Division of the WPA (Work Projects Administration). The WPA was a Federal agency created to put unemployed people to work on public projects. Its Library Project operated in South Carolina from 1935 to 1943, when it was brought to an end by the Second World War. The WPA Library Project provided Federal library aid to all the counties in South Carolina, but had to be planned and operated by the WPA itself because the state had no active agency to plan library programs.
Even with Federal aid
the little library grew too large for the Batesburg Woman's Club to manage.
In 1942, after operating the library for thirty years, the club deeded
it to a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees with the intent that it become
a free public library serving the Batesburg-Leesville area. The organization's
name was changed to The Batesburg-Leesville Public Library, Lorena Miller
was employed as the County's first qualified librarian and its first Library
Director, and a new era of community service was about to begin.
1948 brought more changes to the library when the South Carolina General Assembly authorized creation of the Lexington County Circulating Library Board, which could define its own duties and powers, acquire books, and provide for their circulation throughout Lexington County. The Batesburg-Leesville Public Library was reorganized to become the Lexington County Circulating Library, with its headquarters remaining in Batesburg. The collection's new home was in a remodeled carriage barn.
By the time Lorena Miller
retired in 1971 she had supervised three building programs, including the
headquarters in Batesburg, and had helped the library's collection grow
to 82,612 volumes, compared with only 3,000 in 1948. She also established
a county-wide bookmobile service.
The 1948 legislation
had called for library service throughout Lexington County, but the 1940
figures from the U.S. Bureau of the Census revealed that 75.5% of the population
of the State of South Carolina lived in rural areas. Serving outlying areas
of the county provided a real challenge. In 1949 the Lexington County Circulating
Library met this challenge by purchasing its first bookmobile. This traveling
unit contained 1,600 books, which was more than four times the size of
the original library's collection, and served rural residents five days
a week. The library's total circulation grew by 87,642 between 1949 and
1950, an increase which has been attributed to the popularity of the bookmobile.
The first branch library outside Batesburg-Leesville opened in the town of Lexington in 1948. By 1950 the system had grown to 5 branches, including the Headquarters in Batesburg-Leesville. The following table lists the branches in order of their creation in each community:
By 1952 the library's
collection had increased to 21,930 books circulating through five branches
and by bookmobile. The bookmobile also served 50 schools in the county
at that time. During 1953 the circulation rose to 145,530, and the total
number of books to 24,650.
The concept of denying anyone access to books is enough to make a professional public librarian in the 1990s feel weak in the knees, but African-American citizens of Lexington County were restricted from using the public library until the late 1960s.
Dan R. Lee wrote an article appearing in the Proceedings of Library History Seminar VIII held May 9-11 in Bloomington, Indiana, in which he reports that in 1938 a separate library was created in Lexington for Blacks. Lee says this was a result of the "Faith Cabin" library movement begun in South Carolina by Willie Lee Buffington, a white millworker from Saluda County. In addition, several long time library employees say that when the Lexington County Circulating Library in Batesburg moved into the remodeled carriage barn in 1948, the two rooms vacated above the Batesburg Town Hall were developed into the Negro Branch library. The librarian is said to have been a Mrs. Edith V. Robinson. (In preparing this study, no other evidence of a "Faith Cabin" library in Lexington or of Mrs. Robinson has been found.)
Constance Flemming, a prominent Black educator who was born in Lexington, remembers being unable to use the public library in Lexington until around 1975, when schools and libraries became fully integrated. She says when she was a child, her father Willie Caractor, a leader in Lexington's African-American community, had to take her outside the county in order to use a public library.
The library did not hire an African-American until 1979, when Barbara Felder Johnson began working at the R.H. Smith Library as a part-time library assistant. Today she holds the title of Systems Assistant at the Lexington Main Library, where her duties include installing new hardware and software, and maintaining the Library's Web site.
At one time Lexington
County, like most of the South, claimed a "separate but equal" policy with
regard to school and library facilities for Blacks. The reality was that
services for Blacks was absolutely separate, but definitely not
equal. Today the Lexington County Public Library System has followed the
lead of public schools (as well as both the letter and the spirit of the
law) by welcoming all members of the community to use its facilities.
After Lorena Miller retired In July of 1971, Mrs. Jane D. Griffin became the second Director of the Lexington County Circulating Library. Mrs. Griffin held an undergraduate degree from Converse College and a Master of Library Science degree from Emory University. She had served as assistant librarian for the county since her graduation from Emory in 1969. During her years as Director Mrs. Griffin led the organization through many changes, including building projects, increases in both the variety and quantity of services offered, and the implementation of new technologies that would impact the entire library system.
In 1976 the Central Midlands Regional Planning Council produced a long range study entitled A Facilities Plan For The Public Library Systems Of The Central Midlands Region. The council is a 13 member body of municipalities and counties whose purpose is to provide a forum for business and government leaders to work together for the good of a region encompassing Lexington, Richland, Fairfield, and Newberry counties. Their study examined Lexington's needs for the next 15 years, and projected that the county's population would continue to grow through the year 2000.
In 1985 the Lexington County Library Board used the Central Midlands study to formulate its goals and objectives for the next two decades. These included:
In 1978 the South Carolina General Assembly passed Act Number 564, which amended Title 4, Chapter 9 of the South Carolina Code of Laws by adding sections 4-9-35 through 4-9-39. These new sections enabled county councils to establish county library systems on a uniform basis. In 1979 the Lexington County Council passed an ordinance in accordance with this enabling legislation designating the library system a continuing function of the Lexington County government. The ordinance changed the name of the system from The Lexington County Circulating Library to The Lexington County Public Library System. The library system was to be controlled and managed by the Library Board of Trustees, whose duties and responsibilities were clearly defined.
Section 6 of the 1979 Ordinance created a cumbersome procedure for handling money. It required that all annual appropriations for the library system had to be deposited in the Lexington County Board of Education Fund, from where they would be expended by the Board of Education on order of the Library Board or its spending committee. In 1983 County Council amended its 1979 Ordinance to eliminate this procedure. The 1983 Ordinance made funds directly available to the library by depositing them into a Lexington County Library System Fund, from where they could be expended by the Library Board of Trustees.
In 1987 the Lexington County Library Board engaged library consultants Cecil Beach and Darro Willey from a Florida based consulting firm to prepare a library facilities study for the county system. This study resulted in a 64 page document which analyzed and summarized the condition of the system in great detail, and found it lagging far behind the needs of the county's growing population. The consultants made the following observations and recommendations:
Beach and Willey weren't
the only ones who pointed out the deficiencies. The South Carolina State
Library's state-wide per capita statistics
of library systems' rankings showed that Lexington was loosing ground through
the mid eighties, but turned around when improvements were implemented
in the nineties.
In 1992 the County was offered a 20,512 sq. ft. building in West Columbia which had housed Compton's Department Store. This building was even larger than the library's Headquarters, which was still in Batesburg, and the asking price was simply too good to pass up. After negotiations were completed with the Compton family, Lexington County Council raised $340,000 to fund furnishings and renovations by selling property it owned on Knox Abbott Drive. The new Cayce-West Columbia Branch Library officially opened its doors on September 14, 1992, and became the largest library in the system.
By the end of 1992, Lexington's library system had grown to include branches in Lexington, Irmo, Cayce-West Columbia, Chapin, Swansea, Gaston, Pelion and Gilbert. Headquarters remained in Batesburg.
The county's next step
in meeting growing demands on the library system was to introduce automation,
in an effort to increase the efficiency of its existing facilities.
Perhaps the single greatest change in libraries since the invention of the printing press has occurred in the latter part of the 20th century. During the 1980s and 1990s the familiar wooden card catalog, which had been used for so many years by library professionals and patrons alike, was being retired and replaced by new computerized electronic bibliographic records. Even the typewriter, which had been used in libraries since the 1920s, was becoming a relic. As early as 1985, two years before the Florida consultants recommended automation as a method of "cost avoidance", the Library Board had considered the installation of some sort of computerized data system that would not only replace the traditional card catalog, but could also provide information of other kinds.
The process of automating any library system is a gigantic task. Bibliographic records must be converted into machine readable formats, staff needs to be trained, each individual book must be identified by its own barcode, and the barcodes must then be attached to the books! Even the buildings themselves have to be wired and then networked to each other. Finally, the public will be forced to learn new skills in order to use their own library.
In 1991 the library contracted with Gaylord Information System for a computerized data package specifically designed for libraries. Many of the employees who worked through the period of converting to this system recall the experience as a traumatic but necessary event in the life of the library. One day the computers arrived---the next day the card catalog, on which they had depended for so many years to locate materials---vanished.
During March of 1993 the library offered a "last chance" amnesty period. Patrons were permitted to return overdue materials without fines (and with no questions asked) before automation made "catching" them a near certainty. By April the library was fully automated, and patrons of the Lexington County Library System were issued library cards for the very first time.
Today, it is difficult
to remember what it was like in libraries before automation. Although there
were many moments of frustration with the new innovations, electronic information
management proved far superior to the old methods of keeping records on
On January 12, 1990, The State newspaper reported a decision by the Library Board to move the headquarters of the Library System from Batesburg to Lexington. Board Chairman Hugh Rogers was quoted as saying the Board had been looking for land and had settled on four possible sites, all in the Lexington area. Batesburg residents were concerned about loosing "their" library, and town leaders wanted to hold public hearings. Chairman Rogers said that he understood their feelings, but explained "Lexington is the county seat, and this is a county agency. The sheriff is here, the courthouse is here. This is the seat of government."
U. S. Bureau of the Census figures published in the South Carolina Statistical Abstract revealed that the population of Lexington County had grown from 89,012 in 1970 to 140,353 in 1980, and then to 167,611 in 1990, the latest year for which numbers were available. In just twenty years, the population had almost doubled! Clearly, something had to be done about the current state of the library, and plans had to be made for future needs.
Many county and community leaders had recognized the shortcomings of the library system, but some had been just as concerned about the expense of upgrading. One even suggested merging the Lexington and Richland County libraries to form a regional system, while at the same time questioning the counties' respective levels of commitment.
On September 21, 1994 the Library Board met at the spacious Cayce-West Columbia Library in the former Compton's building. They began by approving architectural fees for the new Gaston Library. The second item on their agenda was the possible acquisition of properties for new buildings for the Gilbert-Summit Library, the Chapin Library, the Irmo Library and the future Headquarters library to be located in Lexington. Mrs. Griffin told the Board about negotiations held at a breakfast meeting on September 15th, for five acres of land in Lexington which could be used for a Headquarters library.
On November 15, 1994,
The State newspaper reported that County Council had approved a $9.7 million
bond issue to expand and improve the county library system. Headquarters
would move to Lexington, and the library in Batesburg-Leesville would be
renovated to better serve the needs of that community.
By November of 1995 the new libraries in Gilbert and Gaston were near completion, and construction on the new library in Chapin was about to begin. Plans for the new headquarters to be located on Highway #1 in Lexington were unveiled for the community at the old Lexington Branch Library on Park Road. The Library Board praised the new facility as "the library of tomorrow" and "a dream come true", and excitement began to build in the community as the architectural model was placed on public display. The new building would have 48,000 square feet on two floors. It would feature an auditorium, conference rooms, a South Carolina history room, a virtual library with computers for public use, and 200 parking spaces. The Lexington County Public Library System was about to fulfill its potential with a state-of-the-art facility.
Improvements to the library went beyond bricks and mortar. On March 25, 1996, County Council passed Ordinance No. 96-1, which again amended the 1979 Ordinance passed 17 years earlier. The 1996 Ordinance converted the library into a full-fledged County agency, and provided that
Denise H. Bedenbaugh, who was then serving as Deputy Director, became the Acting Temporary Director until a replacement could be found for Mrs. Griffin. Mrs. Bedenbaugh had worked her way up through the system since starting as a part-time library page in September of 1972.
Daniel S. MacNeill became
the new director of the Lexington County Public Library System in September
of 1996. Mr. MacNeill, a native of the Philadelphia area, graduated from
LaSalle College with a BA in English and earned his Masters Degree in Library
Science from the University of Tennessee in 1972. He had previously served
as Director of public library systems in North Carolina and Mississippi,
and as Assistant Director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Public Library
in Tennessee. MacNeill was able to put his substantial experience in library
construction projects to good use, as responsibility for all the libraries
under construction in Lexington County fell on his shoulders.
Everyone in Lexington County is aware of the traffic congestion, sprouting neighborhoods and packed schools caused by extraordinary growth. The State newspaper, citing U.S. Census estimates (1990-1997) reported on March 18,1998 that Lexington County had gained more people in the 90s than any other county in South Carolina.
One beautiful new library after another opened in communities throughout Lexington County, fulfilling the plans and dreams begun years earlier by the Library Board with the support of county citizens. On March 4, 1996 a new Gaston Library building opened to the public followed by the new Chapin Branch Library's opening on October 20, 1997. In January of 1998, the collection located at the Lexington Branch Library and the administrative offices in Batesburg moved to the new 48,000 sq. ft. Headquarters building on Highway #1 in Lexington. What had been Lexington Branch Library became Lexington Main Library when the building opened its doors to the public on January 26th. In March 1998, the Irmo Branch Library moved from its cramped 3000 sq. ft. facility to a new 25,000 sq. ft. building. At the time of this writing, renovation of the Batesburg-Leesville Library is scheduled to begin in December of 1998.
The Lexington County Public Library System has come a long way from that little dues-supported library of 325 books begun in 1912 by the ladies of Batesburg. The 1998 operating budget is $3,316,878. There are currently 83.4 FTE employment positions. The collection includes 329,565 books and serials, 1,239 newspapers and periodicals, and 17,984 audio and videotapes. All nine of the system's branches offer Internet access. Several branches schedule concerts, lectures and community events in their spacious conference rooms.
The library is especially proud of its Youth Services Department, which selects materials and develops system-wide programming for county residents from birth through age 14. Ellen Stringer, Youth Services Coordinator, notes that system-wide circulation in her department is 48%, which exceeds the national average of 37%. The department's circulation during the 1998 Summer Reading Program jumped to 54%. Youth Services is responsible for approximately 1000 programs aimed at youth every year, with attendance in excess of 25,000.
Lexington Main Library boasts a unique South Carolina Room, which focuses on genealogy and local history, staffed by its own full-time professional reference librarian, Mark T. Mancuso. It's mission is to aid in the preservation, promotion, and documentation of the history and heritage of Lexington County.
In 2012 what is now the Lexington County Public Library System will celebrate its 100th anniversary. It will continue to evolve in order to serve the community as we enter the next millennium.
So, why do communities
like Lexington need public libraries? Public libraries provide a central
resource for information, education and entertainment...a place to record
and store the community's history...a gathering place...a safe and quiet
place of retreat...a place to be alone without actually being alone. Communities
need public libraries because public libraries enhance the quality of life.
America's First Public Library: The Provincial Library At Charles-Town In Carolina 1698. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina State Library, 1970.
Eberhart, George M.. The Whole Library Handbook 2. Chicago: American Library Association, 1995.
Lee, Dan R.. "Faith Cabin Libraries: A Study of an Alternative Library Service in the Segregated South, 1932-1960." IN: Reading and Libraries: Proceedings of Library History Seminar VIII, 9-11 May 1990, Bloomington, Edited by Donald G. Davis, Jr., Austin, TX: Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Univ. of Texas at Austin, 1991.
South Carolina Public Library Buildings 1991-1995. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina State Library, 1996.
South Carolina Statistical Abstract 1996. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina State Budget And Control Board, 1996.
Walker, Estellene P., ed. and compiler. "So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina 1698-1980. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina State Library, 1981.
Whitmire, Mary Laird. "South Carolina's Struggle For A Statewide Tax-Supported
Public Library System," Master's thesis, University of South Carolina,
Gordon, Kay. "County unveils 'library of tomorrow'." The State November 16, 1995, Neighbors ed.: p. 1.
Hough, Bhakti Larry. "Lexington County Urged To Move Main Library." The State January 23, 1990: B 1-2.
Kudelka, Bob. "B-L library to close for renovations: Lexington building to reopen in five months." The State September 30, 1998: B3.
Kudelka, Bob, Tim Flach, and Joey Holleman. "Lexington Growth Roars." The State March 18, 1998: A1.
"Library Offers Last Chance." The State February 25, 1993: p. 1.
"Lexington County Library System History." The Twin-City News October 15, 1992: p.9.
McKinney, Beth. "Library board has eight facilities to oversee." The State October 17, 1985, Neighbors ed.: p. 6.
"Miss Lorena Miller. " The Twin-City News January 10, 1980: p. 4A.
"Miss Miller Retires." The Twin-City News July 8, 1971: p. 1.
"Our Heritage Of Library Service." News For South Carolina Libraries South Carolina State Library September/October 1998: Vol. 30, No. 5 p. 9.
Shealy,Vicki, "County Oks $9.7 library plan." Lexington County Chronicle November 16, 1994: 1.
Sponhour, Michael. "Spending limit gets Lexington County OK: Council also approves $9.7 million library plan." The State November 15, 1994: B1.
Vaughan, Scott. "County approves $340K for library," The Dispatch-News
April 15, 1992: 5A.
First Annual Report, The South Carolina State Library, July 1, 1969-June 30, 1970. State Budget and Control Board. (Available at the South Carolina State Library.)
Griffin, Jane D., "History Of The Lexington County Circulating Library," Student paper, Emory University, No date given. (Available at the Lexington Main Library.)
Letter from County Councilman Paul Peters to Jane Griffin, Library Director, dated December 2, 1989.
Lexington County Public Library, Goals And Objectives, Fifteen Year Plan: 1985-2000 December 1985. (Available at Lexington Main Library.)
Lexington County Library System: Library Facilities Study. Lexington County Library Board Of Trustees. December, 1987. (Available at the Lexington Main Library.)
Minutes of the Lexington County Library Board Meeting, September 21, 1994. (Available at the Lexington Main Library.)
Minutes of the Lexington County Library Board Meeting, May 28, 1996. (Available at the Lexington Main Library.)
South Carolina Public Library Annual Statistical Summary. 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 1997. The South Carolina State Library. Columbia, SC.
Wingard, Nancy F. and Clayton B. Kleckley, "A Short History Of Lexington
County." The Lexington County Historical Society May 1970. (Available at
the Lexington Main Library.)
Lexington County Statutes & Ordinances
(The following statutes and ordinances are all available at the offices of the Lexington County Council in the County Administration Building, 212 South Lake Drive, Lexington, SC.)
South Carolina. County of Lexington. An Ordinance Providing For The Continued Existence, Composition, Function, Duties, Responsibilities, And Operation Of The Lexington County Library System, And The Appointment Of The Library Board, Pursuant To Act Number 564 Of The South Carolina General Assembly 1978. Lexington, South Carolina, June 27,1979.
South Carolina, County Of Lexington. An Ordinance To Amend The Lexington County Public Library System Ordinance Originally Enacted On June 27, 1979. Lexington, South Carolina, May 12, 1983.
South Carolina, County Of Lexington. An Ordinance To Amend Chapter 9, Library, Sections 9-4 (Same-Duties), 9-5 (Applicability Of State Laws), And 9-6, (Funding Of System) March 25, 1996.
Code of Ordinances, Lexington County, South Carolina. Chapter
CD-ROM and Web Sites
Central Midlands Council of Governments Home Page. http://www.cmcog.state.sc.us/ (Accessed 11/27/98).
"Mission Statement." Lexington County Public Library System Home Page. http://www.lex.lib.sc.us/docs/mission_statement.htm (Accessed 11/12/98).
"S 0863" South Carolina General Assembly Home Page. http://www.leginfo.state.sc.us/sessions/102/bills/1020863.html (Accessed 11/11/98).
SC Code of Laws. http://www.lpitr.state.sc.us/code/t04c009.htm (Accessed 11/11/98).
"South Carolina Public Libraries." South Carolina State LibraryHome Page. http://www.state.sc.us/scsl/colibs1.html (Accessed 11/24/98).
"Work Projects Administration (WPA)," Microsoft ENCARTA '95: The
Complete Interactive Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1995 Edition, CD-ROM.
Microsoft Corporation: United States, 1992-1994.
Bedenbaugh, Denise H.. Personal Interview. November 4, 1998.
Flemming, Constance. Personal Interview. October 12, 1998.
Johnson, Barbara Felder. Personal Interview. November 12, 1998.
Lott, Mary E.. Personal Interview. October 21, 1998.
Lott, Sarah. Personal Interview. September 15, 1998.
MacNeill, Daniel S.. Personal Interview. September 28, 1998.
Stringer, Ellen. Personal Interview, November 10, 1998.
A History And Scrapbook Of The Lexington County Circulating Library.
Batesburg, S.C.: Compiled by the staff of the Lexington County Circulating
Library, 1980. (Available at the Lexington Main Library.)