"So Good and Necessary a Work":

The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980

The first publicly supported library in the nation was established in Charles Town (South Carolina) in 1698. This library, founded just 28 years after the first permanent settlement owed its organization to the zeal and enthusiasm of the Reverend Dr. Thomas Bray, an Episcopal clergyman of that period. The General Assembly of South Carolina confirmed the establishment of the library by official act in 1700 but even before that date had appropriated funds for the purchase of books for the new "Publick Library." The journals of the Common House of Assembly of South Carolina for 1698 carry numerous references to the public library, among them the appropriation of fifty-three pounds to be paid in London for "Bookes Belonging to ye Library of Charles Towne in Carolina."

In November, 1698, Jonathan Amory was ordered to "lay out in Drest Skins to ye fallue of Seaventy Pounds Currant Money ... for ye paymenty of fifty three Pounds ... Due (on) a Publick Library" and to spend the surplus for such books for the "Publick Library" as were not already mentioned in the library catalogue.

The South Carolina Assembly expressed their gratitude for the library. A committee of the House was ordered to write a letter to the Lords Proprietors, containing among other things, the "Thankes of This House for yr Generous prsent of Soe Considerable Part of our Public Library." The General Assembly expressed their gratitude to Dr. Thomas Bray on November 25, 1698 by declaring: "We can not but now think it our Duty, to make it our Endeavours to encourage Religion and Learning amongst us, according to the best of our Ability, seeing that yourself (though a Stranger) have been so kind and generous, as to set the first example towards the promotion of so Good and Necessary a Work."

From the beginning the colonial government felt an obligation to maintain and protect the library. It was placed in charge of the incumbent of the church in Charles Town and he was made accountable for the books. Seven copies of a catalog of all of the books in the library were required of him and on the 5th of November of each year an inventory had to be completed. The rules for the library were carefully worked out and they were stringent. Heavy penalties were exacted for loss or damage to the books.

Although this library did not long survive in the eighteenth century, the state may take pride in the manner in which this ambitious early library scheme was handled by the provincial government. A substantial amount of public funds was laid out to promote and foster the good work, and to assure its continuance as a provincial responsibility.

The next step in the development of library service in South Carolina was taken in 1748 when seventeen young gentlemen joined together with the objective of raising a small fund to purchase pamphlets, magazines and books. Their purpose was to keep in touch with a mature civilization, the history and progress of the world, and with new publications. This group was organized as the Charles Town Library Society, an organization which 232 years later is still a flourishing institution with one of America's fine rare book collections.

The library society or subscription library was a pattern which became popular throughout South Carolina. Libraries of this type were organized in Beaufort, and in Georgetown by the Winyah Indigo Society. By 1860 there were "library society" libraries in operation in many of the counties of the state.

Only the libraries in Charleston and Georgetown survived the War Between the States. Beaufort's library had been confiscated and burned. The Beaufort Library was confiscated as Rebel property and sent to the Port of New York to be sold at public auction. The editors of New York newspapers protested the seizure and sale so vigorously, that Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, rescinded the order for the sale and directed that the books be stored in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington until the war was over. Unfortunately a fire broke out in January of 1865 and all of the books were destroyed. In 1950 with the aid of Senator Burnett Maybank, the South Carolina State Library Board was able to secure some restitution to Beaufort for the loss of this fine early library. In Cheraw, Sherman's troops ransacked the library before burning the building and carried away the books scattering them along their march towards Fayetteville. Although there were sporadic efforts to revive libraries in several of the counties, none were successful because of lack of money for books. It was not until the turn of the century, with the organization of women's clubs and the establishment of the South Carolina Federation of Women's Clubs that progress was made. Establishing community libraries became a major objective of most of the women's clubs and their efforts were given strong support by the Federation. Although the libraries established were small collections of books, poorly housed and staffed by volunteers from among the club members themselves, from these small beginnings grew many of the state's fine public libraries.

One of the influential leaders in the development of public library service was Judge Charles A. Woods. Through his leadership the Marion Public Library was established in 1898 and, with financial support from the Town of Marion, became the first public library in the state. Judge Woods was influential in the establishment of public libraries in many areas of the state, notably in Darlington, Florence and Greenville.

During the early 1900's the general interest in the development of public library service was evident in the number of club programs devoted to the topic and the number of projects undertaken to establish new libraries or to improve those already established. Mr. R. M. Kennedy, then librarian of the University of South Carolina, was active in promoting a public library program. In 1914, in a paper read before the Kershaw County Teachers Institute, he recommended a city/county library system and the establishment of a State Library Commission. On October 27, 1915 he and Miss Elizabeth D. English, then assistant librarian at the University, called together a group of librarians and other interested persons for a discussion of the problems of library development in the state. The group organized itself into the South Carolina Library Association, with 24 persons enrolled as charter members. This association gave active support to all measures and programs affecting the development of library service.

The present public library program in the state began in the 1920's and is largely the result of the interest, energy and determination of Mary E. Frayser who spared no effort to establish a library program and to bring books and reading to the people of the state. Miss Frayser, a rural sociologist engaged in the agricultural extension program at Winthrop, left no stone unturned until the state had a good public library law and had authorized the establishment of a state library extension agency. Miss Frayser was ably assisted by Lucy Hampton Bostick of the Richland County Library and Charlotte Templeton of the Greenville Public Library. In 1929 legislation was enacted permitting counties, townships, and municipal corporations to establish public libraries by a majority vote and to levy a tax of up to two mills for their support. A State Library extension agency was authorized but not funded. In 1934 the public library law was extended to permit the establishment of regional library systems.

Although no funds were appropriated by the legislature to activate the State Library extension agency which it had authorized, a board was appointed which had the right to accept gifts and endowments. With a grant from the Ronsenwald Foundation matched by contributions from members of the South Carolina Library Association, a fund was raised which provided $5,000 a year for a period of three years to allow the State Library Board to employ a field agent, rent office space, and provide travel funds. The mission of the field agent was the development of public libraries in the state, and in furthering this objective, she traveled throughout the state, held conferences and institutes to discuss library topics, produced booklists to guide in book selection and supplied publicity to newspapers to create an understanding of the benefits of public library service to the general public. The first field agent was Miss Parmelee Cheves who served from 1929-1932. Miss Cheves kept the idea of public library service on a county-wide basis alive even though most of her work was of necessity done with municipal and township libraries.

As far back as 1698 Dr. Thomas Bray in an essay supporting a plan for the establishment of libraries in the colonies had set the pattern for the development of South Carolina's present county library program. In Dr. Bray's essay he said, "Standing libraries will signify little in the Country, where Persons must ride some miles to look into a Book; such journeys being too expensive of Time and Money, but Lending Libraries which come home to 'em Without Charge, may tolerably well supply the Vacancies in their own Studies..."

Three important steps in the development of statewide library service took place during the 1930's. Soon after the enactment of legislation allowing the establishment of county library systems, two of South Carolina's counties, Richland and Charleston, were chosen by the Rosewald Foundation for county library demonstrations. In 1930 the Charleston County Library received $80,000 and the Richland County Library $75,000 for five year demonstrations of county-wide service. The success of these demonstrations emphasized the feasibility of the county as a unit of service and influenced the development of the public library program in the entire state.

On January 4-5, 1934 a landmark citizens' conference on the library needs of South Carolina was held at Clemson College. The meeting was called by the President of Clemson in cooperation with the State Library Board and the State Library Association. It brought together leaders from throughout the state to plan and adopt a program for public library development. Serving as the basis of discussion was a bulletin which had just been published by Clemson College on the Libraries of South Carolina, by Mary E. Frayser of the Agricultural Extension Staff. Following this conference the South Carolina Citizens' Library Association was organized. In 1938 with E. R. Jeter of Rock Hill as President, the Citizens' Association was able to secure funds with which it brought into the state Dr. Helen Gordon Stewart, an internationally known authority on public library extension, to organize a compaign for State Aid and win support for an active State Library agency. Dr. Stewart began her work in 1939 and traveled throughout the state developing citizen interest in behalf of library development and State Aid. Her work came to an end when the legislature failed to provide funds for the proposed new program. In the midst of the Great Depression funds were simply not available to fund the program.

The Statewide WPA Library Project

In 1935 when a statewide library project under the WPA was initiated in South Carolina, the state had no active library extension agency to plan the program and for that reason the project was planned and operated by the WPA itself with the objective of providing in each county of the state some measure of area wide public library service. When the WPA project was initiated there were only three counties in the state with county-wide library service. There were eighteen local libraries with incomes with at least $1,000 and twelve others receiving at least "some" support from public funds. There were twenty-one counties without a tax supported library in their borders.

Mrs. Margaret D. Davies was in charge of women's programs under the WPA and her interest in libraries and in finding employment for women resulted in the state WPA library project. Mrs. Davies sought the aid of Miss Fanny Taber, then president of the South Carolina Library Association, in locating and employing a librarian who could plan, organize and get the project started. Miss Taber chose Miss Ida Bell Entreken (now Mrs. Ambrose Wiley). In six weeks Miss Entreken managed to establish an office, plan a program, make the necessary local contacts and had the show on the road by the first of January 1936. It was a phenomenal job and the excellence of the planning done then benefits the statewide library program to this day. From the beginning, the basic objective of the WPA library program was to extend library service to the entire state with the hope that this service would be continued with local support at the close of the demonstration.

The State Library Supervisor served somewhat in the capacity of a State Library extension agency in planning, supervising and stimulating library development. Carrying out the program were district and area supervisors and supervisors of individual units. It was a streamlined organization with direct channels of authority. The training program provided by the project to prepare employees for library work was successful not only in providing this training but also in instilling real pride in the work being done. This pride in the program and its achievements carried over into library development long after the WPA library program had come to an end.

The WPA library program* in South Carolina spread the benefits of federal library aid to all the counties of the state. Bookmobiles were purchased and put into operation in twenty-three counties formerly without rural service. Libraries were established or strengthened in many of the counties in the state and public library service in some form was made available in every county. In 1943 when the WPA project closed, many of the public libraries established under the project were continued on local tax support. Of great benefit to the continuing library program in the state were library employees who had been trained under the WPA and were able to take over and operate successfully the new library programs.

In 1943 when the statewide WPA library program came to an end, the State Library Board was able to secure an appropriation of $3,000 to establish a State Library Board office and fund a program for the last third of the fiscal year March through June 1943. The legislature appropriated $15,000 to fund the program for the next fiscal year, 1943-44. Nancy Blair who had been State Director of the WPA library program became the first Executive Secretary of the South Carolina State Library Board and served in that capacity until 1946. An office was established with a parttime secretary. Transportation was provided by a station wagon inherited from the WPA and converted into a bookmobile. The bookstock was composed of 25,888 books transferred from the WPA library project.

At the time of the establishment of the State Library Board's first office, there were twelve county libraries with professional librarians, fourteen county libraries and one regional library established under the WPA program. There were 879,794 people in South Carolina without public library service. The per capita ownership of books among public libraries was .3 per capita. The total expenditure for public library service was 14 cents per capita.

The State Library Board initiated its program with emphasis on State Aid to public libraries. Of its total appropriation of $15,000, $8,100 was expended for State Aid to county libraries in which twenty-seven counties participated. By this move on the part of the State Library Board the precedent of State Aid to libraries was firmly established in the State. Initially the requirement for participation in State Aid was that the service given by the library be county-wide. The State Aid grant was spent for books alone. In the ensuing years State Aid requirements were developed to ensure the development of sound public library service on a county-wide basis and the best use of both State Aid and local funds in accomplishing this objective. State Aid requirements rather than the funds themselves were of the greater importance in the development of a strong statewide public library program. For years State Aid remained at a minimum level, rising from $300 per county to $1,500 per county in ten years, then from 50 cents per capita to 75 cents per capita in 1981. The State Aid program put a premium on local initiative and responsibility and resulted in public library systems which were locally controlled and drew the major portion of their financial support from local sources. High standards of book selection resulted in collections of carefully chosen books designed to meet the reading needs of a growing reading public. The substandard, out-of-date, and worn out books were eliminated and in their place were purchased authoritative recent books. State Aid requirements the county libraries met made the state system of county and regional libraries legally established and in charge of legally appointed boards. The requirements ensured well selected book collections, the provision of reference service and a staff with the training and experience required to administer and provide library service of a good level.

During the first twelve years of the State Library Board's program emphasis was placed on the extension of public library service and on its legal establishment. The objective was to create a strong legal basis for public library service in the state, to emphasize local initiative and local support and to create an understanding of the benefits of public library service and an acceptance of the cost of that service. By 1956 when the Library Services Act was passed, a sound legal basis and a strong foundation for the development of a statewide program had been achieved. County-wide library service had been established in thirty-eight counties, five of which were members of regional library systems. The total bookstock had increased from .3 per capita to .7 per capita. State Aid had increased from $300 to $1,500 per county and total public library income had increased from 14 cents per capita to 45 cents per capita. Most important of all, local support of library service had increased from 13 cents per capita to 40 cents per capita. The State Library Board itself was better housed than it had been in 1943 occupying space in the State office building. The staff had been increased by the addition of a Field Service Librarian and a Cataloger. The State Library Board enjoyed a good relationship with the legislature and had seen its State support increase over 500% during its twelve years of operation. It had fought and won a major battle against censorship which had gone a long way to ensure freedom to read for the people in the state.

With the enactment of the Library Services Act in 1956, the State Library Board was charged by Governor Timmerman with the responsibility of administering the program in South Carolina. In the ensuing years the State Library Board, now the South Carolina State Library, made remarkable progress in developing state-wide library service. Basic to this successful program was a master plan for library development which aided in the establishment of county and regional libraries which now serve all of the state's forty-six counties. The development of these county library systems eliminated the expensive duplication of more than one public library supported from tax funds in a single county. The present unified library systems, legally established and in the charge of legally appointed boards, by eliminating expensive overhead and duplication, sharing resources and personnel, have been able to provide a good level of service.

One of the problems which the State Library Board had to solve was that of professional staff for the public and institutional libraries of the state. In 1943 there were only twenty-six professionally trained librarians in all of the public libraries and none in institutional libraries. In 1980 there are 157 fully trained professional librarians in the state's thirty-nine public library systems and the institutional libraries are in the charge of qualified staff. This dramatic improvement is directly due to the State Library's state-wide recruiting program, library intern program, scholarship program and grants to county libraries to aid in achieving salary standards.

Library housing was another problem that had to be solved since in 1943 most public libraries were accommodated in makeshift quarters inadequate to provide anything but minimum service. In the ensuing thirty-six years every county in the state renovated or constructed new public library housing. These buildings have included headquarters buildings as well as branch buildings in major county communities. Beginning in 1968 the Library Services and Construction Act, Title II, provided funds towards construction, renovation and additions to public library buildings in the state. Twenty-one county libraries benefitted directly from construction grants. South Carolina's handsome State Library building was constructed under this program.

When the State Library Board's program was initiated, per capita ownership of books in the state was very low .3 per capita. The total bookstock in all public libraries was 620,550. Today that figure is 3,791,964 and the per capita bookstock has risen to 1.46 per capita, still far below the two per capita goal set by the State Library but an impressive gain over the .3 figure. State Aid, and since 1956 Federal Aid under the Library Services and Construction Act, has contributed largely to this increase in bookstock. Libraries participated in book collection improvement projects, periodical projects, and other book projects designed to help them build well selected collections of books and to maintain them in good condition.

In 1969 the State Library Board became the S. C. State Library. During Governor Strom Thurmond's administration, a Reorganization Commission was appointed which recommended and prepared legislation to consolidate the South Carolina State Library Board and the old State Library into a new and modern State Library agency. The legislation was ready for introduction in the 1951 session of the General Assembly but the Governor left office in January of that year and the legislation was never introduced. It was not until 1955 that another attempt to effect the reorganization was attempted. Again the effort failed but in 1969 during Robert McNair's administration legislation to establish the South Carolina State Library by consolidation of the State Library Board and the old State Library was enacted. The new South Carolina State Library was given all the powers and duties of a general state library.

Anticipating that the third attempt at the establishment of a modern state library would be successful, the State Library Board had planned the building which had been authorized for it and which was then under construction to house a state library program. Immediately upon establishment, the new South Carolina State Library occupied the handsome state library building which was dedicated on February 18, 1970.

Since its establishment the South Carolina State Library has served as the center for interlibrary loan service to the public and institutional libraries in the state. Through this service, the expensive and the highly technical book is available to the patron of even the smallest library. Financial assistance has been provided to county libraries in developing reference service through special projects in this area including the Carolina Materials Project which supplied one library in each Congressional district with either the original or reprints of 150 essential books for the study of South Carolina history. Special grants have also been made to libraries serving a metropolitan area in order to assist them in building up a strong central reference collection for the use of the people in the service area.

With funds under the Library Services and Construction Act, it has been possible since 1966 to establish and improve libraries in State-supported institutions. Today all State institutions have well developed programs tailored to meet the needs of their particular clientele.

When the State Library Board was established there was no service for the blind and physically handicapped beyond that available from the Library of Congress in Washington. Through persistent efforts, funds were finally secured in 1961 to provide this service through a regional library with North Carolina. In 1973 South Carolina was able to establish its own central library for the blind and physically handicapped. This library now serves the entire state with nearly 7,000 registered borrowers.

Home Rule Legislation enacted in 1975 mandated the reorganization of county government. Under new Article viii of the Constitution local legislation relating to county government could no longer be enacted and since all but one of the county libraries had been established under separate local acts of the legislature, the question immediately arose as to the security of the existing county public libraries and of their continuation under the new county council form of government. To resolve this question and guarantee the continued operation of the libraries under legally appointed boards, the State Library sought the assistance of the Public Library Section of the South Carolina Library Assocation in drafting new legislation to replace local library laws. The new legislation was enacted in 1978 providing for the establishment by the county councils of county library systems, providing for the powers and responsibilities of county libraries and the library's governing body on a uniform basis. The establishment of county public libraries was made mandatory by this legislation.

The South Carolina State Library provides all the services of a general state library. In its fifty years of service to the State, great improvements have been made in all branches of library service. The extent of service is excellent; the great need is improvement in depth larger book collections and more staff to serve the public.

*During eight years of operation (1935-1943) the WPA Library Project in South Carolina had four directors: Ida Bell Entrekin - 1935-37; Agnes Crawford - 1937-1939; Roberta Benoit - 1939-1940; Nancy C. Blair - 1940-1943.

Chairmen, S. C. State Library Board, 1929 - 1969; South Carolina State Library 1969-1979.
Mr. H. A. Bethea, Latta, 1929-1936
Mr. Marion A. Wright, Conway, 1936-1943
Miss Mary E. Frayser, Rock Hill, 1943-1950
Mr. James A. Rogers, Florence, 1950-1956
Mr. M. G. Patton, St. George, 1956-1960
Mr. Hugh L. Willcox, Florence, 1960-1967
Mr. H. Carlisle Bean, Spartanburg, 1967-1973
Dr. Carlanna L. Hendrick, Florence, 1973-

Nancy C. Blair, Executive Secretary, 1943-1946
Estellene P. Walker, Executive Secretary, 1946-1968; State Librarian, 1968-1979
Betty E. Callaham, State Librarian, 1979-

Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1968-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 1-4

A note on the text

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