"Establishment of the Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library in 1958 (Bamberg became a member library in 1964), underscored the transition to a new phase of public library development in South Carolina. The project was initiated when a regional library demonstration program becomes a major part of South Carolina's state plan under the Library Services Act.
"These regional libraries were planned to take advantage of the benefits of the larger organization without losing any advantages of the smaller county controlled library. A regional board would administer service in the area, and county boards would provide a valuable liaison between the library and the local community. The new regional library would actually become a new system--not a federation of existing libraries. Priority was given to groups of counties, which included counties which had not previously had county-wide library service.
"The first step in establishment of the Aiken-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional system came early in 1958 when the Aiken and Barnwell County Library Boards at a joint meeting voted unanimously to join in a regional library. The next move was to draw in Edgefield County, Aiken's northern neighbor--a previously unserved county. This was accomplished by a whirlwind campaign conducted by local people that resulted in the passage during the final days of the General Assembly's session of the Edgefield County Library Law.
"A Regional Library Board was then organized to govern the new system, and contract with the State Library for a demonstration of regional library service. Each of the three participating county boards elected from its membership three representatives to the regional board.
"While contracts were being drawn up, the director of the region and field workers of the State Library staff found and equipped office space for the regional headquarters, located in Aiken but housed separately from any of the already existing libraries. Personnel for the regional staff was found with less difficulty than had been anticipated. Service plans were debated, revised, and refined indefatigably. As a result of careful planning, regional service began promptly on October 1, soon after the formal signing of the contracts. In less than a year the Aiken-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library was able to demonstrate to other areas of the state the advantages of the larger system in providing a better quality of service for a greater number of people."
The above information is extracted from the article in the September 1959 ALA Bulletin written by Dorothy C. Smith. Miss Smith, at that time a field consultant with the State Library, was the on-the-spot representative who provided the planning assistance and consultation services so vital to the entire program.
During its first year, the regional library was visited by numerous observers interested in similar cooperative ventures. One visitor, Dr. Robert McDonough, Director of the New Jersey State Library, inquired of library board chairman, Mrs. Ben P. Davies, Jr., what the gimmick was in obtaining this cooperation among counties and in getting the project off the ground. She replied, "No gimmick, only a matter of getting the right library-minded people behind the project."
During the two years of the demonstration, library board members remembered the dire predictions such as, "The project will work splendidly as long as demonstration funds last, but then see what will happen!" Actually, the demonstration period came to an end June 30, 1962 and in a vote of confidence the three counties appropriated funds sufficiently to continue service at the same level as that of the demonstration years. In 1964 the Bamberg County Library joined the region as the fourth member after a two year extension of the demonstration program.
The regional library headquarters now occupies the Dibble Memorial Library building, which housed the Aiken County Public Library from 1950 until 1974. At that time the Aiken County Library was moved into "Banksia", former estate of Richard Howe, winter resident of Aiken during the 1930's.
Increasing use of the libraries in the regional system has been gratifying. Annual Book circulation increased from 184,473 in 1958-59 to 522,219 in 1978-79, and over 5,000 new borrowers were registered during the fiscal year 1979. More significant than statistics is the place that the public library has attained in the life of the community. Through the initiative of the individual librarians and the cooperation of interested lay people, the libraries are becoming true information and cultural centers as well as resources for the recreation and academic pursuits of all age groups.
Every year libraries in the region feature local art shows, handicraft exhibits, guest speakers and musical presentations. An enthusiastic service to children is being developed with assistance from a Library Services Act grant administered by the State Library. Regular film showings are now a part of regular public library service.
In addition to the Library Development grant which made a separate children's service possible, other Library Services Act funds have provided book collection improvement projects, reference grants, periodical grants, and an outreach program aimed at persons previously unreached by traditional public library service. Providing invaluable aid to patrons and a boost to public relations in general is the State Library's interlibrary loan service which is both effective and prompt.
Libraries in the region participated actively in plans for the Governor's Conference on Libraries as well as for the first White House Conference on Library and Information Science.
The Aiken-Bamberg-Barnwell-Edgefield Regional Library is an example of cooperation through many channels: local government, state government, the State Library, library trustees, local librarians--and most important, the citizens of the community who have helped demonstrate the value of lifetime learning and leisure experiences offered by the public library.
W.B.S. Winans, Aiken, 1957-61
Mrs. Ben P. Davies, Jr., Barnwell, 1961-64
Walter C. Plunkett, Aiken, 1964-67
Everette E. Derrick, Johnston, 1967-71
Mrs. Thomas R. Jackson, Williston, 1971-74
Mrs. John F. McLaughlin, Jr., Ehrhardt, 1974-77
Mrs. W.C. Buist, Blackville, 1977-78
Mrs. Frankie Cubbedge, Graniteville, 1978-
Josephine Crouch, 1958-
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 5-6.
A note on the text