Library service in Darlington can be traced to the early 1880's when the Darlington Guards Library was started by Captain Henry Thompson for the use of guards members and their families. Later, for a small fee, any gentlemen of the community and two ladies of his choice could borrow books.
After 1900 the Guards Library led a precarious existence. And in 1912, the library was donated to the Civic League, a public-spirited group of women. The League maintained the library with a paid librarian until a grant was secured from the Carnegie Foundation to erect a permanent library building. The site for the building was donated, and a tax was levied for its support.
The Darlington Public Library was formally opened on February 21, giving service fifty hours a week. The first librarian of the new library was Miss Louise McMaster, a fully qualified professional librarian. Under her inspired leadership the Darlington Public Library developed an unusually progressive library program. Branches and substations were established, library hours extended and the doors of the library opened to all citizens of the county.
The Carnegie Library building proved to be a disappointment. By 1922 it was apparent that it was too small to adequately house Darlington's ambitious library program. Renovations and adjustments were made, but the building was still too small for the book collection and services. In 1928 plans were completed for a large addition to the building. Funds that had been raised for the construction were lost in a bank failure and twice thereafter the Darlington Library lost sizable amounts of its operating funds through bank failures. In the midst of the Depression it seemed impractical to proceed with plans for enlarging the building. But in 1933-34 with WPA help the library building was doubled in size. However, in a few years the library building had again been outgrown and space still remains the major problem in developing and expanding service.
Although all residents of Darlington County were privileged to use the Darlington Public Library, it was not until 1936 that real rural public library service was initiated. In 1934-35 the Farm Women's Council adopted the goal of purchasing a booktruck to cooperate with the City Library and to "encourage more reading in rural communities." Money was raised for books which was turned over to the Darlington Public Library. With the aid of the WPA, a bookmobile and additional books were obtained for the project and on February 20, 1936, the bookmobile made its first regular rural trip. Later in 1936, through legislative action, tax support on a county-wide basis for the county library work was obtained. The County Board of Education was made the governing body of the county library.
A third of Darlington County's citizens were served by the Hartsville Township Memorial Library. This library opened on December 15, 1936 but its history can be traced to a plan started in 1905. In 1920 the Hartsville Library Association was formed, a paid librarian employed and a small library established. Housing the library was a problem that was hard to solve. In 1935 construction began on the Hartsville Community Center building which included space for a public library.
As plans for a permanent public library matured, the Hartsville Library Association was discontinued. In March 1936 an act creating the Hartsville Memorial Library and providing taxation for its support was passed by the legislature. Continuing efforts to secure an adequate library building, the Board of Commissioners secured the old Post Office Building which was well located for public library purposes. The building was redesigned as a public library and completely renovated and decorated. It was opened to the public on June 11, 1964.
The three public libraries in Darlington County had a common objective--the provision of the best possible service to the public for the funds available. In 1968, after a protracted period of discussion and negotiation, the three libraries decided to merge into a single system to be known as the Darlington County Library. Through unification, it was possible to eliminate expensive duplication and thus provide public library service of better quality. The new system was legally established by act of the legislature and almost immediately signed a contract with the South Carolina State Library Board for a three-year county library demonstration. The demonstration provided special grant funds which aided in the accomplishment of many of the library's objectives. A major accomplishment was the reorganization and expansion of bookmobile service and the strengthening of branch libraries in the county. The historic Society Hill Library (1822) was restored and refurnished and opened as a branch of the Darlington County Library system. Branch service in Lamar was significantly improved by a better location, more space, a larger book collection and longer hours. At the close of the demonstration, Darlington County had a modern and progressive public library system which served all communities and rural areas in the county. In the ensuing years the library has taken advantage of every opportunity to improve its services. It is a member of the Florence Area Reference Resource Center and through this cooperative organization shares the resources of all libraries in the Pee Dee area. The Darlington County Library has always participated in State Aid, in LSCA grants, and in the training programs administered by the South Carolina State Library.
Thornton Crouch, Hartsville, 1967-68
Reaves McCall, Hartsville, 1968-72
Mrs. Sidney Griffin, Lamar, 1972-74
Mrs. Ann Dent King, Society Hill, 1974-75
Dr. William R. Blakeney, Hartsville, 1975-78
Mrs. David F. Manson, Lamar, 1978
Mrs. W. A. Perkins, 1967-69
Warren Lloyd, 1969
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), p. 22.
A note on the text
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