In the late 1800's there were two separate attempts to establish circulating libraries in Florence. Both failed because of lack of organization and financial support. These early libraries served the purpose of stimulating interest and of showing the need for public library service.
It was not until 1917 with the election of Henry E. Davis to the Board of School Commissioners that progress began towards achieving a public library for Florence. Mr. Davis, a lawyer, had received a large part of his legal training under Judge C.A. Woods. Judge Woods' conviction of the value of books, reading, and libraries had been instrumental in the establishment of the Marion Public Library and had influenced the establishment of other public libraries in South Carolina. He had convinced Mr. Davis of the value to any community of a properly conducted library with a well selected book collection. Mr. Davis became the advocate on the Board of School Commissioners for the establishment of public library service in Florence. At the close of World War I he advocated the building of a library as a war memorial but his suggestion was not adopted although it had the strong support of many Florence citizens. In 1920 the charter of the School District was amended to incorporate the essential provisions for a public library. At the same time a referendum was authorized on a three mill tax for public library support in School District One. With the full support of the Federation of Women's Clubs of Florence, the special library tax of three mills was carried by a substantial majority. As a result of the referendum, Florence's first public library was established. A lot was purchased on the corner of Pine and Irby Streets and on November 3, 1925 the handsome Florence Public Library building was opened to the public. The library served School District One, was governed by the School Board of Trustees of this district and was supported by a three mill tax on the District.
In April of 1961 through legislative action a Board of Trustees was appointed to govern the Florence Public Library separate and distinct from the School Board.
During the period of the Works Progress Administration, the Florence County Circulating Library was established with WPA help under the sponsorship of the County Superintendent of Education. At first one bookmobile and then two were purchased to give service to the county, especially to the schools, and to the general public of rural Florence County.
On July 1, 1964 the Florence Public Library and the Florence County Circulating Library merged to form the Florence County Library system. The merger was accomplished through the efforts of the County Superintendent of Education, the Florence Public Library Board, and the South Carolina State Library. The purpose of the consolidation was to provide a unified public library system in the county which would eliminate expensive duplication of administrative costs, materials, equipment, and supplies. Through the elimination of duplication it would be possible to provide a better level of service to all the people of Florence County. The Florence County Council voted to support the library through a county appropriation and an additional small appropriation was received from the office of the Florence County Superintendent of Education.
Mrs. Marguerite G. Thompson, who had been the librarian of the Florence Public Library, was appointed the director of the new county library system. With her expert leadership the new library program was a success from the start.
The new library system consisted of a headquarters library, branch libraries and bookmobiles. Johnsonville, which had established a small library in 1964, joined the newly organized library system immediately. Lake City, which had a long-established library, joined the county system before the end of 1964. The Lake City Library occupied a handsome brick building especially designed and built to house public library service.
When the Florence County Library System was established, the Board signed a contract with the South Carolina State Library for a three year demonstration of county library service. During this period financial assistance and guidance were provided in developing county library service which could serve as a pattern to other libraries in the state. In addition to the demonstration grants, the library participated in State Aid and in all Library Services and Construction Act grants for which it qualified.
During the demonstration period, the Board of the Florence County Library made a special effort to establish branch libraries in the major communities of the county. Branches were established in Pamplico in 1968 and in Timmonsville in 1971.
At the close of the demonstration it was evident that the Florence County Library System had achieved its goal of an efficiently organized library program providing a good level of service to the entire county. The only problem encountered was that the service had grown so rapidly and was so popular that it had completely outgrown the Florence Public Library building. Space was secured in a neighboring building for the extension service including the bookmobile operation. Every available space in the old building was used and used to the utmost. It was evident that if the library was to continue to progress it had to have a building which would accommodate patrons, staff, and books.
The Board of the Florence County Library set as top priority securing adequate library housing for the system. An outstanding public library building consultant, J. Russell Bailey was brought in to survey the building and to make recommendations for its expansion and improvement. The Board secured additional land adjacent to the building and eventually was able to secure from the Florence County Council funds for the construction of a new building plus a construction grant of $100,000 from the South Carolina State Library. The building was a particularly difficult one to plan because it had to incorporate the old building with a large modern addition. The building was completed and dedicated in 1978 and has lived up to its promise of providing the space needed for the improvement of all branches of service.
The Florence County Library has been designated by the South Carolina State library as one of the three Area Reference Centers in South Carolina and is cooperating with other county libraries in the Pee Dee area in sharing resources and in improving reference and information services.
The Florence County Library has attained stature throughout the state as a progressive library system. The aims and goals which have been set by the Florence Library system will take time to accomplish, but an encouraging start has been made and with the rapid growth of Florence County and the demand from a larger and better educated public, there is every reason to expect great progress in the future.
Dr. George C. Smith, Florence, 1963-72
Mrs. William S. Dowis, Jr., Florence, 1972-
Mrs. Marguerite G. Thompson, 1963-77
David M. Paynter, 1977-
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), p.27-8.
A note on the text