Greenville County Library

photograph of Greenville County Library

"This library from its earliest days has had high aims and requirements of service both from its board as well as its staff. We have great adventures in prospect and a past of which we need not be ashamed. We are faced not only by the need for securing much needed crude dollars, but also with developing successfully, and employing vigorously, means to popularize the abundant use of good books in this city and county.

"We need a vision of the profound educational and broadening influence that an adequate free, public library, wisely conducted, can exercise in our community, and we should plan to execute a strenuous campaign to establish this institution in our midst."

This statement by Thomas F. Parker, Chairman of the Board of the Greenville County Library in July 1926, embodies the spirit and the policy under which the Greenville County Library system has developed.

The first public library in Greenville was the Neblett Free Library. This library remained in existence and continued to operate until the Greenville Public Library was established in 1921. The Greenville Public Library (now the Greenville County Library) came into being and existed for its first years on funds donated by two farseeing and public spirited citizens: Thomas F. Parker and J.W. Norwood. With funds provided by these donors, a demonstration of public library services was funded, the success of which proved the urgent need for such services in Greenville on a tax supported basis. In 1922 a two mill tax was voted for public library service in the city of Greenville.

A few years later, after money was again donated to establish and maintain a demonstration of bookmobile service both in the Parker district and in the county, a county tax of one mill was voted to carry on the work in the Parker district and the county. These two separate services were later merged to form the county department of the Greenville Public Library.

The Greenville Public Library was opened in a small storeroom on East Coffee Street; later it moved into rented quarters in the rear of the Jervey-jordan building on Main Street and from there to a semi-garage and storeroom on College and Laurens Street. In 1939 the library board purchased from the Greenville City Schools the Park School building on North Main Street. After extensive alterations and repairs, the library moved into its new home on February 10, 1940.

When public library service was first proposed for Greenville County all citizens were included regardless of residence or race. When the library was established a collection of books was placed in the Phyllis Wheatly building as a service to black patrons. From this small beginning a flourishing branch service developed which was eventually housed in its own branch building on East McBee Avenue. The branch was closed upon the complete integration of library service in the county.

By the early fifties it was apparent that the Greenville County Library, which had been preeminent among the libraries in the state in the level and quality of service, had lost that position of leadership. In the librarian's report for 1954 the following comment was made: "To sum up the matter--library development has not kept pace with the growth of the city and county. Greenville does not possess the type library needed today." The library's physical plant was inadequate and out-of-date. With a city library and a county library system, separate and controlled by dual boards, it was essential that a new plan streamlined for efficiency and economy be developed. In 1959 the State Library Board made an offer to the city and to the county library boards in Greenville for a demonstration of a good level of library service for the entire area. The basic grant offered was $45,000 and to qualify for the grant the two library systems had to be legally consolidated into a single system providing service for the entire area. Both boards were enthusiastic over the demonstration proposal and a whirlwind campaign was staged to secure public approval for the proposed consolidation of the library and adequate tax support for the new system. All news media gave the proposal wholehearted support. The County Delegation appointed a special three-member committee to make a detailed study of the library. The result was submitted by the delegation at the 1960 session of the legislature. The report began with this statement: "The Greenville Public Library is dying a slow death." The report went on to recommend consolidation on a county-wide basis with a good county-wide tax levy. During the 1961 session of the state legislature the new Greenville County Library system was established by law and a two and a quarter mill tax levied on county property for the support of the new system.

With the establishment of the system, in August of 1961 the library board signed a contract for participation in the-three year demonstration of county library service sponsored by the State Library Board and supported by grants under the Library Services Act. The Greenville County Library was charged with the responsibility of providing superior library service and for the development of policies and procedures applicable to libraries throughout the state. In addition to the $45,000 grant, the library system participated in all of the projects under the Library Services and Construction Act for which it qualified.

Of great importance in the establishment of the new system and of its eventual success was the formation in 1960 of the Friends of the Greenville County Library.

The Friends of the Library funded a survey of library building needs conducted by J. Russell Bailey, a nationally known library architect. On the basis of Mr. Bailey's recommendations a successful building campaign was undertaken. The Symmes Foundation gave the sum of $100,000 for the purchase and development of a site for the building on the corner of Academy and College Streets. Funding for the building came from a county bond issue, grants from both the State Library Board and the Appalachian Planning and Development Committee and a magnificent gift of $500,000 from the Symmes Foundation. The new building was planned to meet the future as well as the present needs of the rapidly growing city and county of Greenville. The building was completed and dedicated on May 25, 1970.

With the strong foundation created by the successful consolidation of the city and county libraries and the construction of the main library building, the Greenville Library was ready to develop countywide library service of true excellence.

The library's strong public support was reflected in the phenomenal increase in its funding between 1970 and 1980. The library's tax millage was increased to four mills in 1969, to six mills in 1970, to seven mills in 1972 and to seven and one-quarter mills in 1979. These increases together with increases in State Aid and LSCA grants administered by the State Library made it possible to bring the library's total budget from $502,095 in 1970 to over $2,400,000 in 1980.

Keeping pace with the rapid expansion of service were changes in the organizational structure of the library. The staff was expanded to include specialists in several fields.

With the completion of the new main library, development of a branch library system became a high priority with the Board of Trustees. Guided by the recommendations in the Library Facilities Study of the Greenville County Planning Commission, new branch libraries were established at Berea (1971), Taylors (1973), Augusta Road (1975), Easley Bridge Road (1977), and East North Street (1978). The quarters at the Travelers Rest Branch were improved. The Berea Branch was completely renovated in 1976 and the Wade Hampton-Taylors Branch moved to expanded quarters in 1978. With the opening of the Eastside Branch Library in 1978, the recommendations of the Planning Commission studies for ten branch libraries had been largely implemented.

Special children's activities for inter-city areas begun in fiscal 1971 were boasted by a Library Services and Construction Act grant from the South Carolina State Library of $8,000 in fiscal 1972. This program was continued until 1975 when it was greatly expanded into a comprehensive outreach effort called Project WOW (Widening Our World). A $50,000 LSCA grant from the South Carolina State Library made this demonstration possible.

The library developed an active and innovative program of services for children. One of the more successful programs was a three-year project begun in 1977, called PLK (Project Little Kids) funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission. The project received an award of merit from the Southeastern Library Association in 1978 and a special award from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1979.

The Greenville County Library has been active in interlibrary cooperation from the time of its establishment. A major experiment in this area was the Greenville Area Reference Resource Center administered by the Greenville County Library under contract with the South Carolina State Library. The Center served seven counties in the Appalachian area in the state. Although the project was successful in promoting reference service, when grant funds were terminated after seven years in 1979, participating libraries decided not to continue it with local funds.

In 1978 an inventory was made of the library's entire book collection and catalog information converted to machine readable form. The result was a COM (computeroutput-microfilm) catalog. The Greenville catalog was the first COM catalog in South Carolina.

The Greenville County Library has won numerous awards, among these five John Cotton Dana awards for various programs and public relations activities.

Few libraries in South Carolina experienced the growth and development which has taken place at the Greenville County Library since its reorganization as a unified county library system in the 1960's. To maintain this momentum will require a dedicated board, strong library leadership and continuing public support.

Board Chairmen
Romayne Barnes, Greenville, 1957-62
T.M. Verdin, Greenville, 1962-63
E.A. Burch, Greer, 1963-66
H. Caldwell Harper, Greenville, 1966-68
Frank S. Leake, Jr., Greenville, 1968-72
Charles A. Gibson, Greenville, 1972-73
B.0. Thomason, Jr., Greenville, 1973-74; 1977-79
Mrs. Robert S. Galloway, Jr., Greenville, 1 974-76
Eugene Gibson, Greer, 1976-77
Dr. John H. Crabtree, Jr., Greenville, 1979-

Charles E. Stow, 1951-72
Mary Cox, Acting, 1972-73
Larry Nix, 1973-80

Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia, South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 29.

A note on the text

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