County-wide library service in Laurens County evolved over several decades as the result of dedicated individuals and groups in the county realizing the necessity and importance of libraries for citizen use. Prior to 1929, the Wednesday Club, a women's literary group established in the late 1800's, operated a private library for members, later making it available to the public with a subscription fee of $1.00 annually. In 1929 the Club offered their library collection of 2,500 books valued at $5,000 to the County Legislative Delegation as the nucleus of a publicly supported, county library. In 1930, the General Assembly passed an act creating the Laurens County Library and appropriated $1,200 for the library support.
The Laurens County Library, first located in the Laurens City Hall, opened its doors on March 1, 1930. Mrs. Clyde Ray was appointed Librarian, and Mrs. M.L. Copeland was elected Chairman of the Library Board of Trustees, serving in this capacity until 1957.
The library extended its service into the county by sending chests of books to schools and communities in outlying sections.
In 1935, Mrs. Harriette H. Huff, as Assistant Librarian, extended service to children through weekly story hours. Mrs. Huff became Head Librarian in 1938, and served in this position until her retirement in 1974.
A milestone in development of county-wide service occurred in March 1940 with the purchase of the first bookmobile. The Laurens County Farm Women helped raise money for the bookmobile, and the salaries of two staff members to operate it plus needed gas and oil were provided during the first two years of its operation by the WPA.
The year 1940 also saw the construction of a new library building on South Harper Street in Laurens. This building is still in use as the headquarters library building. The City of Laurens donated the lot and construction was financed with WPA funds, county appropriations, and private donations.
By 1960, the headquarters library had become inadequate to house the book collection and provide necessary services to patrons. Friends of the library, led by Mrs. J.B. Hart, then Chairman of the Board, worked to educate the public on the need for a larger library. Residents of the county approved a bond issue in 1962, construction of an addition to the library began in May 1963, and the enlarged and renovated Laurens County Library opened in January 1964.
The library continued to grow and expand services. A new bookmobile was purchased in 1969. By the late 1960's the momentum to have a full-service branch library in Clinton was increasing.
Library service in Clinton went back to 1872 when the Clinton Library Society was organized and operated a library for approximately ten years. Another group of citizens opened a small library in 1911. In 1918 the library was taken over by the Civic Improvement Association, later known as the Clinton Women's Club. When the Women's Club could no longer support the library it was merged with the library at Presbyterian College. In 1942 the City of Clinton with WPA funds completed a library building on the PC campus to house the "Presbyterian College and Community Library." The town people were encouraged to use the library without charge. But the library building was on a college campus and far from the center of the town's activities, and it was little used by the public. There were few books for children and library services for children were almost non-existent. Through an arrangement with the Laurens County Library a special collection for children was established in the PC Library but again location discouraged any wide use of the collection. It became apparent that the only solution to the problem of public library service in Clinton was the construction of an adequate new public library building in downtown Clinton.
The Clinton Public Library became a reality in June 1974. The building was constructed on land donated by the J.W. Leek family with funds provided by the City of Clinton, Laurens County, and an LSCA grant from the State Library. The City of Clinton sold the library building on the college campus to the college and this money was used in the construction of the new building.
In the fall of 1974 the Laurens County Library further expanded its services through the opening of the Joanna Memorial Library in Joanna. The branch library occupied a memorial hospital building constructed after World War II by Joanna Mills and residents of the community. When the hospital closed in 1962 the Laurens County Library was approached on the possibility of establishing a branch library in the old hospital building. Eventually the hospital building was given to the county with the stipulation that its principal use be for a branch library. The Joanna Foundation provided all the funds for renovating the building and the new branch was opened in October of 1974.
The Laurens County Library continues to expand and improve service to Laurens County. In 1978, it was awarded an LSCA grant by the State Library for a demonstration program of services for Older Americans. This program has been very successful, and many senior citizens in the county are being served through it. The Laurens County Library operates an excellent children's program, with regular story hours being held in each library and in community centers throughout the county. Bookmobile service remains a vital part of the library's community outreach.
The Board of Trustees and staff of the Laurens County Library are dedicated to continued quality library service to the county. The library has made great progress during the first fifty years of its operation, and looks forward to additional improvements and expansion in the future. In March 1980, the Laurens County Library celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as a publicly-supported, county library with a month-long celebration culminating with an open house-birthday party which was attended by over 300 supporters of the library.
Mrs. M.L. Copeland, Laurens, 1946-56
Mrs. J.B. Hart, Joanna, 1956-74
James Von Hollen, Clinton, 1974-75
Mrs. Georgia B. Thomason, Clinton, 1975
Mrs. Phil D. Huff, 1944-74
William C. Cooper, 1974-
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia, South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 35-36.
A note on the text
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