Lexington County's public library system began in 1912 with a collection of 325 books in a donated bookcase situated in the hallway of the Batesburg Town Hall. Today the book collection numbers more than 270,000 and the library, in addition to a modern headquarters building in Batesburg, has a family of handsome branches located in all major communities of the county. In 1912 the Batesburg Women's Club decided to start a public library. In September of that year the library was officially opened in the Town Hall. During its early years the library had five different homes. Librarians were volunteers from the club membership. Club members were constantly engaged in fund raising activities to secure enough money to keep the library in operation. The members presented plays, had rummage sales, entered contests at the Fair, sponsored May Day ceremonies, staged a Tom Thumb Wedding, Tag Day, Benefit Bridge and bazaars. Most of the money went to buy books for the library. In 1926 the Town of Batesburg began appropriating $25 a month to the library. This was a great boost and many new books were purchased.
During the Depression the library was aided by the Community Services Division of the WPA. When this aid was withdrawn in 1942 the Batesburg Women's Club realized that the library was a community service and that its maintenance had become too great for a single club to assume. The Club deeded the Batesburg Library to a self-perpetuating Board of Trustees charged with the responsibility of operating the library as a free public library to serve the area of Batesburg-Leesville. One of the first things the new Board of Trustees did was to elect Miss Lorena Miller as librarian.
In 1947, at the urging of the South Carolina State Library Board, a campaign was undertaken to establish a unified county library system to serve Lexington County. The Batesburg-Leesville public library joined forces with others in the county and the Lexington County Circulating Library was established in 1948 by act of the legislature. Because Batesburg had the only public library in the county, the headquarters of the county system was located in that community.
With the establishment of county-wide library service, a bookmobile was purchased in 1949 to carry library service throughout the rural areas of the county. Before the bookmobile made its first trip, its services were well publicized in every county community and it received an enthusiastic reception wherever it stopped. This bookmobile was replaced in 1955 with a large walk-in type bookmobile which had the distinction of being the first air-conditioned bookmobile in the state. Fourteen years later this vehicle was replaced with a custom-made, fully-equipped, air-conditioned bookmobile which carried 3,000 volumes on its routes throughout the county. Stops are made at nursing homes, churches, kindergartens, housing developments, general stores, and country crossroads.
With the county library headquarters located in Batesburg, an old carriage barn located almost in the center of Batesburg was renovated and completely remodeled to house library service. This project received national recognition in the publication of the American Library Association, Buildings and Small Libraries. Over the years, as library service grew and expanded, the carriage house library seemed to grow smaller and smaller. Every available space in the building was used but still it was too small to provide housing for the book collection and space for readers and staff. Realizing that further development of the system would be impossible without adequate housing, the library board established a building fund in 1964. In 1965 Mr. and Mrs. Clyde M. Barr gave property on which to erect a new library building. The library purchased adjoining property to expand the site and with local contributions and county appropriations a modern public library building was constructed and officially opened on October 29, 1967.
The Lexington County Circulating Library has an interesting family of branches. The R.H. Smith Library in Cayce, West Columbia resulted from a gift of $20,000 from R.H. Smith, prominent business and civic leader, and the generous contributions of other interested citizens. This building, opened on November 3, 1960, was enlarged by a new addition in 1976 with a second donation made by Mr. R.H. Smith. In April 1976 a handsome new library building was completed in Lexington to house the Lexington Branch of the system. Funds for this building were the direct result of the efforts of the people in the community. The Chapin Branch is located in an old elementary school library. It has made several moves since it was first established in the old jail building in the Town of Chapin. Swansea has the smallest branch in the system and is located in a downtown grocery store. With a location already chosen and funds available, the library system looks forward to a large new branch in Irmo to serve the rapidly expanding population in that area. The branch is expected to be completed in 1981.
The Lexington County Circulating Library has participated in State Aid since its establishment and in all Library Services and Construction Act grants administered by the State Library for which it qualified. One grant made possible the beginning of a new service to children in Lexington County. A well- planned program was initiated in charge of a fully qualified children's librarian who introduced children and young people to books and reading through films, puppet shows, story telling, and skill games. In 1978 the county library received a special grant to implement a program for retired and older residents of the community. Today the Lexington County Circulating Library offers its patrons much more than books. Services are available to all age groups and to all sections of the county. Sound reference service is provided individuals and the business and industry in the county.
The library cooperates with many different agencies to provide a wealth of information to its patrons. It has a close relationship with the South Carolina State Library which provides special reference and interlibrary loan service. It cooperates with the South Carolina Museum Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service and with the South Carolina Arts Commission. Coordinating its efforts with these various agencies, the library is able to offer valuable and enriching information for the citizens of Lexington County.
As the Lexington County Circulating Library continues to grow it looks forward to new branch libraries, an expansion of its headquarters and a much-needed new bookmobile. These facilities and the staff required will extend and promote better library service to the library patrons of Lexington County.
Kate Cullum, Batesburg, 1948-71
C.E. Harmon, Lexington, 1971-76
Mrs. Colene S. Hook, Lexington, 1976-78
Robert H. Caughman, Leesville, 1978-
Lorena Miller, 1948-70
Mrs. Jane Griffin, 1970-
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia, South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 37-38.
A note on the text