Library history in Marion County began prior to 1826 when Mills' Statistics published in that year mentions that a public library was established at the courthouse. In the early 1800's the Thompsonian Literary Society was organized and founded a library which existed for a few years until the books were finally donated to the grade school. History of public library service in Marion County really began with the establishment of the Marion Public Library, the first tax-supported public library in South Carolina, in 1898.
Charles A. Woods, then a young attorney in Marion and later a judge of the Circuit Court, led the movment to establish a library. Mr. Woods as well as others in Marion knew and valued education not only for youth but for all as an aid to better living. He, ably seconded by Mr. H.C. Graham and Mr. William Murchison, called a meeting sometime prior to January 1898 of all those who were interested in the establishment and maintenance of a library. Mr. Woods and his wife, Salley Wannamaker Woods, offered an establishment grant of $500 plus $300 a year for five years to maintain the library. Mr. Graham and Mr. Murchison also offered generous cash contributions towards the library's support. Following this meeting the whole community was canvassed to enroll members at $3.00 a year and on January 13, 1898 a charter was issued by the State of South Carolina to establish the Marion Public Library.
The library was first housed in four rooms on the second floor of the Bank of Marion building. Miss Kate Lilly Blue was the first librarian.
In 1903 the Town of Marion began contributing $250 annually towards the maintenance of the library. In the same year $6,000 was raised as an endowment fund, the interest from which would be devoted to library maintenance.
In 1904 Miss Emma L. Salley, a professional librarian, was employed as chief librarian and given the responsibility of organizing the library according to American Library Association standards. The book collection was classified according to the Dewey Decimal System, a complete card catalog made, and a borrower's registration system established.
In 1904 the Carnegie Foundation was approached with a request for funds for the construction of a modern library building. In 1905 a grant of $7,500 was made with the stipulation that the town should contribute toward the support of the library and that a suitable site be provided for the building. The site chosen was a beautiful one adjacent to the town square. The corner-stone was laid in 1905 and the building completed and dedicated in that year. In 1912 the library, by act of the legislature, became part of School District 36 and a one mill tax designated for its support.
In 1913, one of the first "bookmobiles" in South Carolina was put into service. This was a mule-drawn wagon carrying boxes containing some fifty well-selected books. The books were distributed to schools and communities in the county and exchanged periodically.
In 1929 a disaster hit the library in the form of a fire which completely gutted the interior of the building and destroyed the entire south wing. Books and periodicals were almost a total loss. The library was moved to temporary quarters, insurance collected, bonds issued and reconstruction begun. By July 1930 the library was again in its own home.
In cooperation with the state-wide library program of the WPA, bookmobile service to rural Marion County was established by the County Department of Education. When WPA help was withdrawn in 1942, the county provided the financial support necessary to continue the service.
The Town of Mullins had enjoyed public library service since the early 1900's, when the Mullins Civic League established a small library. Over the years the library had grown with the town and in 1941, with the aid of funds from the Public Works Administration, a handsome library building was constructed. Governor Random Williams was inaugurated on the steps of the library January 2, 1945.
The town of Nichols had established a small public library in 1953. Through local effort, funds were raised to build a small library which was dedicated in 1956.
In 1970 there were three public libraries and a county circulating library in Marion County. To provide a better level of service for all citizens, library leaders and public-spirited citizens of Marion, Mullins and Nichols banded together to incorporate the libraries into a single county-wide public library system. Such a unified system would eliminate expensive duplication and provide a better level of library service throughout the county. The movement was successful and the Marion County Library system established. Almost immediately the new system entered into a contract with the South Carolina State Library for a three-year demonstration of county-wide library service.
The new library system flourished. Books, materials and equipment enriched the program of all the libraries of the system. New services were established and new programs undertaken. As a consequence of the burgeoning program, the headquarters library in Marion was completely outgrown. Space was needed if the program was to continue to develop. A campaign was undertaken to secure funds for the renovation and an addition to the Marion Library building. The campaign was successful and with local funds and a $75,000 grand of LSCA funds from the South Carolina State Library, construction began in 1975. Since the Marion building had been designated as a site by the National Historic Trust, plans for the renovation and addition were made in keeping with the style of the existing library and its location in the Marion Town Square. The new building, more than doubled in size, was completed and dedicated April 25, 1976.
In 1973 the Mullins Library was renovated in order to provide additional space. In 1979 an addition to the library building in the town of Nichols was constructed which doubled its space.
Marion County Library has been successful in establishing itself as a part of all community activities. A major service provided by the library is that of reference and interlibrary loan service for library patrons. The South Carolina Room contains an excellent genealogical and local history collection. The library is a member of the Area Reference Resource Center headquartered in Florence and shares resources of all the libraries in the Pee Dee area.
E. D. Lewis, Mullins, 1969-72
Dr. T.B. Clark, Jr., Marion, 1972-77
Mrs. T.B. Clark, Jr., Marion, 1977-
Mrs. John Hamil, 1969-70
Mrs. Cynthia Phelps, 1970-77
Mrs. Harriet L. Kawar, 1977-
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 39-40.
A note on the text
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