Public library service in Marlboro County had its beginning in the establishment of a small library by the members of the Twentieth Century Club. This club was organized in 1901 and its major objective was the establishment of a library. Each club member contributed a book, and a reading shelf of ten books was placed in the home of Mrs. H.L. McColl, with library hours provided once a week. The reading shelf grew both in interest and in number of volumes and, to make it available to more people, was moved to a more central location on Main Street and kept open two afternoons a week. It soon outgrew this location and was moved to the second floor of the Skye Hotel which, in February 1908, burned to the ground with all of the library property. The Club had had insurance on their books and promptly collected some $400 which was expended for new books and a new library established this time on the first floor of the Bank of Marlboro building.
In 1912 the Masons built a handsome new Masonic Temple and offered the library housing on the first floor of the new building, The library was moved there and for the first time a paid librarian was employed. The library was still a major project of the Twentieth Century Club but by this time it had outgrown the ability of the Club to maintain and support it. Club members and other interested citizens organized the Bennettsville Library Association with the purpose of establishing a public library for Bennettsville. The Twentieth Century Club donated their books to the new library association to be used as the nucleus of the public library which it hoped to establish.
Under the able management of the Bennettsville Library Association the Library grew to a collection of some 3,000 volumes. It was chiefly supported by annual membership dues and a few honorary memberships. Looking forward to the time when it would be possible to build a library building, a building lot was purchased in 1924 on Market Street and an addition to the lot donated by Mrs. H.H. Newton. Ten years after the purchase of the lot, a building committee was appointed and construction of a building undertaken. A small grant was received from FERA but progress on the project was very slow until a sizeable grant was secured from the WPA plus personal contributions from interested citizens. The building was finally completed and dedicated in 1937. When completed, the building was presented to Marlboro County by Miss Alexina Evans, the secretary and treasurer of the building committee, and was accepted by the County Delegation. The Delegation in turn legally established the library by act of the legislature and provided for its management by a board of five trustees. Miss Alexina Evans became the first chairman of the Board.
With the help of the WPA program, reading rooms were established in many rural communities in the county and a bookmobile secured to provide service throughout the county. During World War II the library made every effort to serve military personnel stationed on maneuvers in its area through providing special hours and books. After the war the library made steady but slow progress toward better service in Bennettsville and the county.
By the 1960's the old library building was completely outgrown and it was impossible to develop or extend service without additional space for books, staff and patrons. A thorough study was made of the possibility of expanding the old library building on site but this proved to be impossible, a new site had to be found or another building which would allow for expansion. The library board left no stone unturned in their search for more adequate quarters. It was not until the County Council decided to devote E.D.A. funds to the library building program that it was possible to go ahead. A lot in a good location was secured, a registered architect was employed and plans drawn for a building. The building was completed in 1979 and dedicated on October 13 of that year.
In addition to a headquarters library in Bennettsville, the Marlboro County Library provides library service throughout the county by means of scheduled visits by a modern bookmobile. The library provides interlibrary loan service for material and information not available locally. Requests are filled promptly by means of an In-WATS line connecting the library directly to the State Library in Columbia. Special programs and services are provided for citizens living too far from the main library to make full use of its services. As a member of the Area References Resource Center in Florence, resources are shared with libraries in the area to provide a higher level of service to the citizens of Marlboro County.
Alexina W. Evans, Bennettsville, 1946-59
Eleanor McColl, Bennettsville, 1959-74
C. E. Berry, Bennettsville, 1974-75
T. C. Bristow, McColl, 1975-
Mrs. Blanche G. Hamer, 1944-51
Mrs. Dorothy Morrell, 1951-61
Mrs. Martha Myers, 1961-70
Mrs. T. Frazier James, 1970-80
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 40-41.
A note on the text