The Orangeburg County Free Library had its beginnings in a WPA library project. The project was proposed in 1935 and a house-to-house canvass throughout the entire county brought a general expression of approval for traveling library service. Gifts of books and magazines were received from many sources to add to the book collection which would serve the schools and the communities of Orangeburg County. Through June of 1936 support for the library project quickly mounted. The County Council of Farm Women threw their full support behind the project adopting a resolution to request from the County Delegation an appropriation to support a county library. A committee of interested citizens visited the delegation and requested an appropriation for the demonstration circulating library. Complying with the request the delegation appropriated $1500 to help in the establishment of a traveling library.
In August of 1936 an advisory board for the library was appointed, composed of prominent men and women from every section of the county. One of the first actions of the board was to approve the purchase of a bookmobile.
The headquarters for the county library was set up in the basement of the Orangeburg County Courthouse. Books were prepared for circulation by WPA workers under the supervision of Mrs. Georgie Adams, acting librarian. When the bookmobile made its first trip on September 28, 1936, the library had a bookstock of 425 books and 150 "story booklets" made by WPA workers. The bookmobile visited every school in Orangeburg County and all rural centers. It met with such an enthusiastic reception and was so successful that county officials in York and Lancaster counties asked that the bookmobile visit their county fairs in order to encourage people in their counties to establish traveling library service.
In 1937 the County Delegation more than doubled the previous year's appropriation for county library service and appointed a county library commission. Upon the appointment of the library commission, the old advisory board was disbanded, officers were elected and plans made for the operation of the library.
The library moved from the basement of the Courthouse to a permanent building purchased with the aid of the County Delegation with furniture constructed by the Norway NYA Workshop. Mrs. Georgie Adams became the first librarian of the system.
By 1948 the library had outgrown its quarters on Center Street and the County appropriated funds for a large addition to be built at the rear of the building. Although the new addition gave some relief from crowding, the library board realized that it was of primary importance to secure a site for a new library building in a central location and plan for the construction of an adequate new building. Every effort was made to publicize the need for a new library building and every avenue was explored for funding. It was not until 1965 that a site and funds for a library building were secured. The new building was completed in 1966. In less than ten years the library needed additional space and in 1978 the Junior Service League of Orangeburg presented a gift of $3,000 to the library board to have preliminary plans for enlarging the main building drafted. A full study of the entire library system was made and a twenty year improvement plan for the system completed. A copy of this plan was presented to the Orangeburg County Council.
In addition to the headquarters library, the library system has three branch libraries located in the major communities of the county. Both the Holly Hill and the Elloree libraries were established through the interest of book clubs in those communities. The branch in North opened in 1973 and is sponsored by the North Town Council.
Since its establishment, the Orangeburg County Library has participated in the State Aid program of the South Carolina State Library. In recent years it has participated in all of the Library Services and Construction Act grants for which it qualified. These funds have been spent for books, equipment and for the expansion of library service throughout the county. Special attention has been given to the development of reference and information service for the people and the business and industry of the county.
The Orangeburg County Library system serves one of the largest counties in the state with one of the smallest budgets. An adequate headquarters library building is desperately needed. Services in the branches need to be expanded and improved and special services to the disadvantaged and to senior citizens added to the general service pattern. Further programs will depend to a large extent on adequate local funding.
Mrs. Arnette H. Williams, Orangeburg, 1946-54
Ellen P, Chaplin, Neeses, 1954-76
Mrs. James H. Gressette, Orangeburg, 1976-78
David Brown, Orangeburg, 1975-79
Mrs. Frank Staley, Jr., 1979
Mrs. Georgie Adams, 1944-57
Caroline Sauls, 1957-58
Mrs. Becky Riley Ulmer, 1958-80
Paul Deane, Jr., 1980
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp.43-44.
A note on the text