Prior to 1917 library service in Sumter County was sporadic. As early as 1809, a Sumterville Circulating Library Society was founded. For many years, the Sumter Civic League provided a book-lending service in the City of Sumter. The present Sumter County Library stems directly from the efforts of a group of citizens to provide a circulating library for the town of Sumter. Dr. S.H. Edmunds, a leading educator in the state, was the chief founder of the present institution.
In 1915 a grant of $10,000 was secured from the Carnegie Foundation for the construction of a public library building. The grant was made with the understanding that the City of Sumter agree to provide $1,000 annually towards the operation of the library. In 1917 a small but handsome Carnegie building opened its doors and served the city and county well until 1968.
The early librarians lacked formal library training but made up for this with dedication and hard work. Outstanding among the early librarians was Mrs. Thomas E. Reed who served from 1924 until 1945.
The library was not legally established until 1939 when legislation was enacted establishing it as the "Carnegie Public Library of Sumter County." Just prior to this date the Sumter County Council of Farm Women with the cooperation of the County Department of Education had secured a WPA library project which resulted in the library's first bookmobile. The bookmobile on a carefully planned schedule brought books and reading into all rural areas of Sumter County.
The library secured its first fully qualified professional librarian, Jean Cochran, in 1945. The library's collection of books was cataloged, a Friends of the Library group organized and a good publicity and public relations program adopted. Until 1955 the library was served by a series of professional librarians all of whom contributed towards the establishment of a sound public library program. In 1955 Chapman J. Milling, Jr. was appointed director. The next twenty-five years saw the steady transformation of the Sumter County Library from a small, traditional service oriented facility into a modern, adequately funded, multi-service institution.
In 1963 the library was fully integrated. Today black membership constitutes approximately forty percent of the total library membership, which is roughly the same ratio of black to white in the county population.
A major accomplishment was the planning and construction of a modern public library building in a central location to house the rapidly expanding service of the Sumter County Library. Early in the 1930's the library board recognized that the Carnegie library building was too small to allow for expansion of service. The problem became increasingly critical in the forties and fifties. In 1955 a bond issue referendum for a public library building was defeated and the building was delayed for another thirteen years. It was not until funds became available under Title 11 of the Library Services and Construction Act as administered by the South Carolina State Library that progress was made toward securing a new public library building in Sumter. Although the federal funds contributed only about one-fourth of the cost, this grant encouraged a generous appropriation from Sumter County. In addition, the library board had funds in a long established building fund account. Through these three sources it was possible to build and equip the new headquarters building which was dedicated in February of 1968.
A characteristic peculiar to Sumter County is that there is no significant concentration of population outside the city; hence, branch libraries are not feasible. This has meant that service is concentrated in the headquarters library and emphasized through carefully planned bookmobile service to rural areas. The headquarters library is open to all comers and has a commodious parking area.
The quality of the bookmobile service from the Sumter County Library is well known and in 1968, at the request of the South Carolina State Library and the newly established Clarendon County Library Commission, Sumter's bookmobile service was extended to serve communities in Clarendon County. The service was provided under a tripartite contract through which residents in Manning, Summerton, Turbeville, Paxville and Sardinia and surrounding areas were provided minimum library service.
At the beginning of 1980, the Sumter County Library ranked third among the South Carolina public libraries in local support. The library's reference and information services have grown significantly and have become, along with the book lending service itself, a major public service in Sumter County.
On July 1, 1980 the old library enabling legislation was superseded by an ordinance of the Sumter County Council. Thus, the library derived its mandate locally. In a time of national transition and ferment, the Sumter County Library appears to enjoy a firm foundation for the future.
H.G. Osteen, Sumter, 1946-54
Francis M. Moise, Sumter, 1954-56
John S. Wilson, Sumter, 1956-57
J.T. Buxton, Sumter, 1957-61
Ramon Schwartz, Sumter, 1961-67
George A. James, Sumter, 1967-71
Robert 0. Purdy, Sumter, 1971-
Jean Cochran, 1944-48
Mrs. Francis C. Stuart, 1948-50
James Pickering, 1951-52
James Watts, 1952-53
Chapman J. Milling, Jr., 1953-
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp.48-49.
A note on the text
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