The Union Carnegie Library is housed in the very first library building in South Carolina to be given by Andrew Carnegie. The building was completed in 1905 at a cost of some $10,000. Requirements of the grant had been that the city furnish $1,000 a year for library support and that the building be constructed on a suitable site.
Securing the Carnegie grant, planning and supervising construction of the building had been in the hands of a library committee which, upon the completion of the building, became the first library board of trustees. This board appointed Miss Nannie Porter as the first librarian. The book collection was largely formed by the gift of books from the Union Literary Society which dated back to 1803.
In spite of the city's obligation to provide an annual appropriation of $1,000 for library support, there was a constant struggle to keep the library doors open. In addition to the problem of financing was one of keeping a satisfactory librarian employed. In 1915 Miss Cornelia Sartor (Miss Neely) accepted the position and continued to serve the people of Union until 1961 when she retired after forty-six years of faithful and devoted service.
The library's constant and continuing problem was one of inadequate financial support. The first increase in funds was received in 1922. With these additional funds new shelving was added for additional books and the use of the library extended to the population of the entire county. During the Depression the library lost half of its operating funds in a bank failure and had no money for either books or salary for almost half a year. Some assistance was received from the WPA in book programs and in building maintenance and repair.
In 1934 the first woman to serve on the board was elected, Mrs. Perrin Kennedy, and for the first time the County Delegation was asked for an appropriation since the entire county benefited from library service. In 1935 the Rotary Club of Union became a sponsor of the public library and provided valuable financial and moral support.
In 1936 the WPA established a county circulating library providing bookmobile service to the entire rural area of Union County. In that year the Board of the Carnegie Library considered joining the Carnegie Free Library with the county traveling library to ensure more effective library service for the people of the entire county through sufficient financial support from city, county and state. The board reacted favorably to the suggestion but it was years before unification of the library programs took Place.
In 1947 there was a revival of interest in unified library service and the board began working in earnest with representatives from the South Carolina State Library Board. A Field Service Librarian was assigned to the Union Library by the State Library Board to give much needed on-the-spot assistance. The Lions Club did a study of the library building and reported inadequate heat, inadequate lights, and books stacked on the floor for want of shelving. In 1948 the city provided $1,000 towards the badly needed improvements pointed out in the Lions Club report.
Again in 1951 unification of the city and county library programs were discussed but with no result. By 1959, board members were optimistic of the future and began visiting modern libraries in cities of comparable size. 1960 saw further steps towards merger plans as meetings were held with city and county officials, the South Carolina State Library Board and the Board of Trustees but once again everything came to a halt. In 1963 the Junior Charity League gave funds for books and furnished a comfortable reading room.
In 1966 the unification of the city and county library was again discussed and this time with success. The necessary legal steps for the establishment of the new system were taken by the County Delegation and the City Council. The city and county circulating libraries were consolidated into a single system--the Union Carnegie Library--serving the entire county. Legislation was enacted establishing the new system and providing for a legally appointed Board.
In 1979 in compliance with the new Home Rule legislation, the Union Carnegie Library was re-established by ordinance passed by the Union County Council.
The new unified county library system combining the old Union Carnegie Library and the county circulating library made possible improvements in library service for the entire county. With increased local support, it was possible to make needed repairs to the building and to provide for a complete renovation. In addition, thanks to State Aid and LSCA grants administered by the State Library, thousands of new books were purchased, new and modern equipment installed and new services provided. The renovated building with its greatly improved book collection led to a noticeable increase in library usage. Special programs were developed to reach the disadvantaged and to provide special services to children and senior citizens.
The Union Library still has one unsolved problem and that is for a spacious building to accommodate its services to the public and to house its book collection. The library has been successful in serving the people of the county for many years. To continue to provide a good level of service will require adequate housing and adequate funding.
Colonel Vernon T. Anderson, Union, 1956-67
Mrs. H.B. Richardson, Union, 1967-71
Edward L.B. Osborne, Union, 1971
Dr. H.L. Sutherland, Union, 1975-79
Dr. James T. Otten, Union, 1979-
Mrs. A.T. Usher, 1965-71
Mrs. Nina Lyon, April-August 1971
Sally Williams, (Acting), 1971-72
Edward Burwell, 1972-
Estellene P. Walker,
"So Good and Necessary a Work": The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980
(Columbia: South Carolina State Library, 1981), pp. 49-50.
A note on the text
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