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The South Carolina State Library: “Your Library’s Library”

The South Carolina State Library has come a long way from its roots in the early 20th Century as a single office tucked inside the South Carolina Statehouse. As of 1969, it’s now a 5-story building two blocks down from the Statehouse at 1500 Senate St., celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. But despite its growth, the goal of the South Carolina State Library has remained steadfast: to develop, support, and sustain a thriving statewide community of learners committed to making South Carolina stronger.

South Carolina State Library Director Leesa Aiken, and Communications Director Dr. Curtis Rogers, shared with South Carolina Public Radio the history of the library, its impact on the state’s growing number of public libraries, and how those libraries utilize its services.

“We’re your library’s library.” That’s how Rogers aptly summarizes the vital work of the South Carolina State Library, and Aiken wholeheartedly agrees. In 1929 the General Assembly established the State Library Board. The Board’s goal was to get counties to commit to public libraries. In doing so, the Board worked with different county governments to determine if there were either available buildings to be used as public libraries, or if counties needed to build new libraries. In the early years, between approximately 1935 to 1943, a small group of women would travel in a single vehicle throughout the state to meet face-to-face with various county governments. Field service librarians would help growing local libraries to procure their own collections of books.

Eventually, the Board grew, and so did their need for space. Construction of the new South Carolina State Library building on Senate St. began in 1967 and was completed in 1969. The new facility not only housed a larger staff, but a growing collection of books, state & federal documents, photographs, and items of historical importance & practical use. Because these collections continue to grow, the South Carolina State Library has begun the tremendous task of digitizing large amounts of their material, to make it even more accessible to the public, available at statelibrary.sc.gov.

But there are still collections that circulate throughout the state, on-loan to public libraries; for example, the photography collection by renowned Civil Rights photographer and Orangeburg native, Cecil Williams, whose more than 2 million photos have been featured in featured in such publications as Time, Life, Jet, and at the African American Smithsonian in Washington DC. In conjunction with the traveling exhibit, Williams has visited libraries across South Carolina to participate in evening talks about his photography.

As a state documents depository, the South Carolina State Library is also responsible for maintaining all state documents. Aiken says, for example, if you want to know something about the DMV, perhaps something they published in a particular year, what roads they worked on, the South Carolina State Library has it. They also have anything that the General Assembly works on. So, what’s the difference between the South Carolina State Library and State Archives? Aiken makes the distinction by saying the Archives collects records, while the South Carolina State Library collects documents. Although physical copies are available, digitized versions are being published online for equal access to anyone who wants to view the thousands of documents the South Carolina State Library has collected. In addition to being a state documents depository, it’s also a federal documents depository, with such items stored in the library’s subbasement.

As a student or parent of a student in South Carolina, you’re likely familiar with the services of Discus, which stands for “Digital Information for South Carolina Users.” The South Carolina State Library also oversees this virtual library, which provides free access to an electronic library featuring high-quality publications, available to students 24/7 at SCDiscus.org. Resources on the site include links to Britannica, almanacs, history, literature, science, news sites, historical videos, and career resources. According to Aiken, 1500 public schools regularly use Discus resources, and just last year, 54 million users utilized South Carolina State Library’s online resources.

Another initiative by the South Carolina State Library is their Talking Books services for the blind & physically impaired. The program mails digital books, free service, to more than 5,000 patrons statewide. The Library invites users to contact the library to speak with their reader advisors to talk about the kinds of books they’d like to listen to, and books or magazines they want to read. To help spread the word about their Talking Books services, the South Carolina State Library actively reaches out to eye doctors, the VA, the SC School for the Deaf & Blind, and senior fairs, where the Library features “technology petting zoos” to demonstrate assistive technology for people with visual impairments, so they can experience the technology, or share the information with loved ones.

Libraries aren’t just about books, they’re also about hands-on learning. That’s why the South Carolina State Library began to create special kits to loan out to libraries across the state. These kits feature a variety of topics, technologies, and activities to further enhance the local public library experience. The collection of kits, which is now at 92 (and growing!), include virtual reality, robotics, drones, NASA kits with telescopes & binoculars, bilingual activities, an escape room, and a series called “Let’s Talk About It,” based on films or books ranging in them from women’s autobiographies to the importance of heritage in South Carolina literature. The South Carolina State Library offers an online reservation system for libraries to request any of these kits, which are geared for a variety of age groups, from children to adults. And if needed, training provided on request.

How do all these resources provided by the South Carolina State Library enhance the lives of South Carolinians? Aiken shared one of her favorite stories of how the very first kit the Library assembled changed the academic outcome for students at a school in Georgetown County. She said that around 2009, one of the very first kits assembled by the South Carolina State Library was a Wii gaming kit. The kit was requested by the Georgetown County Public Library at Carvers Bay, which is near Carvers Bay High School. The high school worked in conjunction with the public library to create an incentive program that would allow students who achieved an academic goal to come to the library to play the new Wii games. While there, students who were new to the public library experience began to explore other facets of the library, and circulation numbers began to increase as well. According to Aiken, the Wii kit program at the Georgetown Public Library was so successful, that Carvers Bay High School, which previously had a low graduation rate, began to see graduation rates in the double digits.

The goal of the South Carolina State Library is not only to have public libraries in every community, but also to be responsive to the needs of those communities. That’s why the South Carolina State Library consistently brainstorms and implements new programs to help state’s public libraries improve the lives of those that they serve. For example, their newest program called “South Carolina Read, Eat, Grow” pairs food-based organizations with public libraries across the state, to increase information regarding access to healthy food, via food literacy, exercise literacy, and by using a mobile kitchen called a “Charlie Cart.” The program works in conjunction with DHEC, SNAP, and local farmers. Most recently, children in Orangeburg county were able to participate in a seed exchange and receive books on fresh food, exercise, movement, and being healthy.

Believe it or not, those are only a few of the even more ways the South Carolina State Library is enhancing the public library experience across the state and improving the lives of South Carolinians as a whole. If you have not yet begun to explore the resources the South Carolina State Library has to offer, begin your search at http://www.statelibrary.sc.gov/