HISTORY:  South Caroliniana Library

S.C. Encyclopedia  |  The South Caroliniana Library building was completed in 1840 as the central library building for South Carolina College (later the University of South Carolina). It was the first freestanding college library building in the United States, predating those of Harvard (1841), Yale (1846), and Princeton (1873).

The structure contains design elements from several architects, most notably the South Carolina native and federal architect Robert Mills. A typical Mills architectural feature is the curved stairway leading to the second-floor reading room, which was closely modeled after the original Library of Congress. By 1850 the library’s collections were considered among the best in the nation. After the Civil War the library’s fortunes rose and fell through several decades of unsteady funding. Its collections continued to grow, however, necessitating the addition of two fireproof wings in 1927.

Although the collections contained materials relating to South Carolina, there had been no concerted effort to acquire the state’s historical documents until 1931, when the Caroliniana Committee was formed in order to develop the “greatest” collection of South Carolina materials and prevent such collections from being placed in out-of-state repositories. The term “Caroliniana” means “things pertaining to Carolina.”

In 1937 the committee was replaced by the University South Caroliniana Society. In 1940 the university’s general library collection was moved into a new facility at the head of the Horseshoe, McKissick Memorial Library, and the Caroliniana collections remained in the old library. Thus, after serving as the university library for one hundred years, the historic building became the South Caroliniana Library—a repository for published and unpublished materials relating to the history, literature, and culture of South Carolina.  (Note: The university’s main library now is the Thomas Cooper Library. More on USC library history.)

Excerpted from an entry by Elizabeth Cassidy West.   To read more about this or 2,000 other entries about South Carolina, check out The South Carolina Encyclopedia, published in 2006 by USC Press. (Information used by permission.)


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