By Nettie Keys (1995)
Located in the westernmost section of South Carolina and one of the State’s last counties to be settled, Oconee was not one of the last to develop library services. To its credit, Oconee County has been one of the more progressive of South Carolina’s counties in respect to the library services made available to its citizens.
In response to a public petition, the State Legislature, on May 3, 1948, authorized establishment of an Oconee County Library as part of the State Department of Education. The statute provided for a three-member Oconee Library Commission, to be appointed by the Governor’s Office, with the County Superintendent of Education to be one of the members and Commission Chairman.
The first library was opened on October 18, 1948, in the old courthouse annex in the county seat at Walhalla. At the same time the headquarters library was opened, a bookmobile took to the road to serve rural Oconee County. Community stops were made throughout the entire rural area, and books were made available by the bookmobile to the county schools until the State required the schools to maintain libraries of their own. Branch libraries were established in other towns: Westminster on June 1, 1950; Salem on January 25, 1952; and Seneca on April 6, 1953. Oconee even pioneered small-community branches, but these were not a long-term success.
In 1953, the Main Library in Walhalla moved from the former Grand Jury room to larger space in a building on South Spring Street. Two years later the building was given to the Library by the Chicopee Manufacturing Corporation. Oconee also jointly operated, along with Pickens County, the branch library in Clemson from 1963 to 1967.
Seneca became the first branch to have a building specifically erected for library service in Oconee County. Funds for the building were made possible, including furnishings and land, by three sources. The Federal Services and Construction Act provided a grant for half the cost, the Appalachian Regional Advisory Commission put in 14%, and the remainder came from the City of Seneca. In addition to the Seneca Branch, dedicated on October 20, 1968, three other new library facilities were dedicated within two years of each other - in Westminster on September 7, 1979, in Walhalla on October 21, 1979, and in Salem on May 27, 1981.
In July of 1983 the County took over the upkeep of the Seneca Library including the property the library is on. An addition was added to the library at this time which doubled the size of the building.
Two of the library facilities have been named for individuals in recognition of their contributions. The Walhalla building is officially named the Sarah Mills Norton Library, honoring her service since the 1940s to the Oconee system and to South Carolina libraries in general. The Salem Branch officially is named the Christina Wigington Library, acknowledging her leadership in bringing and up-grading library service to Salem.
The Oconee County Library has emphasized far-reaching and first quality service to the communities it services at both the youth and adult levels. Since 1953 the system has maintained a reading program for children. Modern equipment has been added as the years have passed, including copying machines, audio-visual equipment and microfilm reader-printers.
It was in recognition of its exceptional service to the County’s citizens that the Book of the Month Club in 1962 awarded the Oconee County Library System its $1,000 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award to be used for the purchase of books. Also, one of the few county libraries in the State to have a publications program, the Oconee County Library published the “German Colony Protocol.” This book is a translation of the German manuscript ledger that deals with the settlement of Walhalla covering transactions from 1848 to 1888. The maps in the publication were prepared from original sources. The library also has a collection of maps, both photographic and photocopies, since 1730 relative to the Oconee area.
In June 1963, the State Legislature changed the law which served as the basis for the Oconee County Library System, separating it from the Department of Education. The system’s governing body was changed to a Board of Trustees, with its membership to be appointed by the Oconee County Legislative Delegation.
The Home Rule Act passed in 1975, established County Councils for the first time, transferring to them from the counties legislative delegations the responsibility for county government including taxing and budgetary authority. County Councils were empowered to appoint nine-member Library Boards which were authorized to set policy for their library systems and to hire library staff, subject to budgets approved by the County Council. Library staff for the first time were also put on the same basis as other county employees in terms of personnel policies.
In 1981 the Oconee County Library System ranked number one in circulation per capita of all counties of South Carolina and continued to hold this ranking until 1987.
In November of 1985 a steering committee to organize The Friends of the Oconee Library System was established. A Friends group had operated in the early 1970s to build support for the Main Library building, but interest faded when the new building was completed. The Oconee County Friends is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and promoting library services in every area of the county.
In fiscal year 1988-89 the County Council approved funds covering the first phase for automating the library system through computerization. In December 1988 the first steps were taken in the project when the system closed for two weeks for inventory.
In February 1991, the Oconee County Library took a major step into the future with the automation of its catalog and circulation functions. Now patrons may use the libraries in new ways. Also many are able to access the catalog and databases from their home computers and terminals. In the future, library users will have access through networking to larger collections than exist in the local libraries. The future is bright for the Oconee County Library System.
“So Good and Necessary a Work”: The Public Library in South Carolina, 1698-1980. Compiled and edited by Estellene P. Walker. South Carolina State Library, 1981.
Oconee County Library Celebrating our 40th Anniversary.
Oconee County Friends of the Library, 1988.
1991 to 2003
By John Hewell
During 1991, in addition to fully automating the circulation system, the library enhanced its services by instituting a daily courier service among the branches. This allowed patrons to receive a requested book at their branch within two days. The summer reading program at Seneca increased the number of sessions offered.
In the following years, the library expanded many services to better serve patrons. The Westminster branch began opening a full day on Wednesdays and its staff was increased by the addition of a part-time page. All branches received fax machines and the computerized catalog system became available to patrons with home computers and dial up modems. A grant allowed the creation of a Reference/Adult Services position.
In 1994, the Friends of the Library began a monthly book sale which has grown over the years to become the major fundraiser for the organization. The Walhalla reference desk was staffed eight hours a day during the week, and all branches received answering machines to inform patrons of the hours of operation when the libraries were closed. Later, the Seneca branch began a full day of service on Saturdays. The Summer Reading Program was enhanced by the creation of a part-time assistant position for two months during the summer. The Gates Foundation donated computers to allow all branches to offer Internet connected computers to patrons at no cost.
In 1998, the Library celebrated its 50th Anniversary of service. A history book, entitled Oconee County Library 50 Years 1948-1998, was published.
At the close of the decade of the 1990’s a new Bookmobile was purchased and was placed into service four days a week. The Salem branch staff was increased by a part time Page and a full time Cataloger/Bookmobile assistant position was created.
At the dawn of the new millennium, the Library began a series of projects which helped focus on the future of library services. The Board instituted a Long Range Planning Study which resulted in an eight-point long-range plan. The plan calls for new facilities for the Seneca and Salem branches, upgraded facilities for the Walhalla and Westminster branches, and a new branch for the Oakway/Fair Play area. The Board then authorized a detailed study of facility needs which presented square-footage, staffing and equipment requirements. This study is being incorporated into the County Capital Improvements Plan.
In 2001, an Oconee County Library web site was created. The ten-year old software system, which supported the circulation, cataloging and public access terminals, was replaced with a state of the art web-based software system. Patrons were now able to access their account, request materials, and renew items from home on their own computers.
Oconee County Library 50 Years 1948-1998.