Sumter County Library turns page, enters new century with anniversary gala


It was standing room only for Monday's celebration of the Sumter County Library's 100th anniversary. Sponsored by the Friends of the Library, the gala event brought library patrons, past and present library staff and board members, descendants of the original board members and others together not just to celebrate, but also to learn about the processes and chronology that led to Sumter's library system.

Library Director Robert Harden, who has worked in various capacities in the system since 1980, talked about the changes and growth of the library into a "focal point of the community," its "outstanding staff" and the critical support of the Friends of the Library.

Speakers included Frank Shuler, chairman of the library's board of directors, who spoke of his "suffering from bibliomania" and the "great, cohesive" board.

Friends of the Library President Sue Griffin talked about the dedication and service of that organization and introduced Friends board member Nancy Wilson, who explained how Sumter's library system grew out of the education system.

The late Dr. S.H. Edmunds recognized the need for a library in Sumter in 1915, she said, and did most of the work to obtain a grant from Andrew Carnegie. She placed the 1917 construction and opening of the Carnegie Public Library on West Liberty Street in perspective, noting that in 1917 the U.S. was entering World War I, and "Sumter was beginning to get electricity."

She also provided information on the first three decades of the Carnegie library, when most of the librarians were educators. Wilson then introduced the descendants of original library board members, including several members of the Edmunds family.

Keynote speaker Katherine Richardson, director of the Camden Archives and Museum, gave a brief biography of Andrew Carnegie, who used most of his wealth to fund 1,691 public libraries, which he specified were "to be used solely for libraries." She told of the arduous application process Edmunds undertook - all through handwritten correspondence - to obtain the $10,000 grant from Carnegie and some of the provisions the steel magnate set for the Sumter community to receive the money.

Most notable, Richardson said, was that the community must want and be supportive of a library. The Sumter community was also required to provide 10 percent annually of the value of the building for its upkeep.

"Dec. 4, 1917, was a very happy day," she said.

Richardson continued by providing the history of the Sumter County Library and anecdotes she discovered in her research.

Harden concluded the formal program by reading Sumter Mayor Joseph T. McElveen's proclamation of Dec. 4, 2017, as Sumter County Library Day in the City of Sumter. In his proclamation, McElveen noted that in the beginning of the Carnegie library, there were 104 books in circulation, a number that has now grown to 189,965.

Following the official program, guests, staff, board members and Friends of the Library shared memories with each other of their own library experiences.