The Evolution of a Repository: SCPC since 1991

S.C. Political Collections Celebrates Congress Week

South Carolina Political Collections is a proud member of the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress (ACSC). ACSC is sponsoring its fifth annual Congress Week, April 1 – 7, with the theme “The People’s Branch.” This is the second of five posts celebrating Congress Week.


George Terry in 1984

SCPC is the product of the vision of former Dean of Libraries George Terry and the dedication of Ashley Thrift, who in 1989 served as chief of staff to U.S. Senator Fritz Hollings.

Hollings is a graduate of The Citadel and the USC School of Law. Thrift is a loyal alumnus of The University of South Carolina. In 1989, Thrift contacted Terry and suggested that USC should approach Senator Hollings about his papers, and pledged to urge the Senator to give strong consideration to the University should it do so.

reading room

The Reading Room in the South Caroliniana Library

At that time, USC had a highly-regarded special collections repository, the South Caroliniana Library, and I headed the Library’s Manuscripts Division. The Division’s holdings included the papers of Senator Olin Johnston and Congressman Bryan Dorn, the League of Women Voters, and both major state parties. But none of these were arranged, described, or open to the public for research. I had begun working on Johnston’s papers shortly after joining the Library in 1984, but it was my backup project, and while I was making real progress, I had no timetable for opening the collection.

Meanwhile, SC’s senior senator, Strom Thurmond, had placed his papers at Clemson University, which had opened its Strom Thurmond Institute in 1981 and received the papers of several Republican congressmen. And other repositories in the state were considering seeking contemporary congressional collections.

thurmond institute

The Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson University

Knowing my interest in government and large modern collections, Terry asked me to survey the handful of existing congressional repositories across the nation and prepare a proposal for Senator Hollings. Over the next year, we developed our proposal and initiated talks with the Senator, and found him receptive. It was an educational process. There were few congressional repositories and little scholarly work looking at the unique issues involved in modern legislative collections. It became obvious that this could be a transformative event for the USC Libraries.

hollings library

The Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library at USC, completed in the Spring of 2010

Terry determined that if we were successful, the University should build on the momentum to create something that would serve the nation as a model congressional repository. A new division of the Caroliniana would be created for modern political collections. It would collect broadly, targeting members of Congress, parties and party leaders, governors and leaders in the state legislature, and others impacting on government and politics. Terry shared a vision in which political collections would eventually achieve a stature and volume of holdings requiring its own building and independence from the Caroliniana.

moveable shelves

Beautiful moveable shelving enhances our storage capabilities and box retrieval from the stacks.

The Hollings gift agreement was concluded in 1991 and Political Collections was established with myself and two graduate assistants responsible for thirteen collections. We now have a staff of four full-time employees and 4 to 6 student assistants. Currently, we are responsible for 114 collections, including three actively serving members of Congress. We have contributed to the creation of a manual of “best practices” for congressional collecting and are recognized nationally as a model legislative papers repository. All this thanks to George Terry and Ashley Thrift, and of course, Senator Hollings himself. Unlike many congressional donors, Hollings has, from the beginning, showed great personal interest in our work with his papers and the development of Political Collections as a bi-partisan repository with rich holdings. I often comment how lucky I have been to know and serve the Senator and so many other men and women of such achievement.

By Herb Hartsook

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