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University Libraries - History

History of the University Libraries

The history of the University of South Carolina libraries began with the founding of the institution. In November 1805, Edward Hooker entered in his diary the notation that 5,000 books had been purchased although only 3,000 had arrived on campus. The library was housed in the central portion of Rutledge College, now the University Chapel, when the University first began classes.

Support for the library continued and by 1836 plans were laid for a separate library building. On May 6, 1840, President Robert W. Barnwell reported to the Board of Trustees that the library had been completed at a cost of $23,491.50. This building, now known as the South Caroliniana Library, was the first separate college library building in the country. It was also the first constructed with state-appropriated funds and has been in use since that time as a library. It is currently the oldest continuously operated library building in the nation.Visit our online exhibit 200 Years of USC Libraries.

The South Carolina College prospered in the period prior to 1860 and the library became one of the finest in the country. Much of the present rare book collection dates from this period. Among the purchases made by the library was the elephant folio of Audubon's Birds of America, purchased directly from Audubon.

One of the few libraries to be generously supported by state funds, the South Carolina College Library received $2,000 annually from the legislature starting in 1838. This money and funds from tuition fees totaled nearly $4,000 each year spent for books. This expenditure continued annually until the College was closed during the Civil War. From 1861 until 1940, the library suffered from the lack of funds along with the rest of the institution.

The South Carolina College Library served as a the University's main library until 1940 when the McKissick Library was opened. At that time the South Carolina College Library became the South Caroliniana Library, a repository of the University's collections of South Carolina materials, and still houses one of the largest such collection in existence.

In 1937 funds were forthcoming for the University. Under the leadership of President J. Rion McKissick, the new library, which was later named the McKissick Memorial Library, was constructed. This new building, which cost $560,000 depression dollars, was opened in 1940 and remained the University's general library until 1976. The building now houses the University Museum.

In 1959 the new Undergraduate Library was opened. This was the first separate undergraduate library in the South, and the third in the nation. The new building, which was designed by Edward Durell Stone, and the architectural firm of Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle & Wolff, won the coveted First Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects in cooperation with the American Library Association and the National Book Committee in 1963. This new library contained a reading collection primarily for the use of undergraduate students and was in the forefront of the coming trend toward constructing separate undergraduate library buildings. The new building was an attempt to supplement the study facilities in the McKissick Library.

From 1959 until 1976, the focus of the library was primarily involved in collection building. The collection tripled in size. This growth intensified the need for new library buildings on campus. In 1973, the new University Museum was opened.

Planning for a new central library to replace the crowded McKissick Library began in 1967. In 1968 the decision was made that the Undergraduate Library collections would be integrated into the general collection when the new central library was completed. Thus the site to the rear of the Undergraduate Library was chosen as the site for the new central library.

A seven story library building with four floors underground was planned. The three floors above ground were to be continuations of the existing Undergraduate Library. About 25 percent of the back portion of the existing building was removed and the new building was constructed behind the old. Then the two buildings were joined and the interior of the old building remodeled so that they could function as a single unit. This was done to keep the architectural design of the original building intact. The completed building was dedicated in 1976 and renamed Thomas Cooper Library. It contains nearly 290,000 sq. ft. of floor space of which only about 30,000 is from the original Undergraduate Library.


Thomas Cooper Library - 1976 Addition
Facts & Figures

Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle & Wolff
Columbia, South Carolina

Edward Durell Stone, Consultant
New York, New York


Total Square Feet:289,000
Book Capacity:1,500,000 volumes
Shelving: 45 miles