Prior to 1917 library service in Sumter County was sporadic. As early as 1809, a Sumterville Circulating Library Society was founded. For many years, the Sumter Civic League provided a book-lending service in the City of Sumter. The present Sumter County Library stems directly from the efforts of a group of citizens to provide a circulating library for the town of Sumter. Dr. S.H. Edmunds, a leading educator in the state, was the chief founder of the present institution.
In 1915 a grant of $10,000 was secured from the Carnegie Foundation for the construction of a public library building. The grant was made with the understanding that the City of Sumter agrees to provide $1,000 annually towards the operation of the library. In 1917 a small but handsome Carnegie building opened its doors and served the city and county well until 1968.
The library was not legally established until 1939 when legislation was enacted establishing it as the “Carnegie Public Library of Sumter County.” Just prior to this date the Sumter County Council of Farm Women with the cooperation of the County Department of Education had secured a WPA library project which resulted in the library’s first bookmobile. The bookmobile on a carefully planned schedule brought books and reading into all rural areas of Sumter County.
“In 1917 a small but handsome Carnegie building opened its doors and served the city and county well until 1968.”
The library secured its first fully qualified professional librarian, Jean Cochran, in 1945. The library’s collection of books was cataloged, a Friends of the Library group organized and a good publicity and public relations program adopted. Until 1955 the library was served by a series of professional librarians all of whom contributed towards the establishment of a sound public library program.
In 1955 Chapman J. Milling, Jr. was appointed the director. The next twenty-five years saw the steady transformation of the Sumter County Library from a small, traditional service-oriented facility into a modern, adequately funded, multi-service institution. In 1963 the library was fully integrated. Today the library serves a diverse clientele reflecting the current demographics of Sumter County.
A major accomplishment was the planning and construction of a modern public library building in a central location to house the rapidly expanding service of the Sumter County Library. Early in the 1930’s the library board recognized that the Carnegie library building was too small to adequately serve community needs. The problem became increasingly critical in the forties and fifties.
In 1955 a bond issue referendum for a public library building was defeated and the building was delayed for another thirteen years. It was not until funds became available under Title 11 of the Library Services and Construction Act as administered by the South Carolina State Library that progress was made toward securing a new public library building in Sumter. Although the federal funds contributed only about one-fourth of the cost, this grant encouraged a generous appropriation from Sumter County. In addition, the library board had funds in a long established building fund account. Through these three sources, it was possible to build and equip the new headquarters building which was dedicated in February 1968.
Today, the Sumter County Library consists of the Downtown Library, Wesmark and South Sumter Branches, and the bookmobile. The present bookmobile was purchased in 2004. Also in 2004, a bond referendum was passed to renovate the Downtown Library and Wesmark Branch. Both facilities were extensively expanded and equipped with new furniture and computers.
While continuing to provide a lending collection of books, periodicals, audiobooks, and DVDs to the community, the library also provides E-books and downloadable audiobooks as well as a wide variety of entertaining and educational programs. In addition, the library provides basic computer classes, resume preparation, and one on one assistance to patrons through its Book A Librarian service.