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University Libraries


History of the South Caroliniana Library

The library holds one of the largest Southern manuscript collections in the nation and one of the most important American history collections. South Carolina’s personal, cultural and artistic treasures are being collected to help tell the story of America.

For more than 175 years, the South Caroliniana Library has been a silent witness to the fortunes and reversals of the state of South Carolina. The building, which served as the university's main library for 100 years, today houses the South Caroliniana Library. Recognized as the most architecturally distinctive building on the Horseshoe, the library is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The iconic structure is distinguished by the four white columns and the Reading Room, which is a replica of the room that housed Thomas Jefferson’s personal library in the second Library of Congress. The most significant renovation of the library added two wings designed by J. Carroll Johnson in 1927. 

A Storied Past

The First Freestanding College Library

In 1838, South Carolina College President Robert W. Barnwell recommended the construction of a dedicated academic library. The college’s board of trustees petitioned the state legislature for $15,000.00 to construct what became the nation’s first freestanding college library, opening in 1840.

The Influence of Robert Mills

Robert Mills, the first federal architect, was enlisted to design the South Carolina College library. His original drawings were elaborate, with a $64,000 price tag to match. Mills’ diary indicates he was involved in scaling back the design to stay closer to budget at a final cost of nearly $24,000.

A Modern Cultural Asset

In the nineteenth century, the library was home to one of the finest academic libraries in America and withstood the ravages of occupying Civil War troops. In the years following the Civil War, the library benefited from the stewardship of Richard Greener, one of our nation’s greatest African American leaders.

In 1940, the library became a repository dedicated to acquiring, preserving and making available a growing collection of historic materials. These treasures are as unique and rare as the building itself and have drawn researchers from far and near to engage in the study of the state's past and present.