South Caroliniana Library reopens after renovation

The USC’s South Caroliniana Library, the nation’s oldest freestanding academic library, is set to reopen following a $10 million, four-year renovation. This Columbia landmark, dating back to 1840, serves as a space for SC’s history, with collections ranging from the Colonial Era to the present.

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The newly renovated interior of the South Caroliniana Library. | Photo provided by USC

Table of Contents

USC’s South Caroliniana Library, a cornerstone for studying SC and Southern history since 1840 and the oldest freestanding academic library in the country, is set to reopen tomorrow following a $10 million, four-year renovation.

Architect Robert Mills inspired the library’s design with its Greek Revival style seen throughout Columbia, highlighted by four white columns in the front. The second-floor reading room — a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s library in the second Library of Congress — also received a facelift, including display cases for significant holdings.

Robin Waites, Executive Director of Historic Columbia, described the library’s rehabilitation as a “victory for preservation in Columbia and South Carolina.”

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Display cases hold South Carolina’s most significant artifacts. | Photo provided by USC

Beyond its architectural significance, the library serves as a treasure trove for researchers, students, historians, and novelists. It offers a vast collection ranging from the Colonial Era to the present, including a 1683 handwritten letter by French Huguenot Louis Thibou and Samuel Wilson’s 1682 account, one of the earliest descriptions of the Carolina colony after its 1670 foundation.

The library also collaborates with filmmakers, authors, museums, and researchers to ensure the Palmetto state’s history remains accessible to all.

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Located on the Historic Horseshoe, the building was built in the Greek revival style in 1840. | Photo provided by USC

Historical Highlights

  • Established in 1840, it served as the University’s main library for a century.
  • Its 1940 transition focused on safeguarding the state’s documents and treasures.
  • Annually, over 2,000 researchers use its vast collections.
  • It is the most architecturally unique building on the Horseshoe and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The library houses the only Southeastern copy of L’art de l’indiotier by de Beauvais-Raseau (1770), detailing indigo cultivation across continents.
  • Archives trace back to the founding of South Carolina College in 1801, including the diaries of Mary Boykin Chesnut, the renowned Civil War chronicler.

The library’s reopening and renovation will preserve and showcase SC’s history for future generations.