Greenville County Library turns 100 - GREENVILLE JOURNAL thumbnail

Greenville County Library turns 100 – GREENVILLE JOURNAL

Dig into your ancestry, take the children to story time, combine an interactive drum circle, learn how to code JavaScript or just read a classic book in a downtown garden — all at no cost, all in your public library.

“We are grateful to be a part of a lively public library system which has continued to strengthen Greenville County over time,” says Beverly James, who since 2000 has been executive director of the system which observes its 100th birthday this year.

Now with 12 branches, the Greenville County Library wasn’t always that big. Neither was it the city’s first.

In 1897, Adelaide Viola Neblett, a suffragist and temperance activist, opened the Neblett Free Library in what seemed to be a cabin at the end of West McBee Avenue. (Footnote: Until the library was desegregated in September 1960, African Americans had to stop by another branch, which was also on McBee Avenue.)

Upon her death a year after a bequeath supplied the library with $20,000 — worth more than $575,000 today. (Her will later got messy but you can find out more about that from the Hughes Main Library’s South Carolina Room, where you can also map your family tree.)

According to a newspaper article printed on Neblett’s 20th anniversary the area bustled, circulating over 15,200 novels in 1917.

“Let everybody at least interested in a library come to the support of the tiny library which has worked for all that a library stands for in a community for 20 years,” wrote Rebecca Deal, the librarian. (Students were studying more, she noted, as were “elderly women and men , too.”)

Assist came a couple of years later — and finally led to Neblett’s closure.

“We trace our ‘100 years in the making’ back to May 20, 1921, when a small, rented shop building on East Coffee Street in downtown Greenville — including tables, seats, and about 500 books — has been opened to the general public from the Greenville Public Library Association,” James wrote in a memo to the Greenville Journal.

“As I look back on the past 100 years of public library service in Greenville County, I am full of pride.” -Beverly James, executive director, Greenville County Library System

Apparently, those early years required some determination. A 1981 book quotes a statement from one of the founding philanthropists, Thomas F. Parker, a Monaghan Mill textile magnate and a library board chairman:

“We are confronted not only by the requirement for procuring needed crude bucks, but also with growing successfully, and implementing vigorously, means to popularize the abundant use of good books in this town and county,” he wrote.

Now , you can read that and so much more ian and about a place thatlike its hometown, has attracted national attention. One storied outlet, “The Atlantic,” published a lively 1,300-word article in 2016 about Greenville’s central learning clearinghouse.

Under the headline, “A Public Library Tells the Civic Story of a Town,” the noted writer Deborah Fallows commented, a municipal library “can be a pretty good place to look for clues to the civic narrative of a town.”

What she found in the Hughes Main Library, which opened in 2002 at Heritage Green downtown, inspired her to list a mind-expanding array of offerings, alongside its collection of nearly 720,000 books.

1930s inside the Simpsonville Branch when located in front of the furniture store building at 104 S. Main St.

She mentioned, for instance, a slew of community collaborations like the Greenville Symphony Orchestra’s BMW-sponsored “Lollipops” children’s series, the Greenville International Ballet’s dramatization of children’s books, and a long-running partnership with Chautauqua, the living-history organization.

All of which seems to follow, to the letter, another part of Thomas Parker’s statement:

“We need a vision of the profound educational and broadening influence that an adequate free, public library, wisely conducted, can exercise in our community, and we should plan to execute a strenuous campaign to establish this institution in our midst.”

Photo by Alex Cooper

These days, Greenville County property taxes provide the main source for the library’s $20 million annual budget; for a home assessed at, say, $100,000, levies to support and collect all that knowledge amount to $7.50 a year— even cheaper than a super-sized fast-food hamburger.

That’s a lot of bang for the books … and tons more.

The holder of a free library card can download or stream music, TV shows, movies, audiobooks, comic books, e-books and magazines on the free Hoopla, Overdrive and Freegal services. You can go old-school and browse the stacks, check out CDs and DVDs or even ask an actual person, one of the library’s 257 staffers. (Fallows, incidentally, calls the digitized historical collection “amazing.”)

Day in the Life: Greenville County Library System youth services manager Karen Allen

When your brain’s overwhelmed, admire the 500-pound, 6-foot-round rotating Arthur Magill Rand McNally Geophysical Globe or take a stroll in the Children’s Garden, alive with butterflies.

In a word, as Fallows writes, “Libraries can offer a reflection of where a town is heading with their own plans.”

James writes in a recent newsletter, “Library Now”: “As I look back on the past 100 years of public library service in Greenville County, I am filled with pride.”

And in a statement later, she noted:  “Visionary community leaders, supportive elected officials, dedicated trustees and knowledgeable, caring staff members have made, and continue to make, the Greenville County Library System the quality institution it is today.”

The Greenville County Library system by the numbers:

  • 13 million visits
  • 77 million items borrowed
  • 44,846 new books and 8,370 audiovisual materials added to the collection
  • Approximately 1.39 million website visits
  • 277,073 registered borrowers

The library system offers:

  • Public computers with internet access
  • Faxing, scanning and mobile printing options
  • Free wireless access
  • Self-service checkout
  • Materials in multiple formats, including digital books, DVDs, music CDs and magazines
  • Assistive technology

The library’s website provides access to:

  • E-books, e-audiobooks, e-magazines, and streaming/downloadable services
  • Online resources that support foreign language learning, skill-building and research on a wide variety of topics
  • Catalog of items available for borrowing
  • Virtual events, classes and activities for children, teens and adults
  • 1-on-one research assistance by virtual appointment and live chat
  • Collections of digitized historical images

Source: Greenville County Library

The Pelham Road F.W. Symmes Branch. Photo by Will Crooks

Branching out

The system comprises 12 branches. Hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday. Check the website or call for holiday closings and hours.

Anderson Road



Augusta Road






Five Forks



Fountain Inn






Hughes Main Library






Pelham Road









Travelers Rest



Source: Greenville County Library

Knowledge on the road

The library system also operates a bookmobile, which visits rural areas of Greenville County. The collection provides the same material formats available in branch locations, including bestsellers along with popular audiovisual materials. Patrons may request items from any library location to be routed to their bookmobile stop.

Schedule Stops



Source: Greenville County Library

The Seed Library

Planting knowledge

Now this is bloomin’ interesting — this system offers a Seed Library. You can pick up seeds (free!) from the Berea branch and Bookmobile to grow heirloom foods, flowers, and native plants. For novice gardeners, seed packets feature planting instructions, including when to plant, spacing, light requirements and more.

Source: Greenville County Library

Greenville County Library turns 100

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