Preservation Service Award
Awarded to: Charleston Library Society
Submitted by: Alexander Moore
The Charleston Library Society was founded in 1748 as a private subscription library by colonial Charles Town’s leading merchants and planters. In continuous existence to the present day, the Library Society is a circulating library, a cultural and intellectual gathering place, and a repository of literary, scientific, musical, and fine arts objects. It is the third oldest institution of its kind in the United States. Through the centuries its collections of books, periodicals, newspapers, maps, and pamphlets have made it a locus of scientific, literary, aesthetic, and political activity during every era of South Carolina and American history. The Library Society can claim with authority to have been the intellectual birthplace of the Charleston Museum, College of Charleston, and South Carolina Historical Society. Its connections with those institutions and others have made it a well-spring of intellectual and cultural activity for more than 250 years.
The Library Society’s first independent address was 82 Broad Street. That building had previously been the British colonial capitol, the first South Carolina State House, and during the Society’s occupancy from 1792 to 1835, was the Charleston District Court House. In 1835 the Society purchased the Bank of South Carolina building at 50 Broad Street. That building housed the Society until 1914 when the institution moved into its present-day location at 164 King Street. That new Beaux Arts building was the first Society home that was purpose-built to be a circulating library, a repository for its unique collection of rare and valuable books, newspapers, and documents, and to continue its role as a locus for the cultural and intellectual life in the city and state. Designed by the Philadelphia, PA, architectural firm of Robert Rhodes McGoodwin and Samuel D. Hawley, the building was built in 1914. Its innovative library design featured metal bookshelves, fossilized marble parquet floors, and translucent flooring in the stack areas.
Over the past five years and concluding in December 2021, the Library Society has expended at least six million dollars ($6,000,000) in exterior and interior restoration, renovation, and remodeling both to its main building and its annexes. These several projects began in 2016 with an urgent need to repair and renovate the main building’s roof to preserve from destruction the circulating collection, and portions of the Society’s collections of colonial and antebellum newspapers, rare books and pamphlets, historical maps and manuscripts, and fine arts objects.
A vital complement to the Library Society’s restoration of its buildings has been a thorough-going program of restoration and revival of its place in the scholarly, intellectual, and cultural life of the city and nation. An extensive recataloging of the Society’s collections along with the establishment of a long-overdue collections management program has given scholars in every humanistic discipline physical and intellectual access to those collections. Online access to the Society’s catalog and the creation of an in-house book bindery and conservation laboratory have secured for the Society a status among scholarly institutions that complements the reputation it had during its most flourishing eras. Busy calendars of public programs that feature author talks, scholarly symposia, and performances of classical and popular music have redefined the phrase historic preservation to include the preservation and restoration of an intellectual milieu that has survived for more than 250 years.