The Caroliniana Library, on the Horseshoe (Photos by Dylan Knichel)
The South Caroliniana Library’s remodel is coming to completion this summer.
Staff members hope it will be open to the public by Fall 2023 after nearly five years of renovations.
Built in 1840 on the University of South Carolina’s Horseshoe, the historic Caroliniana has been home to Southern culture for more than a century.
It is also the first stand-alone college library built in the United States.
“If there is a book published on South Carolina history or Southern history, it is almost a guarantee that the author would have conducted research at the South Caroliniana Library,” Elizabeth West said on the University of South Carolina’s “Remembering the Days” podcast.
Former USC President Harris Pastides and former dean of libraries, Tom McNally, agreed in 2014 Caroliniana needed major renovations.
Rightfully so, for a building that’s nearly 200 years old.
It was decided the building lacked many key features such as modern fire suppression and security, a good HVAC system and storage space.
But construction isn’t so easy when a place is home to transcripts, diaries, books and maps dating to the early 16th century.
Many of these historic artifacts are held in temperature- and humidity-controlled environments, an important factor that needs to be considered before getting started.
Beth Bilderbeck, South Caroliniana’s interim director, said that was phase one.
“It was decided that the first step would be to go ahead and move the collections out to a place that had appropriate humidity control and temperature control,” she said. “That is important for the preservation of materials.”
In February of 2015, a professional library moving company to begin moving the collections to USC’s Library Annex and Conservation Facility, Thomas Cooper Library on campus and the former state archives building, among other locations in Columbia.
It wasn’t until 2017 that construction finally began.
“There’s a lot of moving parts and a lot that had to be done,” Bilderbeck said. “It had to go through the state historic preservation office and the engineer’s office. … Raising the money for renovations was a big part as well.”
Bilderbeck said the state Legislature provided $5 million for the project.
With money raised and the go ahead from the state, many hoped construction could continue smoothly.
Then the pandemic hit and delayed the renovation for years.
“Thanks to COVID, we had to stop construction,” said David Banush, the current dean of libraries. “The project has taken a lot longer than we anticipated, mainly because of the pandemic and issues with labor shortages and material supply chain issues. … We wish we could have opened up a couple of years ago.”
It was an unfortunate reality that some Carolina students have had to face.
“I started at USC in 2018, right after construction began,” said senior Ralph Inge, a public health major. “It is pretty upsetting that I went through my four years and more without being able to take a look.”
The library is now on track for a soft opening this summer.
Banush encourages all students and South Carolina residents to pay a visit, as it’s important to understand the state’s history.
It’s “a newly restored treasure for the Horseshoe and for the local community,” Banush said.
A forklift is parked outside the Caroliniana as finishing touches are made.
One of the many plaques located outside of the library. This one specifically mentions the library being the first stand-alone college library in the United States.
The back of the Caroliniana, where some work is still being done on a patio area.
A plaque on the Caroliniana’s back patio that was installed by the AFROTC in 1987 remembers the Challenger shuttle accident the year before.