Lexington County libraries want to build on what director Dee Bedenbaugh calls their role as “hubs of our communities.”
That emphasis on serving local readers, researchers, students, job seekers and others has been a hallmark of the library, which this month marks its 100th anniversary.
“I don’t want to say no to anything,” Bedenbaugh said. “We’re always exploring ideas to see what we can grab on to.”
That’s led her 126-member staff to offer classes in topics as varied as coupons, health and finances, collecting records for genealogical research and opening centers to assist those seeking jobs and starting businesses.
Library officials are striving to keep pace with the growing reliance in classrooms on computer-related technology as part of a longstanding partnership with schools.
“Electronics are becoming a big part of what we do,” Bedenbaugh said.
The library has come a long way from its beginning as a shelf with 325 books placed in September 1912 in what was then Batesburg Town Hall, part of a literacy effort promoted by a local woman’s club.
Today it has 10 branches and a bookmobile with 687,000 books, videos, CDs and other material. An annual circulation of nearly 2.2 million items makes the library the fourth-busiest among 39 in South Carolina.
It operates on $7.4 million annually, with the owner of a $100,000 home paying nearly $25 in property taxes yearly to support it.
Officials in many small towns scattered across the 720-square-mile county call its services vital.
Reading material from the library is placed in the senior center and doctor’s office in Pelion while its computers are the only connection to the Internet for many students and adults in and around the town of 700 in the southwest corner of the county.
“The library is really an asset to our community,” Mayor Charles Haggard said. “If we didn’t have it, we’d be losing out on a lot of things.”
Over the years, Lexington County’s branch libraries have been in cabooses, a guardhouse, churches, post offices, schools, trailers, a grocery, a barn, banks and town halls, according to a history compiled by the library staff.
The first bookmobile was a pickup truck with shelves that stopped roadside.
Expansion outside Batesburg (now combined with Leesville as one town) started after the Legislature authorized a regional plan in 1948. The next facility was established in the county seat of Lexington, with the latest opened in South Congaree in 2007.
For now, the focus on improving services is what’s necessary to keep pace with steady growth as the county becomes more suburban and less rural, library board chairman Ray Sharpe said.
“We need to continue to broaden our horizons,” he said.
But discussion will be necessary in a few years about opening more branches, he said, without specifying where.
The most growth recently has been in the Red Bank area, now served mainly by branches in Lexington and Gilbert.
Steady growth shows libraries are important for all ages, said Hugh Rogers, a Lexington lawyer who headed the board for nearly 20 years in the late 1900s.
“I can go to a library and do a lot of things,” said Rogers, 81. “Our libraries have gone a lot further than we ever dreamed.”
But as its history suggests, some aspects of the library remain the same amid all the change:
“Public libraries provide a central resource for information, education and entertainment . . . a place to record and store the community history . . . a gathering place . . . a safe and quiet place of retreat . . . a place to be alone without actually being alone.”
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.