Wednesday, July 1, 2009

South Carolina’s Richland County Public Library, Part I

Not all Mobile Studio Travels require much traveling. Columbia is South Carolina’s state capital. That status alone assures hundreds of interesting government-related sites right here. We’ll tour a few in future posts. The State House and its grounds, for example, are well worth a visit.

Today, though, we’ll focus on a county project. Specifically, the Main Branch of the Richland County Public Library.

[click photos for larger images]

Front View These days most county governments throughout the United States support a public library system. They vary considerably in the services they offer, and in the grandeur of their architecture. Fortunately, many now provide internet access, free for the asking. Great for anyone who travels with a laptop!

Now, I’m a certified Library Nut. Have been since childhood, when we moved from the country into town, and a local library replaced hills and woods as the place of choice for exploration.

So, you can imagine my excitement when Richland County opened its new 242,000 square foot main library building to the public in mid-February, 1993.

This has developed into a major library under the leadership of recently retired director, C. David Warren. And it’s been recognized as such! In 2001 it received the Library Journal’s national “Library of the Year” award. No small accomplishment for a county library system in a state celebrated for its modest government budgets. You can read all about it by clicking here.

Library of Year Award Today, the overall system maintains over 1 million books, subscribes to nearly a thousand hard-copy periodicals, and subscribes to 155 newspapers. And that’s just the traditional “hard” copies!

In addition, and more important each year, are electronic offerings. Every imaginable on-line, internet, DVD/CD resource imaginable. All for free! More on the diversity of the library’s holdings and programs in a subsequent post.

Parking Lot EntranceBut this remarkable building alone makes a visit worthwhile. It’s a modern structure that, for once, doesn’t appear to be striving for attention and acceptance. Like some outrageous infuriate-your-daddy teen-age haircut.

This building is inviting, comfortable, and – well – just nice to visit. The photo above is of the rear entrance. The one closest to the parking lot. I mean! How many public buildings have rear entrances as attractive as that!

Through the rear entrance, the visitor walks along the long corridor pictured below. The building’s dramatic glass skin and supporting structure are on the left. The tops of a row of huge broad-leafed, intensely green, tropical trees are at eye-level on the right. Above which are stacked the concrete edges of the third and fourth floors. It’s quite a sight.

Corridor This incredible building was designed by the noted Houston architect, Eugene Aubrey. A great architect, to be sure. But he also must have known a thing or two about libraries. His building invites, and somehow encourages the visitor to stay a while.

And people do! 3,000 a day, on average. A broad spectrum of society. Even including those who have no other place to go. At least, nowhere as attractively furnished, and as well heated in the winter and cooled in the summer.

A highly professional, but unobtrusive, security staff makes sure that everyone has the space they need. And that they all are comfortable. The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. could take a lesson here.

Once through the inevitable electronic theft-prevention gates at the front, all four floors of the building are connected by elegant up-and-down sets of escalators.

Stairway Even the escalators are works of art. And that didn’t just happen!

Central Escalators Basement to RoofThe view from the first floor up to the skylight in the ceiling while standing beside the escalators is spectacular. Again, dramatic without appearing strained or contrived.

In the next post I’ll describe how the Library meets the needs of its diverse clientele with different sections and programs. So, stay tuned!

Click here for next post in this series.


  1. What a great post on a favorite to my heart subject. Thank you very much Bob.

  2. I LOVE libraries, Bob, and this one looks like a winner. Great photos, especially the skylight photo! Thanks for the virtual tour.