Monday, July 6, 2009

South Carolina’s Richland County Public Library, Part II

Click here for first post in this series.

Last post we began a tour of a remarkable public library, right here in Columbia, South Carolina.

[Click photos for larger images]

Front Entrance Today, we’ll consider briefly the diverse clientele this Library serves.

Richland County Public Library (RCPL) doesn’t claim to be a “research library.” Columbia has one of those just a few blocks away at the University of South Carolina. But it’s certainly possible to do all but the most specialized research here.

Micro Readers RCPL maintains an extensive microfilm archive of hundreds of U.S. newspapers and magazines, and an army of the complicated reading machines necessary to access them. Not long after the new building opened, while researching the effectiveness of international propaganda efforts on U.S. print media, I was amazed at the depth of their coverage in this area. And – a first for me – their mechanical readers nearly all worked!

Guide to Per Lit Hard-copy periodicals are available too, as well as the specialized indexes necessary to access them efficiently. All of this is expensive!

But don’t go away with the impression that RCPL short-changes the traditional role of such public libraries.

StacksGen Like any library worth its salt, aisle after aisle of books on steel shelves monopolize much of the space on each floor.

NewCardFile With terminals offering access to an efficient, user-friendly electronic card catalog available here and there on all four floors. In fact, it’s now possible to punch into RCPL’s card catalog from home via the Internet. Those of you raised with such convenience probably take all this for granted. But it wasn’t always so!

Mystery Stacks Now, the most important literary categories, such as mysteries and westerns, have their own sections in this library. Which certainly saves the inquiring reader time and energy.

Periodicals Even popular periodic literature, or magazines, are not forgotten here. Confirming that this library allocates its resources to a broad spectrum of tastes and interests. As a publicly funded institution of this sort should!

Children's Library Entrance The Children’s Library requires special mention. It’s far more elaborate than the usual “Kid’s Section,” or “nook,” we find in most county-sponsored libraries.

It really is a world of its own, occupying most of the lower floor of the building. Separate, but comfortably accessible by escalator and elevator.

Toy Collection Display Children of all ages are made comfortable here with tables, chairs, and benches of various size. Each sized seating section surrounded by books and displays designed to appeal to that particular age group.

At first glance the Children’s Library looks simple. Just a nice big reading and listening place for Little People. Wander around for a while, though, and you’ll begin to appreciate its complexity.

KidsBooks Here’s a clip from the Children’s Library website home page that illustrates the care taken to appeal specifically to various ages. Such differentiation is essential if children are to appreciate, rather than endure, the library. Five-year-olds have little interest in books designed for twelve-year-olds. While twelve-year-olds find nothing of interest in books designed for “little kids.”

RCPL’s Children’s Library has taken the same care with the programs they offer, such as story telling, films, and games. Everything designed to minimize whiney complaints of “Daddy, I’m bored! When can we go home?” I can’t imagine that’s heard much around here!

Our Richland County Public Library also has recognized the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. No easy task. I mentioned the on-line card catalog. Or what we used to call a card catalog. It’s very user-friendly, even from home. Must be, since it received nearly 2 million hits in 2008 alone.

AV Room Seating In addition, RCPL offers tens of thousands of DVDs, CDs, tapes, on-line books, and electronic databases. The photo above is of the seating arrangement in the audio-visual room on the main floor.

Sign1431 We’ve become fanatical borrowers of early television programs on DVDs. Programs we can play right on our home television set.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Richland County Public Library is that all of this has been accomplished on an annual budget of less than $30 million a year. $26,162,574, to be exact, in 2008. Public money well spent, in my view.

So, when you visit Columbia, South Carolina, and happen to drive by an incredibly beautiful modern building on Assembly Street, a few blocks north of the Capital, find a nearby parking space and look around inside. I promise that your time will be well spent.


  1. What a lovely library, and one very well described. You make me want to stop by and check out a book. Maybe, let's see, MASTER AND COMMANDER by Patrick O'Brian, or perhaps SKINWALKERS by Tony Hillerman...

  2. Thanks for lookin' Tamia. Really, these two posts don't do the institution justice. There's so much more to describe.

    I've yet to meet the fellow who built it. But he's created something he can be proud of.

    They have both Skinwalkers and Master and Commander, by the way!