History of Public Library Service in Halifax County
The first public library in the county was a room over the Planters & Merchants Banks on lower Main Street in South Boston, organized and run by Mrs. Ida Rogers Vaughan. It opened May 16, 1915, and moved to several other locations in the next two decades. Among the locations were rooms over Wilborn Hardware, Reeves Drug Store, and Boston Bakery. In 1933 Carrington Waddell donated land on Yancey Street on condition that it be the site of the public library named Carrington Memoriam Library in honor of his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. J.P.M. Carrington. Funds for construction were mainly from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, and materials were salvaged from Trinity Episcopal Church which was being dismantled. The library opened on January 1st, 1935, with a volunteer staff. It was many years before staff were paid; by 1958 the town provided $720 annually for materials.
The Halifax County Library was a gift of David K. E. Bruce, a small colonial style brick building on Mountain Road in Halifax which opened on October 17th, 1938, with a collection of 5,000 books. Mr. Bruce donated library buildings anonymously to 11 Virginia counties, stipulating that service would be free to all citizens, a trained librarian would be employed to head the library, and the county promised to support its operations. The Halifax County Board of Supervisors accepted the offer on December 20th, 1937, calling it “a forward and progressive move and a gracious and liberal one on the part of the donor” and agreed to appropriate funding on a 50-50 basis with the county School Board. The first librarian was Helen Martin, a Halifax native who had just graduated from Hollins College. Ours was the first library constructed with funds donated by Mrs. Bruce, and the second to open under his sponsorship. (Charlotte County converted and existing building with Bruce funds in 1936). At the time the vast majority of Virginia counties had no public library service. In 1945, Miss Sterling Bagby succeeded Miss Martin as director, a post she held until retiring in 1984. At the time, Miss Bagby became director, Halifax became the first county library in the state to coordinate public and school libraries in a single administration. Until 1966 the Halifax library served as headquarters for all school libraries in the county. In 1947 bookmobile service was begun with a used panel truck. In 1952 it was replaced with a true bookmobile bought primarily with donations, which was replaced by a larger one in the early 1960s and again in 1988.
In 1961, the Halifax County Library merged with the Carrington Memorial Library in the newly independent City of South Boston to form the Halifax County – South Boston Regional Library. This broadened the base of local support and enabled the library to qualify for a much larger amount of State Aid. For 15 years thereafter, conditions were extremely crowded in the original Bruce building. Many books were placed in storage and work space was almost nonexistent. In November 1978 the present 7200 square foot Halifax Public Library building, constructed by Halifax County, was opened. It was named the David K. E. Bruce Memorial Library in honor of the donor of the original county library, who had recently died. One year later, in November 1979, the new 10,500 square foot South Boston Public Library was opened in what had been and Oldsmobile dealership. The City of South Boston bought the building for about $70,000 and authorized a bond issue for $315,000 for renovations. The collection had grown to 30,000 and the old library had been designed to hold 10,000. In 25 years, it has more than doubled in size to more than 60,000 volumes and is nearing capacity.
In 1984, Sarah Hudson, formerly Branch Librarian in South Boston, succeeded Miss Bagby as director. The following year the library became one of the first in the state to install an automated circulation system. In 1966 public internet access was introduced with a single workstation in each library; donations from the Gates Foundation have brought the current total to six in each side. In 2001 Miss Hudson retired. Although the City of South Boston reverted to town in status in 1995, causing the library system to lose regional status (because there were no longer two independent governments) the system was able to retain regional funding thanks to legislation introduced by Delegate Howard Anderson. Although the original legislation authorizing continued regional funding expired in 2000, it was extended by an additional ten years thanks to Delegate Creigh Deeds who was acting in the interests of the Allegheny County Libraries.