You are invited to the “New” Darlington Branch Open House

By Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System

You are invited to an open house for the “New” Darlington Branch of the Darlington County Library System on Saturday, July 25th from 12-2 p.m.! The Friends of the Darlington Branch, “Cool Librarian” Branch Manager Gwen Robinson, and staff want you to drop by to see all the changes that have taken place in the building. Hotdogs will be available for the first 100 visitors, and many door prizes.

The Darlington Branch was built in 1988 by the architectural firm of Craig, Gaulden, and Davis’; their design features a central public area forming a “T”; the entrance was placed at the base, with high vaulted ceilings and huge arched windows that give a sense of walking into a cathedral. It was known as a show piece for the community.

As years passed, the County Library System added a new Hartsville Branch and expansion, a new Lamar Branch and two expansions, and a new Society Hill Branch. Through it all, the Darlington Branch received only an occasional touch up, such as new carpet or paint in the children’s area. The passage of time was clearly showing on the Darlington Branch when I arrived nearly three years ago.
When I entered the Darlington Branch before my interview a few years ago, I noticed the building’s wallpapered walls- and later learned that all the walls were covered with heavy, off white, grooved paper applied directly to unprimed drywall. The architect’s vision was to soften the light within the building. What I saw on my first visit was paper peeling at the high points, and seams with discoloration. As I sat reading a newspaper on my first visit, I was struck by a sense of clutter and a gloomy ambiance. My mind started thinking, “We could do….”

When the Board hired me as director, I set “Fixing up Darlington Branch” as a priority, as well as a Lamar addition. The Darlington Branch had to be done within our budget; we had to be resourceful, creative, and innovative.

Since we could not hire a library design consultant or much of the work, we would need to do the project ourselves. The staff got involved by taking a “field trip” to the Darlington Branch, to view the space from the perspective of a new customer’s experience.

We walked the parking lot, and climbed the steps to the front door. We viewed the public areas noting lighting, the wallpaper, customer traffic flow, shelving, signage, customer service points, and much more. We shared great ideas!

After the field trip, some little things were done immediately; bigger ideas and changes took time and planning.

For two years, we worked on the plan; we moved the new materials shelves, changed the landscaping, and combined the circulation and reference desks. Ater the Lamar Branch Addition was underway, “Cool Librarian” Gwen Robinson became Darlington Branch manager, and Jane Proell proposed the Darlington Branch become the Cornerstone Baptist Church’s 2015 MissionFest project May 2 – 3, making our dream for a revitalized Branch a reality.

During those two days, the MissionFest members stripped wallpaper and painted, flipped the children’s section with the adult reference and nonfiction area, built a wall creating a separate children’s area, installed surveillance cameras, and so much more. They did a fantastic job. With the work of the Friends, staff, and others in following days and weeks, the Darlington Branch has been renovated and revitalized!

Now when you walk through the doors, the Darlington Branch’s color scheme is described as inviting and contemporary;; the Branch has lost its cluttered appearance. The children’s room is bright, open, and inviting – taking advantage of the natural light from one of the great windows.

By rearranging the staff work areas, two public study rooms are available for use. The public computers are in an area more suited for their use. We have even committed more funds to “freshen” the Branch’s collections, with plans of more to come.

We are not finished yet, and seek ideas and suggestions. What do you think about an enclosed garden outside the children’s room? An outdoor stage? A sculpture, public art, in front of the building? Outdoor benches and tables? An addition and larger meeting room? We encourage dreamers and visionaries.

Come see the “New” Darlington Branch this Saturday, July 25th from 12-2 p.m. and share your thoughts, ideas, dreams, and visions for the Branch and the Darlington County Library System’s future.

Author: Duane Childers

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