Special Collections


From colonial-era letters to literary manuscripts, the Library Society’s Archives and Special Collections hold some of the Lowcountry’s greatest cultural treasures.  From its founding in 1748, the Charleston Library Society has served to promote research and inquiry and has preserved and protected treasures of the written word.  The collections of the Library Society stretch from the 15th century to the modern-day and include materials from around the world.  Today, our collections assist scholars from across the Lowcountry, as well as internationally.  

The materials housed in the Library Society’s Archives and Special Collections consist of more than 14,500 rare books, 5,000 rare and semi-rare pamphlets, 400 manuscript collections, and 470 maps and plats.  A sample of what can be found among these collections are correspondence of people of historic national significance, such as George Washington, John Marshall, Robert E. Lee, Henry Laurens, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, and John C. Calhoun; the original handwritten manuscript of DuBose Heyward’s Porgy; books, pamphlets, and manuscripts regarding Southern agriculture in the 19th century; and an extensive collection of Southern colonial newspapers.  The items found in these collections provide insight into the story of Charleston’s past as one of America’s earliest urban settings.

Researchers may search our archival holdings and special collections through our online catalog.

CLS Special Collections Available Online

A generous grant from the Bernard and Judy Cornwell Foundation in the summer of 2015 enabled Library Society staff to develop and expand a digitization program featuring the Special Collections. The ATIZ BookDrive Mark 2 Scanner allows Library Society staff to safely digitize the vast collections of rare books and manuscripts for preservation and online exhibition. While the Library Society has enjoyed its beneficial partnership with Lowcountry Digital Library, and will continue to add content to this excellent regional repository, the acquisition of the ATIZ scanner allows the Library to consider additional avenues for building and presenting its own digital collections, which are being shared through Vital.


Enjoy carefully curated collections from the Charleston Library Society in partnership with us and Vital.


The Charleston Library Society began collaborating with the Lowcountry Digital Library in 2013 to digitize documents from its archives to be accessed online and enhance the public’s understanding of the history of the Lowcountry.  The Charleston City Directories, as well as other manuscripts unique to the Library Society and the Lowcountry, are available through the link below.

Research Services

Research Assistance for Members & Non-Members

The collections of the Library Society exist for the benefit of all researchers.  Our staff is here to help with your research project in any way possible and to connect you with the materials you need.  Requests are accommodated daily on a case-by-case basis, but 24 hours advance notice is preferred. Researchers wishing to conduct long-term studies of our collections are also welcome.  A staff member is available for hands-on research and reference assistance in our Main Reading Room Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30am to 12:00pm.  

Even if you are not a current member of the Library Society, our archives and special collections materials are available to you.  A Daily Research Form must be filled out, and a $20 Daily Membership fee does apply.  This is the perfect option for visiting researchers with only a limited time to stay in Charleston. Guest researchers will be asked to present a photo ID.