Clayton’s plans to leave library network doesn’t read well with some librarians

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 9, 2014 

Yana Lowder, who lives just outside of Clayton, picks out a book for her son at Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library in Clayton.

NASH DUNN — ndunn@newsobserver.com

Clayton plans to leave the network through which Johnston County libraries share books and services, a move that worries some state and local librarians.

Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library is one of seven in the county that operate independently of one another but are linked through a shared cataloging system.

Clayton leaders, citing the town’s rapid growth, want to abandon that status quo and leave a system they say is cumbersome. But while town officials say the change will best serve their library’s patrons, library directors who rely on Clayton’s collection can’t say the same.

The state librarian, Cal Shepherd, also has concerns with the plan. “It’s a core library value to share,” she said. “This is really taking a step backward when it comes to sharing.”

The town will start breaking away during the next fiscal year, when it plans to spend $18,400 on a cataloging system, in addition to $6,000 on extra books and $37,000 on two part-time librarians. But Clayton will have to opt out of its contract with the other libraries to formally sever ties, a process that could take 13 to 25 months.

Unique system

Most libraries in North Carolina are part of a county system, where each library functions as a direct branch of a central location.

Johnston County libraries are somewhat different in that they receive their funding and staffing from the towns they serve. Most Johnston libraries also have their own boards of directors.

Since the early 1990s, the smaller libraries in the county have partnered with the larger Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield, which is supported by the county and the Town of Smithfield.

The Smithfield library, in addition to having the county’s largest collection, also qualifies for state aid and services, such as online databases. The smaller libraries contract with the Smithfield library to share books and the state services.

State data show 57 county library systems in North Carlina, compared to 11 regional library systems and nine municipal library systems. If it breaks away from the county network, Clayton would likely fall into the category of municipal library systems.

Once on its own, Clayton could apply for the state aid and services it currently receives through the Smithfield library.

Library demand

As Clayton’s population has steadily grown, so has demand from its library patrons. Christie Starnes, director of Clayton’s library, said the town has bought a “heck of a lot of new books” in recent years.

Since the Smithfield library has administrative rights to the countywide cataloging system, new books must first flow through there. Each week Clayton sends bags of new books to Smithfield for cataloging, and that can take three weeks, Starnes said.

Of the two part-time librarians Clayton plans to hire next year, one is a catalog librarian, and Town Manager Steve Biggs said that person will be able to process new books the same day they arrive.

Margaret Marshall, director of the Smithfield library, canceled an interview scheduled with the News-Star, and she did not respond to a phone call on Tuesday. But when reached by phone on May 30, Marshall said she did not know Clayton was moving to break away from the county library system.

“This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Marshall said.

Biggs said the new cataloging system will broaden the town’s ability to query data about its patrons. In addition, it will put town residents first, he said, as they won’t have to worry about someone from another town reserving a Clayton book.

“As a town, we need to create value for our residents and taxpayers,” Biggs said. “One of our anchor tenants in demonstrating and providing value is the library.”

No more sharing?

But while Clayton’s independence might be a plus for its users, other library directors say their patrons will suffer.

Benson’s Mary Duncan Public Library trades books every week with Clayton, said director Terry Hobgood.

“We definitely utilize their collection, because they have funding we don’t have,” Hobgood said. “The countywide library is beneficial to the smaller libraries and is really beneficial to everyone.”

Johnston County library cardholders can request books from any of the libraries in the county. For example, if a library cardholder in Benson requests a book from the Clayton collection, a Clayton staff member takes the book to Smithfield, where a Benson staff member picks it up.

Joe Carter, who oversees the Selma Public Library, said the town and Clayton loan a few bags of books back and forth on a regular basis.

“There would be some books that our patrons wouldn’t be able to get unless they went to the Clayton branch,” Carter said.

Clayton leaders say their cataloging system won’t prevent them from trading books with other libraries. However, that won’t be an option immediately, Biggs said.

“Where this goes in the long run, I don’t think we can say yet,” said Clayton Town Councilman Art Holder. “Where we go outside the Town of Clayton and how we deal with those county residents is still undecided and must be decided in the future.”

As for Shepherd, the state librarian, she hopes all parties can work out a solution that doesn’t end with Clayton leaving the county network. She said she would be happy to help broker a deal.

“This is very opposite of what we are trying to encourage in the state,” Shepherd said, noting the state library’s initiative to develop a state library card. “We want to encourage more collaboration and cooperation, and this is opposite.”

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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