Town taking step backward on library

June 13, 2014 

Clayton leaders want their residents to have first and best access to the collection at Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library. We get that.

But in pursuit of that goal, the town is moving hastily to end an arrangement that has made it possible for Johnstonians to have access to books no matter where they live.

Town leaders say Clayton is likely to leave the Johnston County library network. One complaint: It takes too long – up to three weeks – for books purchased by Clayton’s library to be cataloged in Smithfield and returned to Clayton to be put on shelves.

The wait strikes us as too long too, especially given the demand for new books in fast-growing Clayton. But leaving the library network seems an extreme response to the inconvenience of long waits. A better response would be to work with the Smithfield library to reduce the time needed to get books into circulation.

The library network, while apparently cumbersome, is also valuable because the network’s many branches create, in essence, a single library. That makes its possible for a patron in, say, Benson to borrow a book from the Clayton library.

Clayton leaders say their impending departure from the library network doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the sharing arrangement. But Clayton acknowledges that sharing won’t be possible early on, and it’s troubling that town leaders can’t say how, when or if sharing might be possible after a freestanding Clayton library gets its sea legs.

Clayton is now Johnston County’s largest town, but it wasn’t always so, and no doubt many Clayton residents enjoyed access to books housed Smithfield, Selma, Benson and other Johnston library branches. We would hope Clayton leaders would feel an obligation to share their town’s library resources with readers elsewhere in Johnston.

It is important to note also that outside of Clayton, no one supports Clayton leaving the network. This is what the state’s chief librarian had to say: “It’s a core library value to share. This is really taking a step backward when it comes to sharing.” The criticism has stung town leaders, who this week announced they would apply to join the state’s library network, giving libraries far and wide access to Clayton’s collection. But we have to wonder if that move would further isolate Clayton from Johnston’s other libraries, which are not part of the state system.

It seems incongruous that Clayton, arguably Johnston County’s most progressive town, is moving backward on a public service. But if it is bent on doing so, we would implore the town council to delay action until it can devise a policy guaranteeing that a freestanding Clayton will share its collection with other Johnston libraries from day one.

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