Clayton to start process to form library system

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2014 

By July, the Town of Clayton expects to tell the state that it’s forming its own library system, a move that would give Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library access to new funding streams and larger catalogs.

But the town’s move away from the Johnston County library network would quash an agreement that allows patrons throughout Johnston to share Clayton’s collection.

Clayton spokeswoman Stacy Beard said the town is drafting a letter to formally notify the State Library of North Carolina of its plan. After that notification, the town must prove for one year that it meets eligibility requirements to become a state-recognized system. Those requirements include operating the library for at least 40 hours a week and having a full-time director.

After a successful demonstration year, Hocutt-Ellington would be eligible for state library funding and services, such as online databases.

Clayton’s library already meets the requirements to be a state-recognized system, said Jennifer Pratt, chief of library development at the state library.

If Hocutt-Ellington continues to meet the requirements after the demonstration year, Clayton will likely apply for state funding and services as a municipal library system. State data from 2013 show North Carolina has 10 municipal library systems, compared to 58 county library systems and 12 regional library systems.

In Johnston, the only library eligible for state funding is the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield. The state gave the Smithfield library about $188,000 last fiscal year and $160,000 this year as of May 12.

While the state classifies Johnston libraries as a county system, they operate differently from traditional models, where each library functions as a direct branch of a central location. In Johnston, each library receives its funding and staffing from the town it serves. In addition, most Johnston libraries have their own boards of directors.

Since the early 1990s, the smaller libraries in Johnston have partnered with the larger Smithfield library, a nonprofit that also receives town and county funding. The partnership allows all of the libraries to share books and materials through a joint cataloging system the Smithfield library hosts. The network also gives the smaller libraries access to the state services the Smithfield library receives.

That means Clayton’s library already has access to the state services it is applying to receive.

But Clayton leaders say the move away from the Johnston library network will give priority to the town’s growing population. The town’s library director, Christie Starnes, has also said the current sharing agreement can be cumbersome, with the Smithfield library taking up to three weeks to catalog new books that Clayton purchases.

The Smithfield library director, Margaret Marshall, has not responded to multiple requests for an interview. Jeff Jennings, vice chairman of the Smithfield library’s board of trustees, said the library is not in a position to comment on Clayton’s plans.

“There is still a great deal of information to gather, and before the board can issue any kind of comment, we need to make sure that all the facts are in and that we and the affiliates, including Clayton, know what steps will be taken,” Jennings said in an email.

N.C. Cardinal

If Clayton becomes its own library system, Hocutt-Ellington will be eligible to join the state’s online catalog, N.C. Cardinal. It’s a growing consortium of 19 public libraries that share resources.

Pratt, the state’s chief of library development, said Clayton would have to apply to join N.C. Cardinal after the demonstration year.

“It’s a huge undertaking to switch from a single catalog,” Pratt said. “You’re not just switching from one vendor to another vendor; you’re going to an open-source environment and a consortium to where you are essentially giving up control of your catalog.”

On a recent post to its website, Clayton touted the possibility of using N.C. Cardinal, which the town said would allow its patrons to request books or materials from across the state. The state catalog has 4.2 million books, while Clayton owns 75,000.

The website post also said, “Our current sharing agreement is with the nonprofit Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield, and unfortunately, they chose not to partner with this statewide library system.”

While Marshall, the Smithfield library director, did not respond when asked specifically about the town’s statement, Pratt said Clayton’s post was not entirely correct. The Smithfield library applied to join N.C. Cardinal two years ago, before “circumstances got in the way.” Pratt said she could not comment on the specific circumstances.

“(Marshall) has expressed interest in joining again,” Pratt said. “She’s been interested in it since the beginning.”

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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