Bert Barrett loves history books, so much so that he waited 20 minutes to have first dibs at the Friends of the Library book sale on Sept. 12.
It didn’t take long for Barrett, a Clayton resident, to find the nonfiction section, where he started piling history books into a paper grocery bag.
“I just love these books,” he said. “My wife says I’m getting a little library at home.”
For more than 20 years, the semiannual book sale has raised money for the Friends, a nonprofit whose fundraisers benefit library projects.
In the late 1970s, the Friends raised a large chunk of the money used to build the existing Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library, which opened in 1981. The group will continue to play a large role as the library’s growing population prompts town leaders to make changes for the future.
Clayton serves more than 14,100 library patrons annually, second only to the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield, which has about 17,700 patrons. The Smithfield library has long hosted a joint cataloging system for the seven libraries in Johnston County, making it a central branch of sorts.
But Clayton leaders announced plans earlier this year to break away from the county library network and create freestanding library. Independent of the other Johnston libraries, Hocutt-Ellington will have more control and also seek its own share of state aid. Currently, only the Smithfield library receives funding from the State Library of North Carolina.
In the future, the town will also be eligible to apply for membership in the state’s consortium of public libraries, called N.C. Cardinal.
Help from Friends
The Friends of the Library formed in 1976 to raise money to build a new home for the library, which was housed at the time in what is now the former Clayton Town Hall.
“They helped raise money and went to all the different businesses asking for donations,” said Pam Baumgartner, a Friends member and the library’s historian.
Area businesses gave about $52,000 of the total $200,000 needed to build the new library on Church Street between Main and Second streets.
In the early 1990s, the Friends started the semiannual book sale, which added thousands to the group’s savings for future library projects. That money came in handy in 1996, when the town added a children’s room to the library. The Friends gave $125,000 of the $250,000 project cost.
Recent book sales have raised upward of $15,000, money that has supported other large-scale library projects, like the 2007 “library online” initiative. That program allowed patrons to view historic photographs, yearbooks, cemetery records and other public records via the Internet.
The money also helps pay for equipment, like a $12,000 microfilm reader in the history room and a $3,000 early-literacy machine in the children’s room.
At the book sales, which are held over three days, patrons can pay $25 the first day, $15 the second day or $10 the third day for a large paper grocery bag. Buyers take home whatever books they can fit in the bag.
The books range from classic fiction to school textbooks and are donations the library receives from patrons throughout the year.
In the past 20 years, the number of library patrons has slowly risen from about 3,500 to more than 14,000. And while building additions have opened up more space, the library has now run out of land on Second street.
Library director Christie Starnes said she and her staff have had to get creative to make sure library patrons are getting what they want. Patron requests have led to growing genre collections that once took up a couple of shelves but now encompass entire rows.
For instance, Starnes said the library put a collection of reference books in storage to make space for more large-print books, which are more popular with readers. She said staff made similar changes to make room for audio books, a young-adult collection and new fiction.
Other changes to cope with dwindling space include turning a staff bathroom into storage space and adding a number of display units and book carts to serve as overflow shelving.
Starnes and the Clayton Library Board hope to work out future space needs as they complete a long-range strategic plan. The plan is one of several requirements in the library’s bid to earn recognition from the state.
Clayton hopes to have a state-recognized library by July 1, 2015. The town has notified the state of its intentions and must prove for one year that it meets eligibility requirements to function on its own.
After a successful demonstration year, Hocutt-Ellington would be eligible for state library funding and services, such as online databases like NC LIVE.
In addition to the long-range plan, the library board is hosting surveys and focus groups to get feedback from area residents. The surveys are online at www.surveymonkey.com/s/ClaytonLibrary. Anyone who wants to take part in a focus group can attend one of four scheduled at the library. Here are the dates and times: 6 p.m. Oct. 20, 12:30 p.m. Oct. 22, 9 a.m. Oct. 28 and 3 p.m. Oct. 30.