News-Star: Opinion

Your Letters: Clayton library will be better when it stands on its own

Clayton library changes will ensure that all pay fair share

The recent editorial, “At library, a bad idea gets worse,” failed to capture the purpose and benefits of the Town of Clayton ending its affiliation with the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.

For instance, through ending the affiliation, the town library will gain access to the Online Computer Library Center, a statewide system for borrowing books. This system has not been available to town library patrons in the past.

In addition, by operating as an independent library, the town will have control over its catalog system and will, for the first time, be able to generate local reports on lending, patron demographics and other data needed to meet patron preferences and identify trends in library services.

Also, rather than subject to loans to other county libraries, the collection will be more available to patrons of Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library. Finally, as an independent library, the town will be able to receive and administer grants and state funding in a way that will best benefit our patrons. The purpose of ending the affiliation is not to generate revenue through a card fee, and we do not consider that a benefit of becoming an independent library.

The editorial quoted me on the intended use of revenue generated by the proposed out-of-town library card fee. Of course the old cliché is that “I was quoted out of context” by the editorial writer. Well, sayings become cliché because they tend to be true time and again.

While I did not write down the exact series of questions and answers, I believe your reporter did. I will reconstruct them and paraphrase them here as best I can. Question: The library is going to need new facilities in the future. So you think the fee will help pay for those? Answer: “No, we do not expect the fee to generate anywhere near that much money. The purpose of the fee is not to generate substantial revenue. The purpose of the fee is to create equivalency for in-town and out-of-town patrons.” Question: So what will you use the revenue for? Answer: “I expect we will use it to enhance the collection. We are obviously going to be growing our collection, but again, we don’t expect it to be much money. We want to create a situation where consumers can choose what they want. People can choose to live in-town and receive town services as part of their regular property tax, like a bundle, or they can choose to live out-of-town and pay fees for the services they desire. We are just trying to level the playing field so that people can make an informed choice.”

Notice that there was no mention of any desire to reduce the number of patrons. We are creating a new system so all consumers contribute to the upkeep and operation of the library. The current system is unfair to residents, and this point was true prior to disaffiliation even being considered. As noted in your paper, more than half of library patrons do not reside in town. No operation is sustainable when over half of its consumers do not contribute to its financial well-being. Out-of-town patrons, aside from making donations to the Friends of the Library, do not contribute toward the library services they are consuming. The Town of Clayton library operation does not and never has received funding from Johnston County tax dollars. If a nonresident does not feel the Town of Clayton library is worth $25 per year, then they are free to visit other libraries. Pushing them away, however, is not the purpose of the fee. Whatever the amount of revenue generated, we will not be “disappointed.”

The town has a similar system for its recreation services. Town residents pay a nominal fee and nonresidents pay a surcharge. That system has worked very well. Our recreation program increases in participation every year, both for in-town and out-of-town participants. You allude to the town’s previous evaluation of out-of-town recreation fees. Our philosophy for the two services is entirely consistent. The library fee, as proposed, is neither punitive nor exclusionary.

By comparison, I recognize that the Clayton News-Star is distributed free across western Johnston County, but do you provide free advertising space to all businesses located outside of the town limits? That would be equivalent with the standard that you would hold the town and our library to.

What many people fail to recognize – and this is something the town deals with daily – is that western Johnston County has changed. In decades past Clayton was the population center for western Johnston County, but the intensive growth in the unincorporated areas presents a whole new variable to deal with. When the county was rural and agriculture based, issues of cost equity were less significant because residents in the unincorporated areas had limited impact on town facilities and services. That is no longer the case. In simple terms, the booming growth in the unincorporated area of western Johnston County will eventually overwhelm the town’s ability to provide quality services unless a more equitable system for sharing of costs is implemented. You might not like hearing this, but it is a fact that nonresidents freely enjoy the investment made through tax proceeds from town residents. The library is just one example.

Finally, the Town of Clayton library is very fortunate to be affiliated with an outstanding group, the Friends of the Library. The Friends have enabled library expansion and enhanced operations for decades. It has also served as a conduit for generous patrons, both in town and out of town, to provide direct funding support. The town will work closely with the Friends to ensure that there will be coordination between gifts made in support of the library and the fee system that is under consideration.

Steve Biggs

Clayton Town Manager