A state program is helping public libraries share books and other materials between counties, giving users access to millions more than their local libraries have on the shelves.
The State Library of North Carolina launched N.C. Cardinal at a few test sites in 2011, and it’s now grown to 35 counties across the state. Libraries in Johnston County, with the exception of Clayton, are planning to join the system next year.
The program is a boost for smaller libraries that have limited budgets and can’t afford to buy every title their communities might want. There’s also a benefit for library users who travel around the state: Their library cards also work at other libraries that participate in Cardinal.
Franklin County, for example, only has about 100,000 materials in its collection. But its users can now search among 5 million items in the Cardinal catalog, and the nearest library that has what they’re looking for will ship it over in a few days.
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“It’s a huge boon to our patrons,” said Holt Kornegay, director of Franklin County libraries. “It gives people access to materials that they have an interest in and we don’t have.”
Cardinal adds four or five new library systems each year – slow growth that allows state library officials to help with each launch. In 2014, library users checked out materials from the Cardinal system 7.9 million times – up from about 5 million the year before.
Cardinal has replaced more costly inter-library loan systems, which often involve fees for library users requesting something from outside their local collection.
In many cases, library users seeking a book from another county can get it within a week. “We are usually getting the books there much, much faster,” said Tanya Prokrym, who manages Cardinal for the state library.
While libraries in Asheville, Winston-Salem and Fayetteville have joined Cardinal, the state’s biggest library systems in Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg counties haven’t gotten on board.
Mike Wasilick, director of Wake County libraries, said Cardinal works best for small, rural libraries that don’t have a large collection.
“I don’t think we were necessarily their target audience,” he said.
To join Cardinal, Wake would have to scrap its existing online catalog system, which Wasilick says is more sophisticated than what Cardinal offers. Wake also has its own system for obtaining materials from other counties and doesn’t charge for the service.
“I think we can get all the benefits of this system in a different way,” Wasilick said.
State librarian Cal Shepard, however, views the concerns about the catalog change differently. The benefits of sharing outweigh any negatives of switching over to the Cardinal catalog system, she insists.
Prokrym said the larger libraries in Cardinal initially thought they might become donor libraries – shipping more materials to other counties than they requested in turn. But that hasn’t been the case, she said.
“The little libraries can have lots of niche collections,” she said.
Sharing materials also allows libraries to focus on building specific types of collections, without having to spend money on items that only a few users want.
“Each library we have seen join the Cardinal system has in its own right a niche collection,” Kornegay said. “It might be cookbooks, serial collections, young adult components or videos,” he said.
State library officials hope to eventually have 70 percent of public libraries in North Carolina using Cardinal. The state spends about $700,000 to $800,000 annually on the program, with local libraries taking on a share of the cost after their first few years.
“The vision is that eventually it is self-supporting,” Shepard said.
Area libraries using Cardinal sharing
▪ Harnett County
▪ Johnston County (starting next May, except for Clayton)
▪ Franklin County
▪ Caswell County
▪ Wayne County
▪ Neuse Regional Library in Jones, Lenoir and Greene counties