History of the PLJCS
The Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield began its official existence in
June 1966. But its roots go back over half a century before then. In 1912, a group of
young women from the Smithfield graded school started a library which was housed on the
second floor of Mr. George Thornton’s music store. Beginning with nothing, they presented
a pantomime – “That Old Sweetheart of Mine” – in Sanders Hall, and the price of admission
was books. They held suppers to raise money, and took turns keeping the library open on
Saturday afternoons. In 1915, when the Woman’s Betterment Association became the Smithfield
Woman’s Club, these young women joined the new organization and brought their library project
with them. This library remained primarily a Woman’s Club project until 1940 when the club
recommended that a Board of Trustees be appointed to oversee and expand library services.
That year the Board purchased the Presbyterian School Annex building and moved it to a lot
on Johnston Street, where the Smithfield Public Library remained until 1966.
In 1941, the General Assembly passed a bill for State Aid for Public
Libraries and appropriated $100,000 for each year of the biennium 1941-43. Representative
Lawrence Wallace from Smithfield presented this bill in the House. With this financial
incentive ($900 was Johnston County’s share), and urgings from interested citizens, the
Johnston County Commissioners approved the creation of a Johnston County Library and
appropriated $3000 for its operation. A Board of Trustees was appointed and Miss
Virginia Williamson was hired as the first County Librarian. The County Library was first
located in a back room of the Smithfield Library; it was moved several times, including a
one-year stay in a vacant store in Four Oaks, until it made its final move to a four-room
building on Johnston Street right next door to the Smithfield Public Library.
Bookmobile service first came to Johnston County in 1938 through a
WPA library project sponsored by the North Carolina Library Commission and the Department
of Public Instruction. A state-owned bookmobile was sent to Johnston County for six weeks
in 1938 and two months in 1940. This proved to be a very popular service, and when the
Johnston County Library was formed, the intent was to provide a permanent Bookmobile
for the County. The first Bookmobile was a half-ton Chevrolet truck, specially fitted with
revolving shelves. The vehicle was ordered on December 15, 1941 and was ready in February 1942.
But first, however, the Johnston County Tire Rationing Board had to approve delivery,
which they did in late February. Then the War Production Board had to approve delivery,
which they refused to do. The Trustees filed an appeal with the Washington Appeals Board in
April, and their appeal was successful. The new Bookmobile was finally delivered on
June 20, 1942.
The current Bookmobile was purchased in 1993 with an LSTA Bookmobile
grant matched by funds from Johnston County.
A merger of the Smithfield Public Library and the Johnston County Public
Library was first proposed by Commissioner Frank Holding in January 1961. That proposal was
shelved and taken up again in 1963. The property on Third and Market Streets was donated in
July 1964, and work on the new library building was begun in October 1965. In June 1966, the
County Commissioners and Smithfield Town Council approved the formation of the Public
Library of Johnston County and Smithfield; a twelve member Board of Trustees was established,
6 appointed by the Town and 6 appointed by the County. The new Library was completed in
January and opened to the Public on April 17, 1967. Since 1967, our three primary funding
sources have been Johnston County, Smithfield and State Aid. From 1966 until 1985, Johnston
County and the Town of Smithfield provided matching funding for the Library. In 1985, The
County began funding the services provided by the Bookmobile and to the town libraries,
and matched funding with the Town of Smithfield for the operation of the Library.
There was always a close "informal" relationship between the Library
and the other independent municipal libraries in Johnston County. The State Library
provided services directly to all the public libraries in North Carolina, but in July
1990, the bad economy forced the State Library to discontinue their services to libraries
that did not qualify for State aid. However, it was suggested that these libraries join or
affiliate with their local county or regional system, so that they could continue access
to State Library services. In March 1991, the Hocutt-Ellington Memorial Library in Clayton,
signed a Contract of Affiliation with the Library. Over the next 3 years, the libraries in
Kenly, Selma, Benson and Four Oaks, also contracted with the Library.
The Library started to automate in 1996 and began circulating materials
online on April 1, 1998. Primary funding for the project came from Johnston County ($100,000),
the Town of Smithfield ($35,000) and an LSTA Automation Grant ($50,000). Other funds came from
local towns and contributions from civic organizations. The new automated system, Galaxy, was
shared with the affiliated libraries, allowing library patrons to see which libraries owned
what books and requesting books that their library didn't have. The Library then began to
carry books between the libraries every week.
Our Latest Home
As demands for services grew, the Library ran out of space. In 1999, the
Library responded to the critical need for additional space by using funds from a bequest left
by Edla Ogburn to the Library, and purchased the adjoining former Belk building at a cost of
$500,000. Following that, the County of Johnston and the Town of Smithfield committed money
to attractively renovate the Belk building and to creatively up-fit the existing library,
thus adding better located departments, new wiring for technology, and a new heating and
air conditioning system. Private funding helped to pay for new furniture and additional
improvements. A ribbon cutting was held on May 18, 2003 to celebrate the grand opening
of the expanded library, which almost doubled in size to 34,000 square feet. In March 2006,
a new automated system was installed called Polaris. This was funded through a LSTA grant,
along with monies from the County and the towns. This system is Internet-based and allows
patrons the flexibility of viewing the catalog from home, therefore increasing the demand
for books and services.
In April 2007, the Library celebrated its 40th anniversary as the
Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.