Over a Century of Storied History
The Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield began its official existence in June 1966, but its roots go back over half a century more. 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 $3,000 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.
Several new vehicles have carried the Johnston County Bookmobile badge over the years. As needs and mobility have changed, so too has the need for a large full-service Bookmobile. In July 2014, PLJCS placed a Ram minivan in service to fulfill the outreach needs of the county. The Bookmobile department was aptly renamed Outreach Services to reflect the changing nature of the services offered by this vital department.
Emphasis is now placed on mobile programming in daycares, senior centers, and other facilities as well as bringing library services to those who cannot otherwise reach our brick and mortar location. Outreach Services staff hand select reading materials for their patrons based on patron preference and feedback as well as specific requests.
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 PLJCS. The Clayton library left this affiliation in June 2015.
The Library started to automate in 1996 and began circulating materials through the automated system 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 to request books that their library didn't have. The Library then began to carry books between the libraries every week.
In March 2006, a new automated system was installed called Polaris. This was funded through an 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 May 2016, PLJCS, along with the affiliated libraries in Johnston County, joined the NC Cardinal initiative. NC Cardinal is a consortium of North Carolina public libraries that share an online catalog called Evergreen, and share resources with other member libraries. It is a program of the State Library of North Carolina, supported by grant funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences under the provisions of the Federal Library Services and Technology Act. PLJCS received an LSTA grant to fund the migration into this program. Evergreen, an open-sourced, integrated library system, allows for resource sharing of over 7 million items from over 51 library systems within North Carolina just by using your library card!
In May 2014, the Johnston County affiliated libraries began circulating eBooks through a partnership with 3M Cloud Library. eBooks proved to be incredibly popular with patrons, and eAudio books were added in December 2014.
In October 2021, the Library migrated its eBook collection to the Libby platform. Libby is a well-known and highly utilized e-content vendor for North Carolina public libraries, which made the switch for PLJCS an easy decision.
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 April 2023, the Library will celebrate its 56th anniversary as the Public Library of Johnston County and Smithfield.