State Library to Issue Borrower Cards

A 1714 volume given to the state of North Carolina by James Madison to replace a copy lost when the State Capitol burned in 1831.

Colin Campbell, THE INSIDER, 10/23/17

For the first time in its 200-year history, the Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina is issuing library cards to state residents and letting them take home books and other items from its extensive historical collection.

The new service began Sept. 1 after state librarians worked with the Office of Administrative Hearings for about a year to update the N.C. Administrative Code, which governs the library’s operations. Applying for a card requires only a driver’s license or other state-issued ID. “The change in our borrowing privileges is really a philosophical one,” said Michelle Underhill, director of the Government & Heritage Library. “While the public has always been able to come in to do research onsite, previously only state agency employees were able to check materials out of our library.”

Michelle Underhill, Director of the N.C. Government & Heritage Library in Raleigh. A recent rule change allows the library to issue borrowing cards to any resident of North Carolina. Previously, only employees of state agencies could check out books. (Clifton Dowell, NCInsider.com)

The borrowing privileges aren’t just for people who can visit the library, which is located on the mezzanine level of the State Archives Building on Jones Street in Raleigh (it will soon move to the first floor). The Government & Heritage Library recently joined a statewide sharing system called N.C. Cardinal, which is used by local libraries in 38 counties. Users of those libraries can search and request materials from the State Library through their local library’s catalog and have them sent to their home library. Users of non-Cardinal libraries, such as Wake County, can request materials too, but they’ll have to use the inter-library loan process to have materials sent from the state.

The State Library’s resources aren’t well known. When the legislature recently debated a bill that mentioned the library, the lawmaker presenting the bill said he didn’t realize there was a state library. But it’s popular among genealogy researchers looking for old newspapers and government records that shed light on their family history. “Genealogy is our best seller,” Underhill said.

While the library’s primary function is to store and maintain state government records, the collection goes far beyond dusty old reports from agencies like the Department of Insurance. If a book or publication relates to North Carolina and its history, odds are the library has a copy. There are old copies of Liquor Quarterly, poetry anthologies from UNC-Wilmington, and a collection of photos from the old Land of Oz amusement park. The library also has federal government records, and a number of books that don’t relate to North Carolina but stem from a time when the State Library was a repository for obscure books occasionally needed by other libraries.

Thousands of rare items aren’t available to check out, but they can be viewed at the library. Those include the library’s treasures: A book donated by President James Madison to replace a copy lost in the fire that destroyed the state Capitol building in 1931, and a book in Latin that dates to the 1500s. The latter was acquired through a book exchange program with a foreign library.

Plenty of records stored at the library have been digitized and are available online at statelibrary.ncdcr.gov. The list includes documents from the earliest days of the General Assembly, historical photos and agricultural statistics dating to 1928. Library cards also allow users to access a variety of online databases for newspapers, scholarly articles and genealogy records. The State Library also runs the popular NCPedia.org reference website.

The State Library has upcoming programs to help spread the word about its services. While it’s typically open only during weekday business hours and most Saturdays until 2 p.m., it’s staying open until 8 p.m. Friday for visitors who can’t visit during the day. The library is launching a monthly free genealogy class, starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday and continuing on the second Wednesday of each month. And on Nov. 4, a “Virtual Family History Fair” will stream presentations on research methods online.


Colin Campbell is editor of the Insider State Government News Service. Follow him at NCInsider.com or @RaleighReporter. Write to him at ccampbell@ncinsider.com.