I work at a public library which means I see a lot of different kinds of patrons. Some patrons come every day and hang out doing homework or just reading for fun. Some come every three weeks only to check out new books, and that’s it. And then there’s some who come every few months, usually for a program, and totally forget about all the other benefits a library card brings them.
But all three patron types have a similar question: should they get their kids their own library cards, or should they use one main “family” library card for everyone?
It’s free to get a card at my library, and we don’t have restrictions on who can get cards (except that under-18s have to have a parent or guardian sign them up). That said, it’s pretty evenly split on families who get EVERYONE a card, and families who only get cards for the parents.
As a librarian, I think everyone should get a card! But if you’re wondering whether it’s a good idea or not, here’s some things to consider:
Everyone should have a library card
Benefits of library card ownership:
- Having a card means being invested in the library/library experience. Kids get bored easily, and even the excitement over going to the library can fade over time. One way to keep them interested in the whole “let’s go to the library” trip is to get them a small token of independence. Kids love feeling like they’re grown-up, and a card is a Big Deal which means Responsibilities.
- They can check out their own books. Not only does this help strengthen a child’s independence within the library, but it’ll get them familiar with the self-checkout/circulation desk. Kids can be really shy with new experiences. The self-checkout machine is exciting– but if your library doesn’t have a self-checkout machine, it’s still valuable for them to go to the circ desk and talk to the library staff there.
- They can use the computer/library benefits themselves. In my library, each card holder can use a public computer for 4.5 hours/day, as well as check out ebooks, Kanopy movies, eaudiobooks, magazines, and so on. If you have multiple kids who all want to go on the computer at the same time (homework!), you NEED to get them their own card.
- Keep track of who has what book. Multiple kids? Multiple cards! Now you won’t have to fight over who has what book, who lost a book, or who let the dog chew a book. Each card has its own account, so you’ll be able to keep track of who’s in charge of which books easier.
- Older kids can maintain their own accounts. If you have teens who go to the library every day after school, then getting them a library card lets them use library resources when they need it. Teens at my library use their cards for: checking out books, using the computers, checking out study rooms, and checking out headphones.
- Supports the library! Non-librarians may not know this, but I’ll let you in on a secret: the more card holders we have, the better our statistics, which is great for getting more funding. More funding = more programs, more books and DVDs, and more staff members!
There are some downsides…
- Cards can get mixed up. The signatures wear off, the kids swap cards for some reason, they cards get jumbled in mom’s purse and she doesn’t know which goes to which kid… it happens! It happens ALL THE TIME, and the more kids you have the more likely it is the cards will get mixed up. Usually it’s not a big deal, but then you’ll get families checking out stuff on one card and forgetting the stuff they checked out on another card, and then they get overdue fines.
- Lose track of books. With great power comes great responsibility– and some kids need to develop their organizational skills more than others. Checking out their own books is great…until they lose them and now you’re in the hole with library fines.
- Lose track of card! This is the saddest part of working in a children’s library. Parents give their kids their cards; kids are excited and go to pick books out; kid has LOST the library card in the ten minutes they’ve had it; parent is upset and now their library outing has negative feelings attached to it. Replacements cards are $2 at my library, and often parents will just not get a new card until their kid is older. 🙁
- Time commitment to get everyone signed up. It’s pretty fast to get a new patron signed up for a card, but the more kids you have, the more time it’ll take in the beginning. Not a huge consideration, but it still counts.
When should kids get a library card?
As a librarian, I think the right age for a card is when a kid is old enough to write their name (usually late kindergarten/early 1st grade). Usually by that age they’re able to understand that it’s an important step, and that they need to be a little more responsible than they were before. I don’t think they should actually KEEP their own library card at that point, but just getting one is fine.
However, some families get their babies library cards as soon as they can, and eventually transfer ownership of the card over to them when they’re older. It really just depends on the family!
What about you? Does your kid have their own library cards, or are you thinking of getting them one?