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Expanded Card Types

Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County, OH

Innovation Summary

To better meet the needs of our individual users, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County created five new library card types. Child-only and Teen-only cards don’t require a parent’s signature or accrue fines, while Downloadables-only, Internet-only, and Complimentary Cards give adults access to the Library’s online resources.

Problem Statement

Library card registration was very low in comparison with the Library’s usage measured by circulation, the number of visitors, program attendance, and public computer sessions. As part of our strategic plan, a goal was set to increase the number of cardholders from 349,139 at the beginning of 2011 to 500,000 by the beginning of 2013. Investigation revealed that a large number of youth were unable to use their cards because of excessive fines (sometimes accrued by the parents), and that some parents didn’t want their children to have a card out of fear of accruing fines. Public computers were in use all day but many adult users were asking for guest passes rather than using a library card, which was an inefficient and not value-added use of staff time. Some of these users did not have the documents needed to verify the personal information required for a standard library card and others didn’t want to provide this information to staff processing applications. Other adults were excited about using the Library’s downloadables collection and online resources but had no interest in borrowing physical items. Additionally, staff attending outreach events wanted to be able to offer adults an opportunity to “try out” the Library’s online resources before signing up for a permanent card.


Recognizing that one card doesn’t fit all, five new card types were developed, each of which addresses barriers to obtaining a library card, while also providing access to the specific library services and resources each individual user wants. The Child-only and Teens-only cards let kids up to age 13 and teens ages 13-17 borrow three books from either the juvenile or teen collections and keep them as long as they want with no fines. When books are returned, three more may be checked out. No parental signature is required. Internet-only cards provide access to the Internet and all databases to adults who live within the Library’s service area but do not have an active library card. Downloadable-only cards offer access to the Library’s downloadable collection of ebooks, e-audiobooks and digital music, as well as to the Internet and research databases. The Complimentary Card provides access to all online resources for a limited period of time (usually three weeks). It was introduced in July 2012 in partnership with the Convention & Visitors Bureau and given to all 16,000 World Choir Game competitors as part of a welcome package to the City. Card records were auto-generated so the cards could be used immediately without any action or provision of information on the part of the recipient. Cards automatically expired at the end of the Games. A mailing of 76,000 Complimentary Cards was done in January 2013 to all of the households within our service area where no one had a library card to allow these potential library users to sample our services.


Response to the expansion of card types has been successful and extremely popular. In the 15 months since the new card types were introduced, the number of active library cards has increased by 41%. More than 26,000 of these new cardholders registered for one of the new types and we have seen many people bring in their Complimentary Cards to sign up for a permanent card. Availability of new card types provided an opportunity to conduct a marketing campaign to raise awareness of the value of a library card and the options for getting one. Additionally, a great deal of good will and positive customer response has been generated. The Child-only and Teen-only cards have been particularly popular for providing access to books for youth (more than 103,000 books have been checked out with these cards), while at the same time eliminating parental concern about fines or fees. Youth who need materials for homework assignments can now get immediate access to the collection without having to bring in a parent to sign an application. Children whose cards have been barred due to fines exceeding the limit now can still check out books. Adults who only want to take advantage of our vast collection of online resources can do so remotely, from the comfort of their home, school or office. The decision to provide additional new card types has been a win-win for our customers of all ages, and for the library.