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Expanded Library Card Types

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Expanded Library Card Types

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Advocacy & Awareness | 2012 |

Innovation Synopsis

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


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 end of 2012. 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 the majority of adult users were asking staff for guest passes rather than using a library card. 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.

Key Elements of Innovation

Recognizing that one card doesn’t fit all, four new card types were developed, each of which addresses specific barriers to obtaining a library card, while also providing access to the specific library services and resources each individual user wants. 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 Child-only and Teens-only cards let kids up to age 13 and teens ages 13-17 borrow three books from either the children or teen collections and keep them as long as they want with no fines. When books are returned, three more may be checked out. Anyone 17 years of age or younger may obtain one of these cards without their parent’s signature.

Achieved Outcomes

Response to the expansion of card types has been hugely successful and extremely popular with our customers. Since the new card types were introduced in May 2011, the number of active library cards has increased by 78,831, or 22%. Nearly 17,000 of these new cardholders registered for one of the four new types. Availability of new card types provided an opportunity to conduct a campaign to raise awareness of the value of a library card and the options for getting one. In addition to increasing the number of people with cards and therefore those who have access to the library’s resources, a great deal of good will and positive customer response has been generated. The Child-only cards have been particularly popular for providing access to books for children, 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.