Back to School: Library Card = School Supply

smartestcardLibraries and schools across the country collaborate to promote library card sign-ups at the beginning of each school year. Annual efforts include blog posts, official proclamations, and lists of schools supplies sent out to parents. Last year, Philadelpha City Schools and Free Library merged databases to give nearly 100,000 students library cards. In April of this year, President Obama announced the ConnectED Library Challenge with the lofty goal of putting a public library card into the hand of every school student. As of August 5, nearly 50 communities had adopted the initiative.

Accomplishing this will be no easy task. When you live in an area (as I do) where one school district serves multiple library districts and vice versa, knowing where to go to get a public library card can be confusing. Unincorporated areas, which often aren’t served by any public library, compound this. At least one nearby library has mitigated that issue by signing contracts with local schools that allow students who live in the unincorporated areas to receive a card for use during the school year.

One neighboring community, Skokie, has adopted the ConnectED Library Challenge. The Village of Skokie is a northwest suburb of Chicago, and is home to a little over 64,000 people. The village straddles two different townships, and so public high school students attend one of two different districts. One township, Niles, is also home to a portion of the Village of Niles, which makes up a significant portion of the Niles Public Library District. Confused yet? Students from four different library districts all attend Niles Township High School District 219.

In an effort to sign students up for public library cards with as little confusion as possible, District 219 created a simple form on their student/parent portal. This summer parents could sign their students up for library cards at the same time that they registered for school. They just needed to click a box to agree to release their residency information. From there, the students’ information would be forwarded to the library district where they live, and a card would be generated. Cards would be delivered to students during the first days of school, which happen this week.

To promote the portal, letters were sent out to parents over the summer. Staff from all four participating libraries also took turns operating a help desk during the high schools’ in-person registration days; both to promote card sign up and assist parents with the log in process. I haven’t seen statistics of card sign-ups generated from this promotion, but (anecdotally) many of the students and parents who stopped at the library table while I was staffing already had library cards, had general questions, or needed to retrieve passwords from home before they would be able to sign in to the portal. I did help several families through the sign up process.

I also don’t know whether the option to sign up for a library card will remain a part of the portal throughout the school year. This would be helpful, as students move into the district throughout the year. Others may not have been prepared to sign-up over the summer, and will be in the fall. And perhaps others who simply weren’t interested will later change their minds.

For links to resources about community partnerships see the communication, marketing & outreach tools on the YALSA website.

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