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.

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image from florida keys public libraries of tennessee williams library cardAs friends and some colleagues know, recently I moved. This move gave me the chance to rethink a lot of things I take for granted. And, it also made me realize that there are a lot of things we do in libraries related to teens, that staff often take for granted. Maybe we need to look at policies and the way we do things from the vantage point of someone who is brand new to the community and the library. One of the areas that probably could at least use a review, if not a re-envisioning, is the library card application process.

Think about the traditional library card. It’s changed over time. When I was a kid it was simply a piece of paper – probably something a little stiffer than regular paper, I don’t exactly remember. Then, when I first started working in libraries it was one of those cardboard cards with the metal plate in it (as shown above) to work with the check-out machine. Now it’s a plastic card and/or key fob and I can even add my bar code number to an app like CardStar so the physical card isn’t even really necessary when I want to check a physical item out. And, it’s definitely not necessary for a digital item.

library card image courtesy of Paul Stanthorp on FlickrThe physical library card has changed but have the policies and procedures that we have related to cards done the same? How long has it been since you reviewed those policies with the teens you serve in 2013 in mind? I know for some of you the answer might be that you’ve done that review in the last year or so as digital content has taken center stage. But, I would guess, that for others it’s been a really really really long time.

Below are two scenarios to consider when thinking about teens, the library card application process, and related policies.
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