September is National Library Card Sign-Up Month, although if I were in charge of the world, every month would be Library Card Sign-Up Month. I was lucky to be born into a family that used the public library on a regular basis, and I’ve kept up that habit for my entire life, even to the point of working full time in a public library so that I never had to leave.
I know the value of a library card, especially now that so many libraries have transformed into vibrant, active community and cultural centers. But there are still so many people, even book lovers, who don’t have a library card and who don’t have plans to get one. If this describes you, or if you think, “Why would I need a library card when I can get everything I need at a bookstore or online?,” keep reading. Hopefully I can change a few of your minds.
1. It’s free. Yes, we all know that library cards are free to sign up for. But we’re also inundated with free cards on a daily basis: grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, movie theaters. Why would you add another card to your collection if it’s just going to collect dust in your wallet and eventually get lost? But let’s think about these other cards. When you sign up for one of these, you’re ultimately expected to buy something with the card in order to take advantages of the benefits, and you know deep down that there’s probably a catch, whether it’s an inbox full of unwanted emails or a ridiculously high interest rate on your credit card.
But library cards don’t have that catch. We’re not going to send you ridiculous emails, we’re not going to call you up and pressure you into buying or donating anything. We just want you to use your card to take advantage of what we have to offer. One of our patrons mentioned to me that she loved having her library card because it was like going on a shopping spree at Barnes & Noble without having to pay for anything! And that’s just talking about books – most public libraries also offer access to DVDs, BluRays, CDs, magazines, audiobooks, video games, and digital downloads, and that’s not even factoring in a library’s public programming or databases and online resources. I mean, how can you pass that up?
2. You can use the library without putting on pants.
Okay, let me be clear: I’m not advocating for any of you to visit the library sans pants. Librarians have enough to worry about without having to deal with that. But let’s talk about the digital content I mentioned in the last paragraph. Most public libraries offer free access to eBooks, eAudiobooks, graphic novels, magazines, and downloadable music, which can be accessed remotely with your smartphone/tablet, and your library card. Facing a ridiculously long wait at the doctor’s office? Pull out your phone and download an eBook for free right there in the waiting room. Download an audiobook right before a long drive. Try new authors and genres without monthly subscription fees or other obligations. Read a graphic novel in your undies. The amount of information and entertainment available at your fingertips is virtually limitless, and it’s free. This shit is FREE, people!
3. You can use the library to get shit done.
Up to this point, I’ve talked a lot about library materials – things you can take home with you. And that’s awesome. But the library also offers services to help you out when your technology crashes, or when you need to take care of multiple errands. Is your printer out of ink? Stop by the library to take advantage of public printing services. Do you need to scan some important tax documents? Your library probably has a public scanner that you can use for free. (And if you need legal documents, the reference librarians can print those out for you as well.) Depending on the library, you may also be able to register to vote, get documents notarized, reserve a study room for a meeting or an interview, get free tax/legal assistance, donate blood, learn about the college registration/FAFSA process, renew your passport, or get a free health screening.
4. Getting a library card helps your library get better funding.
Libraries are nonprofit organizations, so when it comes to measuring success, they can’t point to profit margins or sales as evidence. What libraries can point to are numbers: the number of people who walk through the doors, the number of items checked out, and the number of people who sign up for a library card. Those are the numbers that library administrators can present to donors or local government officials, and believe me when I say libraries need those numbers – not to advocate for a larger budget, but to keep their budget from shrinking every year. It may not feel like signing up for a library card can do much on an individual level, but collectively, those individual statistics really do add up.
5. Your library card gives you access to information beyond your library’s collection.
So you have your library card in hand, and you’re ready to explore everything your library has to offer. But wait…did you know your card can give you access to other collections as well? Many public libraries belong to a network that can freely share materials between member libraries, and chances are, your library also offers interlibrary loan services if they don’t own the item you’re looking for. Want to use another library’s services & materials? See if you can register with that library as a reciprocal borrower. You may have limited access to some of their collections & online resources, but lots of libraries will allow reciprocal borrowers many of the same borrowing privileges as their home patrons. Are you more of an academic library user? Some university libraries will allow you to check out materials with a public library card.
Your options with a library card are literally limitless. Here at Book Riot, we’re big supporters of libraries, so if you’re interested in stepping up your library game, or reading more about why libraries are so damn important, check out some of these awesome posts:
Are you ready? Go get your library card this week!