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Library card

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For information on library catalog cards, see library catalog.

A library card is a small paper or plastic card which identifies a person as a registered borrower who is entitled to check materials out from a library. Identification is usually required of new applicants. In most libraries in the U.S., library cards are barcoded for electronic circulation.

A library card is presented at a circulation desk along with the materials to be checked out -- or simply by itself in the case of closed stacks or the retrieval of items on a hold shelf. Circulation staff may accept alternative identifying information in lieu of a library card, although partially because this usually means that patron data must be manually looked up in computerized checkout systems, this practice is often discouraged. Older or simpler circulation systems do not use a library card, but rather have checkout slips in the back of books that are signed out and marked with a due date.

You are usually eligible for a library card by virtue of being a member of a certain population group, such as a county resident for a public library card or a staff member or student for a university library card. Cards may expire or be deactivated due to the accumulation of unpaid service charges.

In some educational institutions, the school ID functions as the library card. University faculty may designate "runners." These research assistants can check out books to the faculty member's account in their stead by using a "proxy" borrowing card. Similarly, parents' authorization is often required to issue cards to minors.

Although a library card is not really a valid governmental ID, some circulation departments add patron signatures and/or pictures to the cards in order to prevent problems with identity theft. Newer library cards may also contain barcodes, magnetic strips, and other devices which may be tied to self-checkout systems. Some libraries also offer small, keychain-sized library cards for increased ease-of-use.

An active library card and number may allow you to:

  • Use such OPAC functions as viewing your circulation record, placing holds, and renewing items
  • Initiate interlibrary loan requests via a Web form
  • Access subscription titles from any Internet connection via remote authentication
  • Use library equipment such as photocopiers and Internet terminals.

The design of library cards can be an important part of library marketing. Many marketing campaigns are also specifically tied to having populations obtain and be proud to have and use a library card. See the Public Library Association's Smartest Card Campaign, for example.

In March 2005 a 50-minute-old baby was issued a library card.[1]

Michael P. Sauers has a Web exhibit of active library cards called The Great Library Card Collection.