This September marks the 30th anniversary of Library Card Sign-Up Month. Started in 1987 by the American Library Association, the national observance was created with the goal of ensuring that every child might obtain and use a library card. During the month, libraries nationwide unite to promote the value of a library card.

To a child, there is something magical about having your very own library card. It gives a heady sense of power to know that you can select – and check-out – your very own library books. For parents, this is one authority we’re happy to share as studies show that children who are read to at home, and who use the library, perform better in school. Children who grow up using the library are also more likely to continue to use the library as a life-long source of learning.

Libraries are also important equalizers. Once summer hits, lower-income students are at greater risk of falling behind in math and reading. Libraries help narrow the achievement gap by offering access to materials and summer learning opportunities, as well as to summer programming to keep children engaged.

Today’s libraries also offer much more than books to their patrons. Almost all public libraries provide Wi-Fi and offer free access to computers. Many libraries also provide services such as technology training, job search assistance, homework assistance, test preparation, and more. Also, 9 out of 10 libraries now offer access to e-books, so that library members without access to transportation are still able check-out materials. Many readers, especially younger readers, now prefer their library materials in digital form for its ease of access and portability.

Notably, Austin public libraries offer students K-College free online tutoring from 2 p.m. to 11 a.m. every day. Students with library cards may log in and request a live expert to help with homework, projects, and general subject mastery.

The opening of Austin’s Central Library downtown has led to a spike in the number of Austin library card holders. There have been approximately 68,000 new cardholders since the opening in October of 2017, bringing the total number of cardholders to around 685,000. The number of visitors to Austin libraries has also jumped, from approximately 262,000 visitors per month in 2017, to about 300,000 per month in 2019.

A new initiative that has also contributed to the increase in cardholder numbers is a library partnership with Austin ISD. Students are automatically signed-up for a library card when they enroll, although parents have the option to opt-out of the program. During the last school year, approximately 25,000 students received cards through this partnership and greater numbers are expected for the 2019-2010 school year.

So, how does one get an Austin Public Library card? It’s actually relatively simple. There are two versions available: full access and eCard. The full access card allows a member to check out books and library materials at any of Austin Public Library’s 21 locations and also grants access to the library’s “Virtual Library.” The Virtual Library allows users to read, listen to, or watch digital content on a computer or mobile device and can be accessed 24/7. An eCard allows access only to the Virtual Library content.

To obtain a full access card, you will need to apply in person at any Austin Public Library branch. You can fill out an online application in advance or a paper application at the library. Potential cardholders will need to bring a photo ID and show proof of residence. Digital proof of an address will be accepted.

Should you prefer the eCard, you can simply apply online. ECards are available to Austin residents who are 18 or older, and who don’t have a full access library card. The eCard account will be valid for one year. To apply for the eCard, submit an online eCard application, which can be found in the eCard section of the Austin Public Library “library card” website page. You will upload an image of your photo ID and proof of current address. The turnaround time is quick – applications are processed within two to three days and, once approved, you will be sent an email with your eCard account number.

Library cards are free to all Austin residents. If your address is considered to be outside of Austin city limits, you can still apply for a non-resident library card, granting you full access to library materials, including those of the Virtual Library, for $120 annually or $35 quarterly. Or, non-residents can apply for a non-resident eCard for an annual fee of $22. The non-resident eCard grants access to the Virtual Library only.

Youth cards are available for applicants under 18 years old. Because most children under 18 do not have a form of identification, an adult co-signer must be present at the time of application.

To wrap-up, here are a few fun facts in honor of Library Card Sign-Up Month. Did you know that there are more public libraries in the U.S. than Starbucks? Also, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 167 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves! Want another way to honor Library Card Sign-Up Month? If you’re not already a cardholder, what are you waiting for? Get to your local library, or visit the Austin Public Library website and become a proud card-carrying member today!


Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.

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