Becoming a Library Customer – Can we Improve that Experience?

Has your library ever really thought about the experience around becoming a library card holder, or worked to improve it?

At most libraries, when someone gets a library card for the first time, here’s what we do: we give the person their library card. We might also hand them a printed list of either “stuff you can do” or “stuff you can’t do ” (i.e., rules, regulations and circulation policies).

Are balloons released? Does anyone celebrate? Does it usher our new customer into some cool, “members-only” club? Do we follow-up with the customer after 3 months or so to see how it’s going? Nope. For most of us, nothing else happens.

What happens with other types of membership cards?

  • Sam’s Club: a membership card gets you members-only discounts.
  • Airline reward programs: earn reward miles. Use it enough, and you can get seating upgrades and trade in miles for flights.
  • Grocery Store Cards: discounts on store purchases and fuel points.
  • Amazon Prime: free, 2-day shipping, movie and tv show streaming, and access to the Kindle ebook Library.

Now back to libraries. Is there something else we can do with a library card to make it more “membership” friendly? Reword that brochure we give out? Check back with our customers after 3 months to see how they’re doing (remember, we have their email address and snail mail address)?

How about give perks for use? For example, if they check out five books, they get that 3-day express movie for a week?

What do you think? Anyone do something special for library card holders that isn’t just “here’s your card, now go check stuff out?”

Image by Leo Reynolds

  • Andromeda Yelton

    For me, the part of the process that could most stand improvement were earlier than that.

    My kid had to wait until she was 5 to get a card? But…she *already* liked books…

    Proof of residency? I appreciate that it’s required, but most of the things I can use to substantiate it are things I no longer have in an age of electronic billing. (Unless they’ll accept me showing them that on their smartphone? But I assume they won’t unless stated otherwise, because conservative institutions often don’t.)

    Cards may be obtained only in person…but most of my interaction with the library is online, and until recently my branch had almost no hours that it was open when I wasn’t at work. (A whole other problem…since fixed, hooray!) Maybe there are authentication problems with having the process wholly online? But our local traffic & parking office lets you get permits online, and that’s even *more* hyperlocal than the library.

    Celebrating card acquisition would be great :), but I have to acquire it first!

    (these policies are my local library’s; yours may differ, of course.)

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  • Kathy Dempsey

    David & Andromeda, you’re both totally right. Many processes and policies are old and stodgy. Maybe that shushy-bun stereotype still exists because, even though librarians don’t look that way anymore, our rules are as old-fashioned as ever.

    The example of making it hard to get a card is a perfect thought-provoker, b/c it’s at the very core of the user experience. I totally understand the need for ID & restrictions, but when it’s easier to get a credit card or a movie membership than it is to get a library card, that helps us look out of touch with the times.

  • Cheryl

    “How about give perks for use? For example, if they check out five books, they get that 3-day express movie for a week?”

    The city I work for would HAVE A COW if the library offered such perks. They would never allow us to give special benefits to select patrons, even if those patrons met a certain set of criteria first. The city’s argument would be that all cardholders should get the same level of access and no one should get benefits that other cardholders aren’t getting.

  • Carol Kubala

    I want to work with people who see the importance of celebrating your library card.
    I know some libraries who take a picture to commemorate a child’s first card. How exciting is that! At the very least we can make the person feel welcome, take them on a tour, show pride in our library.

    What I like about David’s post is that it makes me stop and think about what image we are presenting to our community. Thanks for this…

  • ann

    We send a postcard to all of our new card-holders at the end of each month. These welcome them to the library, and highlight some library service they may not be aware of–ebooks, downloadable music, whatever. We don’t get a lot of feedback from them (but we do find those new patrons who have moved since they signed up!)