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FIP 2015

Reduced Barrier Library Cards Open Access


Author or creator
Marshall, Kyle
Ottenbreit, Caitlin
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Public libraries -- Circulation and loans
Libraries and the homeless
Library cards -- Canada
Type of item
Conference/workshop Presentation
Library cards evoke a sense of membership in the “club of the library” that goes beyond access to collections and members-only services. Many libraries have policies that require proof of address or identification in order to qualify for a library card, restrictions that inhibit members of marginalized populations from obtaining library cards, and effectively prevent access to library services for these individuals. This is particularly impactful for the 200,000 Canadians who are unsheltered or emergency sheltered in any year. While North American library associations have issued persuasive official policy statements regarding poverty and homelessness, including the American Library Association’s Library Services to the Poor policy statement and the Canadian Library Association’s Position Statement on Diversity and Inclusion, their directives are not compulsory for individual libraries within their jurisdictions. In response to these identified barriers, some urban Canadian library systems have created reduced barrier library cards in order to extend the reach of their services to all segments of society. These cards typically have no residential address requirement, alongside other specialized modifications including reduced borrowing privileges and a limited application of late fines to balance increased access against increased risks for the library. A comparison of reduced barrier library card policies in four Canadian library systems – Vancouver, Fraser Valley, Edmonton and Toronto – permits for an understanding of the diverse approaches taken to address this issue. Managerial considerations for development and implementation of reduced barrier cards, such as financial and collection risks, use by other populations, staff training and buy-in are also considered within the context of public librarian professionals’ complex employment environments.
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