Why Not the Library Card?

The first thing that many library eContent vendors require from our patrons is a working email address. To get an eBook, our patrons must sign up for an account, with their email addresses serving as the user name. In some cases, emails are sent to those addresses, requiring users to respond before the account is functional. A library card number is then additionally used for circulation of eContent.

We at ReadersFirst don’t take issue with email.  Libraries often ask for email addresses to let patrons know when holds are ready or items are due. In our case, however, mail or phone verification is also an option.  Email addresses are seldom required to use libraries.

Vendors might suggest that using email addresses is necessary for many reasons:

  • An email address provides a unique identifying name, with no two users could having the same one
  • Verifying an email address ensures that patrons are actual users and not spammers or spiders
  • An email address helps vendors provide access to DRM protected content, such as ePub eBooks

We understand how email addresses work in these ways. We think, however, it’s time to investigate using patron library card numbers to establish eContent accounts.  There are many reasons why:

  • Streamlined access: Could an account set up by library card number (and perhaps pin) verify against a library’s ILS upon sign in? Imagine providing access to patron accounts, checking out of new titles, returning currently held titles, or placing holds, all without need for typing in a library card number after signing in with email, or Facebook, or any other personal identifier.
  • Privacy: Some patrons likely have no problem with providing their emails, nor with signing up for all email service and content updates from vendors. We have no issue with marketing, as long as our patrons get to make a choice about receiving it. Others, however, especially after last autumn’s revelations about Adobe Digital Editions relaying unencrypted information, might wish to have access to their library’s content without giving outside vendors their email addresses.  Shouldn’t it at least be an option for them?
  • Foregrounding the library: We are giving access to materials that we, and our users, have purchased. Allowing the library card as an option to create accounts would remind our patrons that we, and not vendors, are their content provider.

We call upon vendors to experiment with us to allow the option of library card numbers serving as user IDs. Perhaps if a vendor has millions of users, some library card numbers would duplicate. We think this, and any other technical issue, can be overcome. It’s worth a try. What now, as for decades and even centuries, is the free resource that unlocks a world of content in every format? Why not the library card?