Magazine article American Libraries

Libraries Add Value to Municipal ID Card Programs

Magazine article American Libraries

Libraries Add Value to Municipal ID Card Programs

Article excerpt

As the predawn sky began to brighten into shades of red and yellow, a line of bundled-up New Yorkers from all walks of life had already formed outside the doors of two Queens (N.Y.) library branches.

"Tuesday was very cold, and library staff volunteered to go up and down the waiting line, giving out cups of hot tea," says Joanne King, Queens Library director of communications.

The branches were among the designated enrollment sites for New York City's new municipal ID card program, launched just the day before, in early January. Dubbed IDNYC, the program became a trending topic of conversation among New Yorkers--everyone from undocumented immigrants to young office workers--seemingly as soon as it came into existence.

Following in the footsteps of other US cities with similar programs, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration worked in 2014 to develop a recognized photo ID card that would be available to all residents age 14 and up, regardless of immigration status, homelessness, gender identity, or other factors that can complicate obtaining other government-issued IDs.

The cards are expected to ease everyday transactions--such as opening a bank account or interacting with police officers--that can cause headaches for traditionally marginalized groups. But to encourage the general public to sign up as well, IDNYC also offers a host of cultural benefits, including the ability to serve as a public library card.

"IDNYC's benefits package includes not only integration with the city's three library systems but also a year's free membership to dozens of New York City's preeminent cultural institutions," says Madeline Kaye, a spokesperson for Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), which is also assisting with enrollment.

For now, the public seems to be biting.

"Public response to IDNYC has been tremendous, a testament to New Yorkers' enthusiasm and need for a municipal ID card that is, like the library, available to everyone," Kaye says.

The initial demand was so high that the city quickly created an appointment-based application system. By the end of the first week, online appointments for many of the enrollment centers were already backed up to as late as July 2015.

A partner in libraries

Libraries have played a role in New York City's vision for IDNYC since its inception, according to Luke Swarthout, New York Public Library's (NYPL) director of adult education services. Soon after de Blasio announced the program in his January 2014 State of the City address, Swarthout explains, the city began to explore how the NYPL, Queens Library, and BPL systems could participate--beginning with enrollment but also in other ways, such as linking ID cards to patrons' library accounts.

"The interest in the libraries, it had to do with the trusted place that libraries occupy in communities," Swarthout says. "And that trust is important in making all New Yorkers--from any background--feel like this is an ID for them."

A partnership with IDNYC made sense for the city's libraries. On one hand, they saw an opportunity to better serve their patrons, granting access to all three library systems with a single card and reinforcing the message that libraries are "free, open, and available to everyone," according to Kaye. The libraries hope the program will introduce even more New Yorkers to their resources, services, and programs.

"It is interesting to watch the people who are waiting to see the IDNYC staff," King says of the Queens Library enrollment centers. …

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