New Library Cards and Services Remove Barriers

How the Library Got to ‘YES!’ in Innovative New Services

YOUNGSTOWN, OH (March 17, 2015) — Since Executive Director Heidi Daniel arrived in town almost three years ago to lead Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County (PLYMC), she set about seeing how the Library could best respond to customer requests and get to “yes!” whenever possible. Couple that strong desire with an outreach to the community to discover what they needed and wanted from their library system and the result is that today, the Library is able to say, “Yes, You Can!” more often than ever, thanks to a number of innovative new services.

“We sat down with community members in small conversational meetings throughout the county, and at almost every meeting, we heard concerns about people’s inability to use their library. For example, there are those who cannot get to a library, children who have difficulty getting a library card, and patrons with fines and fees which block their access to library materials,” Ms. Daniel says. “I thought it was interesting that many of the roadblocks were our own internal policies and decided that it was time to examine if we still needed them.”

Community conversations were an important part of the My Library 2020 Strategic Planning Process. The conversations, in the style of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, have been used by the Library for a number of years. At these small, kitchen-table style meetings, people are free to share their aspirations for their community and, in doing so, many elements come up as part of the conversation that are pertinent to the services and materials the Library offers or is considering.

“The comments I heard were food for thought and I wanted more than ever to locate road blocks to library service and see how we could remove them,” Ms. Daniel said. She worked with Library administrators and staff in meetings in which brainstorming was encouraged and ideas and innovations were put on the table. “I’m happy to say that we’ve made quite a few changes in the past few months that have the goal of making our library system more accessible to everyone.”


pop-Business ShowcaseAt many community conversations we heard nostalgic talk about the bookmobiles which the Library no longer operates. We were asked, “What if you could do a temporary library that can be in the community and circulate books, like those pop-up events that happen?’
That was one question that started her thinking. If people don’t come to the library, can we bring the library to them? The answer was, “Yes, We Can!”

For the solution, we looked for a fast and cost-efficient way to get into the community and offer real services, not just information and promotion, but collections and services. Much planning went into what would be called the “Pop-Up Library,” giving a nod to community input. And within a few weeks, the Library launched a Pop-Up Library service. In this outreach service, Library staff members take computers, books, A/V materials and library information off-site to locations such as festivals, schools, businesses and more. Their tables are clearly marked with banners and tablecloths identifying them as the Library. Staff members check out materials, sign up people for library cards, and answer questions.

“The Pop-Up Library isn’t just outreach, it’s much more. And we’ve already seen ways it has touched the lives of our customers,” notes Ms. Daniel.

PLYMC Librarian Hayley McEwing, who brings the Pop-Up Library to the community, has relayed stories that show how this service inspires and enriches lives.

Our Pop-Up Library team regularly visits a local low-income housing facility. Ms. McEwing notes that at one such visit, an expectant mother came with her two children, both under age 5. Library staff saw that she was blocked due to fines and fees; they quickly got her back into good standing with the Conditional Card*, which provides a second chance for blocked customers. This mom asked about the READ Card* for kids, a card which carries no fines, and she decided it was a good fit for her little ones. [*see details on new cards below]

While the family was at the Pop-Up location, librarians connected the kids with books which they explored together. They pointed out letters in “An Alphabet Salad: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z,” by Sarah L. Schuette. “It was a good experience for both our customers and our staff,” says Ms. McEwing. “We reconnected this family to library services for an hour.”

In recalling another visit to a Pop-Up visit, Ms. McEwing recalled helping a childcare group that surprised them by shouting ‘I Love My Library!’ when they left. She says, “It warmed our hearts! Hooray for creating a special community and Library space outside of the Library’s walls.” read more about the Pop-Up Library »


READ-card“As we listened to the community in the various kitchen conversation sessions, we heard over and over that people want to be sure children have access to books,” said Janet Loew, Communications and Public Relations Director. “We’d hear comments like: ‘You need to get books into the hands of kids who don’t otherwise have an opportunity to read’ and ‘What about kids who are blocked because of fines?’ And we agreed.”

Staff members put their heads together and ideas bubbled up. What if we had a card that did not require a parent’s signature because there was no financial obligation? Fines can block a child, so what about a children’s card with no fines?

Ms. Daniel listened and approached Library Trustees with the idea of a new card for children which would not require a parental signature and which would be fine-free. The child could take out two books and once those books were returned, they could take out two more. The Executive Director wanted to start a pilot program in one or two Youngstown City Schools to test this card. Trustees agreed. The schools were then chosen by Josephine Nolfi, Director of Programming and Youth Services for the Library, based on literacy test scores for K-3 students.

A card with a fresh new image on it, which simply said “READ,” was created by the Library’s graphics department. And thus, this new card is called the “READ” card.

“Once we had worked out all the logistics of this new card, the next step was getting into the schools. The Pop-Up Library seemed the perfect way to accomplish this,” Ms. Loew said. Partnerships were formed with several Youngstown schools. Books and materials suitable for the age of the students being served were placed on carts, the staff took laptops, portable WiFi and a willingness to sign kids up for this new, experimental card.

When Pop-Up Library staff began visiting the classes with this new concept and books to check out, they reported feeling warm and welcomed by the students, teachers and school librarians. One library staff member said, “Most of the kids want to show you what they have borrowed. They are so excited and proud!”

Staff members enjoy hearing comments such as this from the students:
“You’re from the library! Are you coming to our school tomorrow? I wish you could come every day!”
“Yay! We get books today!”
Two girls who got the same book said, “We’ll read it together.”
“Awesome! New books!”

And from the teachers and school librarians:
“Our third grade students are LOVING their new READ cards! This is one of the best student programs I have ever been part of. We (kids, teachers, and myself) are very grateful that you are offering this type of card and how easy you made it for our students to gain access to eBooks. The impact this is having, especially on struggling readers, is phenomenal.”

“This has been so good for the kids. You are really helping them become readers by putting books in their hands. Most of these kids never visit the library and don’t have access to books.”

“This [pop-up] made literacy soar through the ceiling!”

“Library Day was the favorite of parents and kids and getting a card was their favorite activity.”

One of the teachers mentioned that one girl was so excited about her library card that she slept with it that night!

Ms. Nolfi, who helped design the program, notes, “It’s a huge leap of faith, but we want these kids to be successful.” She explains that the READ Card was so successful it was soon expanded to other schools and is now available to any Mahoning County child.

Involvement from the teachers is significant, as it is important for someone to keep track of the students’ READ cards and make sure their books are returned the next time the Pop-Up came to visit. Teachers reported they were inspired to help because they felt this service was valuable.

Linda Bohannon-White, supervisor of libraries and media services for Youngstown City Schools and one of those who helped develop the program, notes, “I think this is an invaluable asset to our district. Any possibility or opportunity for our students to have access to more materials to read is great. I also hope we’ll be able to establish this throughout the district on a permanent basis.” read more about the READ Card »


A number of other services have been added with the same goal: get more library materials and services into the hands of Library customers. Ideas for these were all sparked by input from the public at conversations and in surveys. These services are detailed below.

“We were looking for even more ways to say ‘Yes, You Can’ in response to questions from our customers,” Ms. Daniel explained. “The READ card was such a success for children that we expanded it to serve teens through age 17, too.” The criteria is the same: check out up to two books, regardless of past history, and have access to computers and digital services. No fines, but library materials must be returned. read more about the TEEN Card »

“Because we know that not all patrons use physical materials or come into a library building, but are avid Internet users, we came up with a special card that serves their needs,” Ms. Loew notes. The Digital Card gives patrons access to the Library’s digital services and materials, plus in-library computer use and mobile printing. Digital Card holders can use the Library’s website,, any time, 24/7. Digital services include: databases for research; Overdrive downloadable eBooks and audio books; Zinio downloadable magazines, hoopla streaming music, movies, TV shows and audio books; Brainfuse homework help, HelpNow, and job search help, JobNow; and much more. Even better: digital services have no fines or fees! read more about the DIGITAL Card »

Institutions, businesses, and schools often have a need for a card to be held by the organization rather than an individual. The answer is the Library’s Institutional Library Card. Identification such as a business card or letterhead must be provided, along with the signature of the person who can authorize financial responsibility. This service, while not new, is an important one. read more about INSTITUTIONAL Status »

“We heard stories about adults who were blocked by fines and fees and could not take out materials or use library computers,” notes Ms. Daniel. From the public, we heard things like: “My friend is blocked, but he needs the Library’s Internet because he lost his job. He needs a computer and the Internet to search and apply for a new one.”

Ms. Daniel continues, “We knew about people who were dependent on library computers and Internet service for important functions like searching for a job, creating a resume, filling out an application, applying for government services, and more. What we needed was a service that would help the customer, but still allow the Library to be fiscally responsible in collecting fees. A conditional card that would represent a second chance, allowing customers to pay off what they owed in small increments, seemed ideal.”

Patrons who have an existing library card that is blocked and are interested in reinstating Library borrowing privileges, can see a staff member to explore the possibility of getting a second chance with the Conditional Library Card. This card is for customers who owe between $10 – $300 in unpaid fines and fees; a Library cardholder is blocked from borrowing and computer privileges after accruing $10 in extended use fees. With the Conditional Card, the cardholder must make an initial payment of $5 or 10% of the total amount owed, if less than $50, and at least 10% of the total balance must be paid within the first 60 days. The full balance is due within two years. Under this card, a customer may borrow up to 10 items. A parent may apply for conditional cards for multiple children, being aware that the same conditions apply for each card. read more about CONDITIONAL Status »

“The idea for senior card status came from our awareness that many seniors are retired and living on a fixed income and many find it difficult to get out, especially in severe weather like the winter we just experienced,” Ms. Daniel says.

So Senior Card status was created for those aged 65 and over. This is not a separate card, but seniors 65-plus will automatically be placed on Senior Status, which allows them to borrow materials with no fines. And, with this status, Mahoning County seniors 65 and over can choose to have their Library materials mailed to them FREE and returned for free through U.S. Mail. For materials mailed to a customer with Senior Card status, there will be a longer loan period of 4 weeks for print materials and 2 weeks for DVDs. read more about SENIOR Status »

The Special Delivery service has been in place for many years at the Library. It’s for those who have a qualifying reason why they cannot come to a library, such as chronic illness, disability, or inability to drive or find transportation. Services include free Books-By-Mail, similar to the Senior Status. Books are sent to qualifying patrons free of charge through the U.S. Mail. Patrons can mail them back at no charge. read more about SPECIAL DELIVERY »

“New moms and dads often find they have little time to get to a library, and yet they have a baby age one or under at home who would benefit from interacting with books and hearing a story. To make things easier and get baby started on the way to a lifetime of reading, the Baby and Me On Board kits were created,” said Ms. Nolfi.

Baby and Me On Board kits are available for families with children from birth to 1 year. Kits are mailed out to families and contain two books for Mom or Dad, plus five books and one music CD to share with little ones. Kits have been created for two age groups: birth to 6 months old and 7 to 12 months old.

Most of these services were instituted in over the past months, but the Library hasn’t stopped listening and hasn’t stopped looking at input to determine what’s next. “Connecting people with library materials and services fills many important needs,” Ms. Loew says. “Through the Library, people connect with materials, they learn and are inspired to grow, and they explore ideas which can enrich their lives. We often hear from the community, ‘I Love My Library.’ We’re giving them even more things to love.” For more information or to sign up for Baby and Me – On Board, call 330.792.3869. read more about BABY AND ME – ON BOARD »