Anonymous Library Cards

At first, I thought the idea was an odd joke. But then I saw that it was sent to “Slashdot(Anonymous Library Cards An Option?)”:http://yro.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/06/03/1157250&from=rss by Ben Ostrowsky. So I am sure it is a serious proposal.
bq.In short, collecting personal identity information about customers is a dangerous activity for a library. We should be careful to engage in it only when absolutely necessary. Until now, proof of identity has always been an essential form of collateral to protect a library and its possessions. But soon libraries will be able to protect themselves from many legal snafus by opting to let patrons remain anonymous. How? You have to realize that personal information is not the only form of collateral-you can use cash instead. For instance, did you know that you can rent an audio-book at any Cracker Barrel restaurant without showing identification? Just pay the price of the audiobook with cash, listen to it, and then return it with a receipt. They’ll give your deposit back in cash, minus the rental fee. We librarians can improve on this service model by eliminating the rental fee. – “Ben Ostrowsky(Anonymous Library Cards Allow You to Wonder, ‘Who Was That Masked Patron?’)”:http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jun05/Ostrowsky.shtml We have been engaged in a major debate this week at my library in methods to streamline the library card application process. In fact, at our monthly county-wide staff meeting, that was the sole topic of dicussion. And with all due respect to Ben, this is the kind of thing not only would I not propose but I would argue against as well. We don’t charge a rental fee for out items. Not now, not ever. For one thing, as Ben certainly knows, it is not permissible under Florida State Law. Any library that tried would be giving up state aid. And while I know of some here in Florida that have chosen to forgo that aid, we are not (nor will I expect ever be) in a position to do that. And the very idea of asking the State Legislature to rescind that portion of the statute is something that I would doubt would gain much support in the Library or Legislative communities. Now, of course, we do lend books to residents who qualify for a card. We also lend to residents from elsewhere who qualify under the 3 or 4 reciprocal borrowing agreements we subscribe to. And, of course, we lend items through Inter-Library Loan. On top of that, we do have a way, through a fee, for someone who does not qualify for a card to get one. Notice that in each of these instances listed, we have a way to contact and at least attempt to get ahold of the person who has the item checked out if it lost. To draw a comparison between Cracker Barrel and your local library is incredibly oversimplifying. If an item is not returned to Cracker Barrel, they either replace it or not. After all, anything they have on their shelf is curent material. In a library, most of the material is not so easily replaced, as most of it is out of print and would be extremely difficult to find. Cracker Barrel hopes the item isn’t returned. A library expects it will be. Why do we lend out this out-of-print essential irreplaceable item in the first place? Because that is part of the social contract we have put in place between libraries and the public. We lend the materials out and they bring the materials back. Hopefully, that all works out. Do we have items that have never been returned? Absolutely. But that is an unfortunate byproduct, rather than a calculated outcome. Another part of the social contract is we have worked hard to protect our patron’s identities. Court orders and search warrants are required to obtain any records, even under the Patriot Act. Once those records are obtained, their usefulness is extremely limited, because there is, with an exception involving fines, no information on checkouts retained. (Note: Polaris does offer a reading list feature, which patrons must explicitly choose to activate, but an overwhelmingly number of our patrons choose not to do so). Personally, I have never seen a warrant involving anything anyone checked out and I don’t expect to ever see one. If you want to get a book anonymously, my suggestion is go to a book store, and remember to pay cash.