The Tragic Optimist

first library card?

Yep, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted.  We’re moved, and getting awfully close to settled in.  My pregnancy continues to go pretty well, except that it’s been really hot lately.  But I know that I’m not the only one hot and miserable in this weather, and one of the great perks of working in a library, is that the building is kept nice and cool for the books.

So speaking of libraries…  Zoe and I visited the big downtown library today, and Zoe picked out a few books to check out (she’s on a Fancy Nancy kick right now).  I thought it might be a good time to ask about getting Zoe her own library card.  I was pretty sure she’d be excited to have it, though she’s never asked for her own.

So I asked the librarian when kids could get their own library card.  She looked at me and Zoe, and said that, while they could get a card any time they liked, she wouldn’t get one until a kid was older.  Otherwise, it would just be another card for the parents to keep track of.  And anyway, it should be something special, and if you’ve just always had it, then it loses its specialness.

I felt oddly chastised by the whole encounter, but figured since Zoe hadn’t actually asked for her own card, we didn’t need to get one anyway.  But I’m just not sure about the specialness of getting a library card.  I mean, yes, it’s awesome that libraries exist (you don’t need to convince me that my chosen profession is a good one), and the chance to have a library card that lets you check out any item is really pretty cool.  But I also kind of feel like it shouldn’t be special, in some ways, maybe it should be something expected, something you’ve always known.  For what it’s worth, I don’t remember the day I got my library card, which I’m sure is part of why the specialness argument doesn’t really resonate with me.  Not remembering that as a milestone certainly didn’t turn me off of libraries at all.  On the other hand, I could see making a big deal out of it.  Maybe as a big event when Zoe starts kindergarten, or when she starts reading.  I suppose that could be cool.

Anyone remember when you got your first library card?  Was it a big deal?  Do you think it should be a big deal or some kind of rite of passage?  I’d love to hear any stories or thoughts about it.


  1. Matthew Hertz

    Can you really not remember getting your first library card? It was the biggest thing — the symbol that I could write my name (which was the only requirement) and, therefore, was a “big kid.” S is still very proud of her library card (she got one ~1 year ago) and will not check out books with any other.

    • No, I really don’t remember it. It may well have been a huge deal for me at the time, but it didn’t stick with me.

    • That was our metric, too, and it was Such. A. Big. Deal.

      S did fine checking out with mine when hers was MIA, though. :^)

  2. For goodness sake, why is she discouraging you? That just seems silly. When I was young, some of my most special things were things I didn’t remember getting. I don’t remember the day I got my library card, I always just had it. It was a laminated piece of green card stock with my name and signature, and the lamination was fuzzy around the edges. I think I kept it in a drawer in my bedroom. Not to say there’s anything wrong with waiting, and making it a rite of passage, but I think it’s silly to say one’s inherently better than the other.

  3. acdalal

    I don’t remember the day I got my own card, but I do remember the first day my parents let me go to the library by myself! Now that was a big day, because it meant I could go check out books whenever I wanted. For a voracious reader like myself, that was like winning the lottery.

  4. I remember when I finally convinced the librarian to give me a library card that would let me check out books from the non-kid stacks. That was awesome.

  5. I don’t remember getting my own library card, but I distinctly and fondly remember using my card to check out zillions of books as a kid. (I remember being proud that the librarians waived the limit on the number of books that a kid could check out.) My oldest got her library card earlier this summer, and she was *elated*. (She was almost six when we got it, though.) Her younger sister will get hers soon – mostly because keeping track of it is a consideration.

    The librarian discouraging you is just silly, though. If you want it for Z., why not have it?

  6. Kacia

    I absolutely remember getting my first library card–I couldn’t figure out where on the card I was supposed to sign it, and started trying to write my name in the wrong place until the librarian corrected me. I was probably 5 or 6 at the time, I would guess. Many years later (high school? college?) the card developed a crack–and I taped it up with heavy-duty clear tape rather than ask for a new one, because I loved seeing my proud childish handwriting on the card and remembering how important it was to me to have my own card! I’m pretty sure I still have that card somewhere.

  7. Eve

    just another point of view—one of the librarians who used to work at the branch near us has 2 kids about the same age as mine, and I know she got her kids cards when they were still babies–she suggested we go ahead and do it since there was no age limit. I’m still carrying their cards, but I think I will soon turn A’s over to her (heck, I have a xerox of my husband’s card so I can pick up his hold stuff–other argument for getting kids their own cards early is if you have an insanely long list of books and cds you want to put on hold and can’t put that many on your own card. Like him…)

    i don’t remember getting my first library card, but I do know it was a piece of cardboard with a small metal plate with embossed numbers attached. Once my mother found only the metal part in the washing machine, and was mad at me for leaving my card in my pocket. Only problem was, it turned out to be HER card..

    one more weird library-card memory: when I went to grad school in Miami, I went to get a library card there (city libraries, not university). For some reason I wound up in the children’s section to do this–probably the only place there were applications or something–and the librarian asked what grade was I in! Can’t imagine I looked THAT young..

  8. Sarah

    I got my first library card when I was very young. Too young. It was a hasty decision, and the whole process was over within minutes. I didn’t enjoy it. It wasn’t even at a library that I was planning to patronize for the rest of my life. I knew nothing about commitment back then.

    Other library cards followed, and I kept them for only a short time. It wasn’t until I moved to my current city and saw my neighborhood library that I knew I’d found the real deal. Getting that card was special, but the whole event was cheapened by the fact that it wasn’t my first card.

    You’re right to make Zoe wait. I wish I had.

  9. geeksinrome

    I’m so glad the move and pregnancy are going smoothly!

    I totally remember getting my own card. It was a rite of passage in that I had to be old enough i.e. to have shown that with all the books I took out with my mom and her card that I was able to respect the books and get them back before their due date.

    I must have been in early middle school because I remember doing my signature at the library desk in cursive — it was the first time I had ever put my signature on anything. I felt so grownup. It was heavy blue cardboard of some sort with the metal plate like Eve remembers!!

    By the time I had to trade it in for the new magnetic strip/plastic card I was jaded by it all. But that’s because I think I had my driving permit by then!

  10. You won’t believe this, but I’m pretty sure I never have had a library card. I grew up in the country & in order to check out books at our library you have to pay because we don’t pay city taxes. We did go to the library though and despite the lack of a card I have always loved to read 🙂

    I still live in the country, and don’t have a card, but I pay taxes on property in town so you may have inspired me to actually go get my own special card at 28!

  11. My kids have been asking for their own library cards for AGES – thanks to PBS and watching a few kids shows where the characters have their own…I went to the library to get them theirs last spring (ages 3 & 4) and the librarian told me NO – they could not get their own until they could READ the ‘agreement’ and sign their names!
    Obviously, I am in charge of whatever they check out…does she think they are going to check out books willy nilly ALONE and ‘misuse’ them?
    I was soo very angry I came home and wrote a letter to the library…I did hear back from them, asking me to give them another chance…but my local library has lost some luster now…BOO!

  12. I totally remember signing my name to get my card. I was probably 5 or 6 years old. I still have that card somewhere in a box with all the other library cards that I’ve collected over the years. On the one hand it can be kind of a special thing – I think it was for me. On the other hand, having it available and knowing that you’ve always got it if you need seems pretty cool. I suspect my 2.5 year old would adore having her own card (this is the child that plays a pretend game of library with some regularity – it involves her selecting books, checking out books, and most recently pretending that she is the librarian reading to her animals – adorable!). I also suspect that she’d want to hold it all the time and we’d lose it in a flash. I really think that the librarian shouldn’t be discouraging you; I mean I *really* disagree with her making a decision on your daughter’s behalf. And I say that because it seems to me that this is a very personal decision that depends a lot on the personalities of your daughter and you.

  13. Nick

    I don’t remember acquiring my library card, but I sure remember using. A ton. My parents fondly recall how when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I informed them that my prize possession was my library card. I don’t remember saying that, either, but it definitely fits with the rest of my memories of that time in my life – it seems like something I would have said at the time. My brother and I would each check out a stack of books as big as we could carry each weekend, and usually finish reading them before the weekend was over.

  14. Amanda

    I don’t remember not having one. I do remember the power I had with my card which does mean more when you can independently pick up your own materials.

    Thank goodness there was a public library within walking distance of my house when I was in Junior High.

    My daughter received her first card at 2 days old while she was still in the hospital from my coworkers at the public library. I think that’s pretty special.

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