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The Digital Library Card : Think Bigger

Many Libraries offer a digital library card option for use of their online digital content. These are for those members who use the online offer and have no immediate need for the other services or the print collections on offer at their library service. To use the print items or services onsite at the library the digital library members usually must come into the library and upgrade to a physical library card with often some further identification required.

One example of the Digital Library card well implemented is the iKnow card issued by the Harris County (Texas) Public Library (HCPL) as a way to reduce barriers for members to use the full eCollection. The technology limits access to the online membership form by location using zip codes. This is a great example of using a Digital Library card for a regional and rural library service when access to the physical library is difficult. And a great way to promote use of digital collections locally. But it is still a local solution for a local library.

Could we think bigger? Why does a Digital Library card need to be location based? Could a Digital Library card be a smart card and allocate my licence to use library facilities and collections based on my initial signup wherever I happen to be? If Google maps can track my most traveled routes and prompt me to leave at a certain time to reach my calendar appointment linking my needs seamlessly across apps could we not have a digital library card that would let me know the closest maker space, library with wi-fi and the digital collection I could access? Limiting the Digital Library card to one library service and one government service may not be the best thinking for community members and certainly does not exploit the abilities of future technology.

The physical library card may also need to be phased out soon as the need to carry a wallet will fast disappear with the advent of Apple Pay / Android Pay and the future introduction of the digital driver licence. The New South Wales (NSW) Government has committed to introducing a digital driver licence by 2019. There are no plans to phase out the physical drivers licence.” This proposed new app will allow you to add a digital copy of your driver licence and will remove the need for you to carry your physical driver licence and leading to a full wallet-free future.

I do see options for library keychain cards and other physical manifestations of a library card being designed that do not need to be in a wallet but will there still be a need for a physical library card in any form?

The State Library of South Australia has worked with South Australian Local Government to implement one library card for the whole State and is now in negotiation to include library card membership with Drivers Licence application and other forms of identification applied for at the State level. This will mean that library membership becomes more seamless and there are less barriers to using library collections and services. And then the physical library card as separate to other identification cards will not be required. It will be very interesting to watch what behavioral change will occur and whether use of library services increase as barriers to membership are reduced.

And then the next step is to allow fingerprint authentication for library services. People are becoming comfortable using their fingerprints for payment with their phones and the next step is to use fingerprint identification for credit cards rather than a PIN or signature, to authorize payment. Where does the Digital Library card fit in here? Will we also move to fingerprint authorization in time?

The Digital Library card is definitely here and here to stay but we must not be limited in our thinking of what a Digital Library card could be. It is not the physical library card in digital form. There are so many possibilities if we truly apply a digital mindset and think radical collaborations that provide convenience, reduce barriers and provide personalization of library services to our users. Think Big, Think Future and Think True Digital — not just turn the current physical library card into a digital copy.

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