What can you actually be denied a library card for?

I’ve always had the impression that public library cards were given out like candy to local residents. I believe that, depending on jurisdiction, you may be able to get a library card in a jurisdiction that you don’t live in if you work there, go to school there, or if the jurisdictions have a library agreement permitting cross-usage.

I was reading this thread, where the OP mentions that, in some jurisdictions, convicted felons may not be able to obtain library cards. What conditions can you actually be denied a library card for? When I got mine, I didn’t need to submit a police clearance letter or really anything else except ID and an assertion that I was a local resident. Do libraries commonly do background checks behind your back and cancel your card if they don’t like what they see? Are there any public libraries or public library systems that require that a full background check be completed before you get a card? Do any have policies that specify exactly what conditions (e.g. criminal convictions) cause ineligibility, and to what extent they can be overcome for the purpose of getting a library card? Are there any libraries that require that potential users pass a literacy test, or submit school transcripts?


Librarian: “I see you have a felony conviction from five years ago and that is normally a disqualifier, but I also see you had a 3.7 high school GPA, and that is sufficient to overcome the disqualification. Here’s your card.”

or :

Librarian: “I see that you are a high school dropout and your GPA when you dropped out was 1.9. You will need to take a reading test before you will be allowed to check out materials.”

Before someone else jumps in, as the OP, I should clarify. To get a library card, you usually have to show proof of local residence. This would be, for example, a current driver’s license or utility bill in your name.

What I meant to say, and didn’t, was that being unable to obtain a residence–because of background checks and denial of rental applications–would make it very difficult for a convicted felon to supply documentation that he was a resident of the community that the library served.

I have never, personally, been asked if I had a criminal record when applying for a library card. I have heard anecdotal evidence of someone having their library card canceled because of having a criminal record or being convicted of a felony while they held the card. I cannot verify this, though.

Are you Robert Columbia’s sock?

He is not. I think he meant he was the OP of the thread I referenced.

:smack: Got it, I didn’t click on the link (the summary seemed pretty sufficient).

Here anybody can get a library card for free if they live or own property in the county. Out of county people pay $65 a year. There are no other restrictions. In fact, if you don’t have any proof of residence we’ll mail you a card to an address as long as it’s in the county - we probably have some fraud but we prefer to be inclusive.

ETA - and “address” can be a homeless shelter or any number of other accomodations.

We require “proof” of residency, but that proof has a pretty low bar. If you can’t come up with anything else, just give us a mailing address that you can receive mail at, and we’ll send you a post-card. If you get the postcard and come back to us with it (by whatever means, we don’t ask) then you’re good to go.

I am aware that in some places, attempts were made to restrict persons convicted of sexual offenses from using library physical facilities, but the only case I know of where they actually passed that ruling, it was voided by a court order afterwards because it was ruled that the individual right to access to information trumped the community right to feel “safe” in a public location.

ETA - That homeless shelters and other temporary residences (campgrounds) count for residency, and the only current bar to library card ownership is misbehaving in the library to a point where you are barred (concrete examples being masturbating on the furniture or peeing on the building), or for using the internet computers for porn.

Speaking as a librarian (really!), I’ve not heard of a library performing felony background checks on potential patrons though, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some rinky-dink libraries which ask on their registration form, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” I can’t imagine it’s legal in any state to deny a public library account to someone solely on the basis of their criminal record, but of course that doesn’t mean some libraries wouldn’t be unaware of such, or wouldn’t be inclined to ignore the law. My own library had until very recently a policy of calling the principal of the school if any school-age child/teen was in the library during school hours to report the truancy. Clearly a breach of Montana’s (that’s where I am) long-standing privacy laws, but since when do small-town folk (and big-town folk, for that matter) let a silly little thing like a law stand in the way of what they think is right?

Our island has lots of expats and the library requires expats to bring in your passport to show a valid work visa with at least six months remaining validity before getting a library card. That’s sort of an immigration background check, I guess.

Sad thing is lots of workers get a six month visa. By the time it gets stamped in their passport (Immigration is always running a bit behind on this) it is no longer valid for six months.

My county’s library just requires proof that you live in Ohio. (The other five libraries in Ohio that I just looked up also allow all Ohio residents to get library cards, so I assume there’s either a carrot or a stick being applied by the state.)

Around 2002 in Sheridan, Arkansas I could not get a library card. I lived in a rural area and I didn’t work, go to school or go to church in the county and I didn’t know my neighbors because the closest house was a few hundred yards away from mine. Unfortunately, the library required that I bring a letter of reference from another county resident before they’d give me a card. I wrote to the mayor protesting and he actually replied but did nothing to assist me.

I live in an area with many temporary, summer residents, or even passing tourists. While things may have changed recently, I know the local county library used to issue cards to anyone who asked, regardless of address. Summer reading by non-residents is very common and encouraged.

At my library, as long as you reside in our county for a month or more (or own property, work, or go to school here), you can get a card. $40 out of county fee. We have lots of people who only live here for the winter, or seasonally. The month requirement is just to make sure they’ll be around to return their items. Of course, anyone can use the facilities for free, and anyone who doesn’t qualify for a card who needs to use our computers can get a temporary computer use card without showing any proof of residence.

For proof of address, we will accept pretty much anything, except an entirely handwritten note. We also have postcards, like Lasciel’s library.