Beginning last August, patrons signing up for library cards at Illinois’s Lansing Public Library, Mississippi’s Lamar County Library System, and Maryland’s Frederick County Public Libraries have been offered an unusual option—the “I Love My Library” card, which also doubles as a prepaid Visa card.
Developed by SirsiDynix in partnership with Visa andCard Limited, the debit cards are the third component of SirsiDynix’s suite of Community Funded Services(CFS) products, which began with the 2013 launch ofBuy It Now, a CFS service that enables patrons to purchase everything from books and DVDs to clothing and furniture via a library’s website and gives libraries a percentage of each transaction.
Last year, SirsiDynix launched the second CFS product, integrating BLUEcloud Commerce with Horizon and Symphony, enabling libraries to accept credit and debit cards as payment for fines, fees, or services. Libraries can also choose to charge a convenience fee for each credit card transaction. Now, these new Visa cards—along with a tie-in program that enables partnerships with local businesses and restaurant owners—are set up to give libraries a small donation upon activation, as well as percentages of monthly card fees and sales transactions.
SirsiDynix’s rationale for CFS products is simple: libraries need money. Survey after survey indicates that many frequent library users also buy a lot of books and media. Why send those users to Amazon when the library could benefit from those sales? More than eight percent of U.S. households don’t have bank accounts, and an additional 20 percent are “underbanked.” Why should they resort to payday loans or buy prepaid cards at retail stores when the library could offer similar cards with a transparent fee structure, pair them with community business partners and financial literacy programs, and raise funds at the same time?
These arguments are straightforward enough, but many librarians are conflicted about tapping patrons for revenue—particularly those who don’t have bank accounts, since they may be among the most financially vulnerable. And even at libraries where leadership believes these programs are a fair, viable, and sustainable source of funding, CFS products won’t gain much traction without the support of frontline staff.
With the Visa program especially, “We can’t just have buy-in from the director. We’ve got to have the staff—particularly the circ staff—buying into the notion that this is a service that is valuable and needed by their patrons,” says Eric Keith, VP of global marketing, communications, and strategic alliances for SirsiDynix.
Nine new libraries have recently signed on to launch prepaid Visa programs, and while the rollout is still in the early stages, there have been some positive signs. When patrons choose an “I Love My Library” card, the Visa activation element and funding rates are three to six times higher than SirsiDynix had anticipated.
(by Matt Enis)