CLEVELAND — This month, as students dive deeper into a new school year, libraries across northeast Ohio are celebrating Library Card Sign-Up Month.
The month-long tradition has been around since the late 1980s in partnership with the American Library Association. It coincides with a new school year and new opportunities for students.
“Everybody knows we lend books and DVDs and things like that, but there's so much more," said Rob Rua, the assistant director of marketing and communications for the Cuyahoga County Public Library. "Part of the point of library card sign-up month is to expose people to more of those kinds of services that they could be taking advantage of."
Rua said in the early months of the pandemic, the number of new cardholders shot up.
“We did see a lot of people signing up for cards so that they could access our digital collection. So this would be e-books, online learning platforms, streaming music, streaming videos, things of that nature," Rua said.
Though new signs ups have leveled out, now the library system is encouraging parents and caregivers to make sure their child has a card and access to one of their 27 branches.
“When students have a library card, it provides access to so many different resources," Rua said.
CCPL is offering incentives throughout the month of September, like fine forgiveness.
“We encourage people to come back in. We'll waive your fines and then you can start to borrow materials again," Rua said. "We don’t want that to be a barrier for students especially during back to school.”
But this month is for adults as well, because libraries offer so much more than just books.
“If you’re looking to skill up, learn a new software program, to earn some soft skills, you can actually access these award-winning classes," Rua said.
Over in Lorain County, more people are beginning to make their way back to the library.
"Sign-ups in 2019 were approximately 10,000 cards. By the end of 2020, when we were in the midst of the pandemic, they had dropped about 40%," said Cheryl Grizzell, the chief operating officer for the Lorain Public Library System. "By the end of this year, we expect things to be close to where they were in 2019. The rebound has been a little bit slow, but I think that just has to do with people getting used to being back out and about, and we do everything we can to make sure they know we're here, we're still here and we're here for them."
LPLS has reported their digital usage has skyrocketed at its six branch locations.
"So we see that becoming very important in the future to kids to keep using throughout their lifetime," Grizzell said.
Echoing Rua, Grizzell said this month is about giving students the best shot at succeeding academically.
"If a kid has a library card they know that this is a resource that they can come to, it becomes part of their everyday life," she said.