Berkeley Public Library card requirements raise concerns

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Jamin Kim-Sanders/File

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Berkeley Public Library’s requirement of a photo ID and evidence of a home address in order to obtain a library card has raised concerns regarding the accessibility of the institution.

According to James LaRue, director of the American Library Association Office for Intellectual Freedom, it is standard practice for libraries across the nation to request a photo ID and an address. LaRue noted that the requirement is in place in order to insure the safety of the library’s collection, by enabling checked-out materials to be recovered if necessary.

“People enter into a contract with us and we have to make sure we’ve taken steps to identify who they are because they have the potential to take out so many of our things,” said Jay Dickinson, the circulation services manager at the Berkeley Public Library.

The requirement also protects the individual’s privacy by adding a barrier against identity theft and confusion, noted Gerry Garzon, library director at the Oakland Public Library.

“We want to make sure you are the person you say you are, and so it has more to do with protecting your privacy, protecting what it is you’re reading, what you’re checking out,” Garzon said.

The loss of materials is a legitimate concern for libraries, as LaRue estimates that 10 percent of overdue books never make it back to the library. He added that libraries need to take responsibility for its resources, as “tax supported institutions have an obligation to hang on to their stuff, to be good stewards.”

Despite standard practice, some libraries, including the New York Public Library and Alameda Free Library, do allow some substitutions for photo ID.

Individuals without a photo ID can verify their identity by bringing in two other forms of identification from a variety of options, including utility bills or telephone bills, according to Jane Chisaki, library director at Alameda Free Library.

Several options exist for homeless persons who wish to obtain a library card. The Department of Motor Vehicles offers ID cards and many homeless shelters will provide verification of a homeless individual’s residence.

But despite these options, some library users expressed disapproval over the photo ID requirement.

Berkeley resident Michael Yin, 40, felt the policy did not make much sense.

“You wouldn’t require photo ID for voting, so why would you require (it) for a public resource?” Yin said.

Berkeley resident Carol Lashof, 59, felt the library’s purpose to provide resources to the public — especially to people who might have trouble obtaining a photo ID — was impeded by the requirement.

Nevertheless, several library-goers, such as El Cerrito resident Lisa Wicks, acknowledged the library’s need to balance accessibility and security.

“Given the broad number of people it serves, I kind of understand the requirement,” Wicks said.

Senior staff writer Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks contributed to this report. 

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