On Monday, January 12, New York City began taking applications for its long-awaited municipal identification card (IDNYC). Not only will this be the first photo ID card ever issued by the city, it will also serve as a library card at all three New York City library systems—the first time a single card will grant access to Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), New York Public Library (NYPL), and Queens Library (QL).
Bearers will be able to use the IDNYC card to enter city buildings such as schools, and to access city services. Police officers will accept it as valid identification. And the card will be integrated with all three library systems, allowing the bearer to register for a library card within any or all of the three systems. Once this is done, the card can also physically serve as a library card, allowing users to check books out, place holds, and access library equipment—and users who already have a library account can link it back to their IDNYC card.
However, card holders who wish to use more than one system will need to register for each individually, and the accounts themselves will not be linked. All three of New York City’s library systems will remain separate and distinct.
ID WITH WIDE APPEAL
There is a clear need for a citywide ID card—in an urban center where barely over half the households own or have access to an automobile, drivers’ licenses are not as ubiquitous as in most other parts of the country. New York’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) does offer a non-driver ID card, but it requires valid immigration documentation. The IDNYC card, on the other hand, will be available to all residents over age 14 throughout the five boroughs, regardless of immigration status, homeless status, or involvement with the criminal justice system. Members of the LGBT community may self-designate the gender by which they wish to be identified.
While proof of identity and residence are required, a care-of address can be used, or a letter from a shelter or city agency can be provided. Applicants can request that an address not appear on the card, which makes it a safe proposition for undocumented immigrants or those concerned about the stigma of a shelter address, as well as people returning to the community from prison who may have difficulty getting the necessary identification to access basic services.
However, with this concession comes a new concern: that the IDNYC card will be perceived as a benefit primarily for those who need that level of anonymity. As one New York City librarian explained to LJ, “the Mayor’s office had concerns that if there were no incentives for already-documented New Yorkers to get the ID, it would tag the people who did opt for it.”
To combat that possible problem, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office hopes to position the card to appeal to all sectors of the population, starting with its convenient access to the city’s libraries. Five of the 18 permanent IDNYC enrollment centers will be located in libraries, including NYPL’s Mid-Manhattan and Bronx Library Center, the Grand Army Plaza branch of BPL, and the Jamaica and Flushing branches of QL. The NYC Human Resources Administration will provide full-time staff members in each library enrollment center, and each library system is hiring several part-time enrollment assistants to help move the process along. Applications will be available in 25 languages, and all enrollment centers will be ADA compliant.
In addition, those who sign up in 2015 will receive one-year memberships to 33 popular cultural institutions around the city, including the Bronx Zoo, the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Carnegie Hall. “[The administration] wanted not to have a card for only people who needed it, people who couldn’t otherwise get photo IDs in other ways,” said Nick Buron, VP of library services at QL. “They wanted …what I call an ‘I’m a New Yorker’ card.”
While combining a municipal ID and library card would seem to be a logical choice, few have merged the two (although New Haven’s Elm City Resident Card, which also serves as a New Haven Free Public Library card, has been in use since 2007). Attempts in other cities to incorporate existing library cards as some form of municipal identification have been largely unsuccessful as well. In 2013 the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that Memphis Public Library cards could not serve as voter IDs, and in 2012 the Los Angeles Public Library was forced to clarify that library cards would not be used for city services.
“There could have been a risk of creating an ID for groups of people that would further stigmatize them,” Nick Higgins, BPL’s Director of Outreach Services, told LJ, “but I think the city’s done a terrific job of partnering with other organizations, including the library, to make it attractive for everybody in the city to get this ID. It works hand in glove with the mission of the library, which is to provide access to services for everybody.”
Creation of a municipal ID card had been on de Blasio’s agenda since taking office in January 2014, and discussions with the city’s libraries began the following spring. One issue, said Buron, was making sure that the new card’s bar code would work at libraries across the city. “It’s not merging accounts,” he explained, but rather making sure the bar code could be read properly by all three systems. QL, for instance, already has reciprocal borrowing arrangements with the other systems, as well as Queens College, St. John’s University, and the City University of New York’s York College. Technical integration of the card’s bar code turned out not to be an issue, and all three library systems were enthusiastic partners from the outset.
In a statement issued by the mayor’s office, NYPL president Tony Marx said, “The benefits that come with an identification card available to all New Yorkers fit perfectly with free access to the books, services and programs of the public library—so making it easier to get both makes perfect sense,” adding, “We are delighted to be part of this creative solution.”
A WIN-WIN SITUATION
But no matter how many New Yorkers plan to apply for the IDNYC card for the cultural extras, there is no denying its advantages for undocumented new Americans—and that libraries are positioned to help them as well. “Whether you want to take out a book, print a document, seek a job, or access critical City services, libraries have always had their doors open to the community in a way that is welcoming to everyone regardless of immigration status,” said Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal in a statement issued by the Mayor’s office. “Because immigrant communities find libraries to be safe and accessible, they make the ideal enrollment centers. Partnering with the library systems on this will ensure that IDNYC truly becomes the one card easily accessed by all New Yorkers.”
Higgins told LJ that he has been making sure to spread the word about it to the immigrants, formerly incarcerated, and older adults served by BPL’s outreach services office. He is also making sure that the library’s IDNYC enrollment office has plenty of information available, in multiple languages, about BPL’s outreach programs, including citizen test preparation classes, one-on-one help with the naturalization process, and assistance with acute legal services from the Immigrant Justice Corps. It’s a win-win situation, he believes. “People are going to come in and get their IDs,” he told LJ, “and then once they’re here in the library they find out about all the other stuff we do. So it’s an access point to more concrete services we provide that they might not have had before.”
A soft launch was conducted during the first week of January at the library enrollment centers and several city agencies, with many employees enthusiastically signing up for the card themselves. “We tested it with staff who could get photo ID anyway, and they were very excited about the card,” said Buron. “The cultural institution incentive—people pick up on that very quickly. It was very smart of the mayor’s office. We’re expecting to see an increase in the number of [library] card holders as well.”
Higgins also believes the card’s implementation bodes well for the current administration’s relationship with the city’s libraries. “The municipal ID is a perfect example of [the mayor’s office] looking across the city and seeing what organizations are available to partner with…I think this administration has shown signs that the libraries are certainly on his agenda.”