May 27, 2018

Boston Public Library not Alone in Requiring Parent Signatures for Online Accounts

The Boston Public Library (BPL) says it’s just following rules in preventing kids 13 years old and younger from signing up online for a library card.

“It’s always been our policy that to open an account, whether for a traditional library card or any services online, it requires a parent signature for children under the age of 13,” says Scot Colford, Web services manager for BPL. “Our goal is to hopefully have families learn together. Communicating with a caregiver about a child’s interest in the library is part of that goal.”

At issue are kids who live far from a local library, who can’t use BPL’s online research materials unless they physically visit a branch and apply for an account. Also, applications can’t be arranged with parents online, nor is BPL set up to accept library card requests through the mail, says Colford. That arrangement concerns social media researcher danah boyd, who last month wrote a blog post about BPL’s policy and the library citing COPPA as its reason for not letting children remotely create online accounts.

However, BPL isn’t alone among large municipal libraries in requiring an adult’s signature for a library card. The New York Public Library requires children 11 and younger to have an application signed by a parent or guardian. The County of Los Angeles Public Library also requires a parent signature for kids 18 and under who want a library account or want to open an online account.

“Some libraries require [a parent’s signature] and some don’t,” explains Deborah Caldwell-Stone, deputy director for the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom. “And that’s local choice.”

Even after they get a children’s library card from BPL, kids are still limited as far as the information they can share online. For example, students can rate books they’ve read, but they can’t enter information into text boxes–they can only click on preexisting fields, such as rating a title from one to five stars. And they can only create user names from pre-defined choices, comprised of a color, an animal, and a number at the end.

“We prevent the possibility that they can share too much information,” says Colford.

Of course, by the time kids turn 13, they’re eligible for a young adult library card. Until then, BPL believes it’s making the best choices for its young patrons.

“We make it impossible for them to accidentally share personally identifiable information out of concern for their children’s safety,” says Colford. “A lot of thought went into this.”


Photo by Dmitriy Shironosov/Shutterstock Images 
Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at