Think back to that day when you got your first library card. Do you remember it? Were you about five or six? Did you feel really important that day? Almost like an adult?
In our recent study of library users, we found that there were a lot of different things that adult respondents remembered from their childhood library experiences. But some of the most vivid memories revolved around receiving their first library card.
Why? Because the library card is empowering. It opens the door to different worlds, to far-flung lands and distant planets, to tales of heartbreak and joy. It also conveys responsibility and maturity, and makes a young library user feel important and like an adult (just like mom and dad!). As one respondent shared with us:
“. . . the kindly Librarian . . . asked me to sign my name on a form--a first--and she handed me the card, shook my hand, and welcomed me to the community of the world's readers . . . That card meant more to me than anything except maybe my bicycle and dog.”
Libraries do a pretty good job of making that first library card a special moment. Which has us thinking. What about museums?
A museum membership card is also empowering. It also opens the door to different worlds, to exploration, and to adventure. It also is a very adult thing to have in one’s wallet. But, generally, museums don’t give membership cards to children.
Which begs the question, why not? Imagine how important a child would feel, receiving that museum membership card. How adult they would feel, presenting it for entry (along with mom or dad, of course!). Picture them storing it someplace important, and fingering it from time to time. Consider the meaning that card would have for them, and how it makes them feel about museums in general, and your museum in particular. Look ahead 25 – 30 years in the future, and how museums might figure in their lives as adults.
There are a few museums that do give membership cards to children. It is easy to see how proud James’s children were a few years ago upon receiving their membership cards to the American Museum of Natural History (pictured). We’d just love to see more of these excited, and important, children at museums across the country.
(Oh – and there is a pragmatic benefit to giving membership cards to children. It is an easy way to find out the ages and genders of children in your member households, allowing you to target your programming even better.)
But here is another idea. Why limit membership cards to children of members? Why not start a program where any local child can become a museum member? For free. You don't have to mail them anything, you don't have to even record them in a database, and the card would only allow them into the museum for free, not their parents. It might be a cost-effective way to encourage more visits, generate goodwill, and create a special, and impactful, memory for a child.
Does your museum give membership cards to children? Why or why not? To share your thoughts, simply click on “comments” below. (If you are reading this from your e-mail subscription to the blog, please go to our blog's website to add a comment.)