SALT LAKE CITY — On Friday, GK Risser sat with his sons inside the Crystal Cave, a special reading room in the children's area of the Salt Lake Main Library.
He said he visits the library with his children "at least once a week," replenishing the contents of a library basket the family keeps at their home.
"These guys love the library," Risser said.
Risser checks out the family's library materials on his own library card, but has recently thought about starting to sign up his children for individual cards to better keep track of the various books and comics his kids are reading.
For families with students in the Salt Lake City School District, signing up for a library card is easier than ever.
Beginning this year, the district's back-to-school registration materials include the option of signing up for a library card, and as of Friday 14,000 of the district's roughly 25,000 students had opted into the program.
"We would hope that when this is all done, that every student has a library card," Salt Lake City School District Superintendent McKell Withers said.
Withers said the library card program stemmed from ongoing conversations between school and library officials about increasing the exposure of students to reading materials and educational resources.
If you're in an affluent family, you not only have books to read but you're going on field trips, vacations and other things that build your vocabulary. That summer learning loss hits kids the hardest who don't have any exposure to academic work over the summer and/or reading over the summer.
–McKell Withers, Salt Lake City School District superintendent
He said many students, and particularly those in low-income families, have limited access to educational materials outside the classroom and the goal of the program is to make those materials available and to encourage literacy.
"If you’re in an affluent family, you not only have books to read but you’re going on field trips, vacations and other things that build your vocabulary," Withers said. "That summer learning loss hits kids the hardest who don’t have any exposure to academic work over the summer and/or reading over the summer."
The library cards are distributed by the school district, Withers said, which asks parents for permission to share basic directory information — name, address, phone number — with the city library system as part of school registration materials.
He said the district aimed to make the process as simple as possible, while protecting the privacy and personal data of students.
Library spokesman Andrew Shaw said many students already visit the city's libraries after school to work on homework and read.
"When you leave the classroom you’re not done learning, you’re still exploring and have that opportunity to go to the public library and grab a book on your own," he said.
A library card gives students access to a larger variety of materials, from books, magazines and newspapers to a wide array of digital resources like ebooks, music and scholarly databases like EBSCOhost.
"You can really get deep into research and article research," he said. "Especially for older students in the school system, I think having access to a resource like (EBSCO) can really give them a leg up as they enter college."
Now that thousands of cards have been distributed, Withers said the district hopes to coordinate with the library to offer incentives to students to use their cards.
"We know how many kids check out books in a school library, and we’ll see if between the two of us we’re able to see if that’s happening more often," Withers said.
The district is thrilled with the initial rollout of the program, he said, and he expects the number of students with city library cards to continue to increase as officials fine-tune and expand on the program.
"We’re thrilled to see any partner that helps us get good materials in the hands of kids to help them not only be better prepared for school but actually enjoy access to books and reading materials," Withers said.
Shaw said that although a library card is free for all city residents, the partnership with the school district makes it even easier for families to start taking advantage of library services.
He hopes that through the program, both students and their parents will be able to recognize the value that a public library offers to the community.
"We see this (partnership) as an extension of the services we normally provide," he said. "One part of our mission is to be an educational center for the whole community, a lifelong learning extension and a place for people to do personal exploration."