The PLAY student library card gives students access to books and other resources to succeed.
At the Morgan County Library, a group of third-graders from the nearby elementary school sat across the carpet, holding their newly checked out books. They were buzzing with excitement as they talked about what they were going to read first. A few kids already were engrossed in their stories.
“This is my first time at the library,” said Lola, 9. She held a copy of “Twinkle: Think Pink.” “There are so many books to choose from; I’m so happy!”
The students were touring the library to highlight a new partnership between their library and the local school system. Working through the Georgia Public Library Service, Azalea Regional Library System has given out 17,000 PINES Library Access for Youth (PLAY) cards so far in Morgan and Walton counties. The Green County, Hancock County, and Social Circle City school systems will give PLAY cards to an additional 5,600 students on June 1.
The PLAY card provides students with access to both physical and digital materials, such as eRead Kids and GALILEO. Students will be able to check out as many as five items at a time and there are no late fees. They can request items from any PINES affiliated library, and they’ll be delivered free to their local library branch for pickup.
PLAY was developed by Georgia Public Library Service in order to give more youth access to their local public library and the tools they need to build literacy skills.. While it’s a statewide initiative, individual libraries and school systems forge local agreements for how to implement the PLAY card in their community.
“The PLAY card partnership benefits both schools and libraries, but most of all it benefits students,” said Stacy Brown, director of Azalea Regional Library System. “A school media center may have one book in a popular series, but the PLAY card gives students access to the entire set. Our hope is that a book discovered at school will spark a love for reading and bring that child into the library. We are so grateful for the opportunity to share the PLAY card with our schools and community.”
Colby Hunter is manager of the Morgan County Library. He believes that the PLAY card eliminates a barrier for kids to use the library by signing them up automatically. “So many students who don’t have access to their local libraries now have it through the PLAY card. They can use our digital resources at their school, and they can now visit the library with a parent or caregiver. Kids didn’t know we had so much,” he said.
Ashley Barnes, a third grade teacher at Morgan County Elementary School, was excited as she watched the third-graders reading and talking at the library. “I love being able to bring kids into the community again. Look right there,” she said, pointing to one boy sitting cross-legged reading “Catherine the Great.” “That’s the most precious thing I’ve ever seen. We have all these resources right here at the library. Anything that sparks a love of reading has my heart.”
Live Oak Public Libraries partnered with Savannah-Chatham County Public School System and PINES to pilot the PLAY card for 38,000 students in March 2020. In December 2020, they added an additional 13,000 students in partnership with Effingham County School System.
The library has seen a steady increase in materials checkouts by students, but one anecdote stands out as a measure of success. There was an elementary school boy who would regularly walk to the library after school, sit quietly in the corner and read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” When it was time to go home, he would put back the book because he didn’t have a parent present to sign in order to get a library card. Soon after the PLAY card launched, the librarian went to him and said, “I have something for you that will change your life. How would you like to take that book home today?” Excitedly the boy asked, “How?” She replied, “With your Student PLAY account!” The PLAY card reduces barriers to library access by automatically registering students. The young boy left the library that day happy, with the book in hand.
“We love that the PLAY card can help build a love of reading for kids across Georgia,” said Elizabeth McKinney, director of PINES at Georgia Public Library Service. “The PLAY card is one way to make it easier for kids to access library materials, for them to be able to discover and learn year-round.”
Twelve school systems across Georgia launched PLAY cards by the end of the 2020-2021 school year, to coincide with summer reading programs and to help prevent summer learning loss. As of May 2021, over 89,000 Georgia students have received a PLAY card account, providing them free access to millions of PINES library resources.