Nothing, not even a global pandemic, can stop librarians from their central mission: to make sure everyone in their community has a library card. This month, most libraries in the United States participated in Library Card Signup Month, an initiative launched in 1987 by the American Library Association. Libraries use this “holiday” as a springboard to grow their cardholder base. And that’s a fantastic goal.  

However, convincing people to sign up for a card is only half the battle. Now that September is nearly over, the important work of making sure every new cardholder uses their card as often as possible must begin. And the key to doing that is to properly onboard your new cardholders. 

Onboarding is a process of introducing your new cardholders to the resources available at your library. It’s not enough to hand a library card to your new patrons and send them on their way. A solid onboarding campaign turns new cardholders into lifelong loyal users of the library. It is also good stewardship. Studies show it costs five times more to gain a new cardholder than it does to retain them.  

The most effective way to onboard a new cardholder is through email marketing. Your library can create a campaign of three or four emails sent to new cardholders at a pre-determined pace. Those emails will slowly introduce your library resources to new users and inspire them to use their library card. There are three steps to putting this campaign together. 

First, make a list of the most popular resources at your library. This could include things like your Makerspace, popular virtual storytimes, laptop terminals, or your amazing e-book collection. You’ll want to include information about these popular features in your emails to new cardholders. 

Next, make a list of your library’s hidden treasures. These are the resources that you know are helpful or unique to your library, but that most library cardholders don’t know about. They might include things like online Homework Help, your small business resources, or your “library of things.” Your new onboarding campaign is an opportunity to promote those features to your new cardholders. 

Finally, look at the two lists you’ve created and narrow your focus. You don’t want to overwhelm your new cardholders. Rather, you’ll want to introduce people to the library in small doses. You can choose to promote one resource per email.  Or you might choose to promote one resource from your list of popular items and one from your list of hidden library treasures.   

Pro tip: LibraryAware users can put our new series of onboarding email templates to work right away. They’re easy to customize and schedule. You’ll find them by typing "onboarding” into the LibraryAware homepage search bar. Use our handy new guide to walk you through the steps for customizing and scheduling your emails 

Send your new cardholders an onboarding email at a cadence that works for you — maybe once every two weeks or once a month, depending on the size of your library. Then, get ready to watch your circulation, attendance, and database use increase! 

You should also send your onboarding email series to current cardholders. Why? They need reminders of all they can do with their library card. With some slight adjustments to the text, this email campaign can re-energize them and get them to use their cards again.  

Exclusive for LibraryAware customers:  Use templates for e-blasts, widgets, and signs to onboard new patrons and re-energize current cardholders. Just type “New Card” into the LibraryAware homepage search bar. Plus, learn more tips for enticing people to use their library cards during a free microtraining session on Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. ET.  We’ll also unveil a campaign guide for Engaging Cardholders on that day. Watch for it to appear on the LibraryAware homepage. Register now for the microtraining.  


Angela Hursh is Senior Engagement Consultant for NoveList. She is currently reading Outsider by Linda Castillo and listening to The Little Book of Lykke: The Danish Search for the World’s Happiest People by Meik Wiking.