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Happy 35th Birthday to Library Card Sign-Up Month

then-Secretary of Education William Bennett on stage with 1987-1988 ALA President Margaret Chisholm, then-NCLIS chairman Jerald Newman, and actor in Garfield costume at launch of Library Card Sign-up Month in 1987.

Library Card Sign-Up Month (LCSUM) turns 35 this year. As a part of our celebration, we’re looking back at the fascinating birth of this beloved library-outreach event.

The genesis of LCSUM began as a response to then-Secretary of Education William Bennett, who stated: “Let’s have a campaign … Every child should obtain a library card and use it.” The American Library Association (ALA) took Bennett’s words to task, teaming with the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science (NCLIS) to start a new campaign, along with a $85,000 grant from the Reader’s Digest Foundation. A telegram was then sent to Secretary Bennett stating: “We accept your challenge.”

The campaign kicked-off on October 14, 1987, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with remarks from 1987-1988 ALA President Margaret Chisholm, then-NCLIS chairman Jerald Newman, and Bennett. 500 children were in attendance to enjoy the event’s story time, crafts, free pizza, and an appearance by Garfield the Cat.

The theme of the inaugural LCSUM was “The Best Gift You’ll Ever Give Your Child … A Library Card.” It was advertised on more than 500 TV and radio stations and in 200 magazines. Information packets and promotional ideas were sent to libraries to help the campaign gain momentum and to inspire librarians.

September was declared LCSUM in 1988, and thousands of public libraries and schools have participated in the decades since. And luminaries like comic book legend Stan Lee, author and activist Marley Dias, singer and actor Idina Menzel and her sister, author and educator Cara Mentzel, comedian George Lopez, football player Troy Polamalu, basketball player Luol Deng, and fictional characters like Wonder Woman, Snoopy, the Teen Titans, and the casts of Toy Story 4 and The Incredibles have joined the festivities through the years as LCSUM honorary chairs to help spread the word about the importance of obtaining a library card.

Learn more about the history of Library Card Sign-Up Month at the ALA Archives. And discover all of the ways that you and your library can participate in Library Card Sign-Up Month this year and every year.

*Photo from the 1987 launch of Library Card Sign-Up Month. Courtesy of the ALA Archives.

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