Enhanced Library Card Program Gaining Momentum in Texas

Having a form of identification is necessary for so many critical aspects of daily life. You often need an ID to apply for housing or a job, access healthcare, open a bank account or cash a check, register a child for school, apply for public benefits, or borrow a book from the library.

Our partners Texas Organizing Project (TOP), the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), and local groups recognized early on that for some communities, drivers licenses and other government-issued IDs can be very challenging to obtain. In 2017, when Senate Bill 4 passed, advocates knew that police interactions with immigrant communities would increase and that having an accepted form of an ID would lessen the likelihood that these interactions would end in an arrest. Since then, they’ve worked with five Texas localities – San Antonio, San Marcos, Harris County, Dallas, and Austin – to take the critical steps to help solve this problem by implementing an Enhanced Library Card (ELC) program.

The idea is simple, but incredibly powerful: a library card could be used as an accepted form of identification. If library cards just added some very basic but important demographic information, and provided a safe and easy way for people to apply, people could easily get an ID they need to access some of those critical services. These “enhanced” library cards would include a photo, name, address, date of birth, and phone number. And since most communities have access to a library, it would be relatively easy to obtain a card. Thus, the ELC program was born.

The challenge though, is getting those relevant departments and services to agree to accept it as a valid form of ID. But the program is gaining significant momentum across Texas.

Austin most recently adopted the program. The city developed a planning committee that sought the community’s feedback to ensure the program would meet Austinites’ needs. Vanessa Fuentes, Austin City Councilmember and LPTX Organizing Committee Co-chair, organized this community engagement.

“Enhanced Library Cards (ELCs) will help close many of the gaps we see by enabling Austinites to access the essential City services needed to thrive,” she said. “With many community members unable to receive traditional forms of identification, ELCs will offer Austinites an alternative path toward equity and the freedom to live full lives.”

Dallas is now starting to roll out the program in every library across the city. Dallas City Councilmember and LPTX Organizing Committee Co-chair Adam Bazaldua reflected on the impact it will have – both in Dallas and in surrounding communities.

“I am excited that the City of Dallas will provide access to enhanced library cards to our residents at every Dallas Public Library. This initiative will make Dallas a truly welcoming and inclusive city by bringing the people who are most vulnerable to the table,” Adam said. “It is a step closer to closing disparities gaps by providing identification cards to people who might not otherwise be able to receive one. This is a win not only for Dallas, but for neighboring cities across North Texas.”

The program is indeed a win for communities across Texas – and the momentum is spreading, with groups in Waco and Denton exploring this program as well. When creating these programs, local electeds and partners – like TOP and ILRC – consult with people who face obstacles obtaining IDs, including undocument residents, the elderly, our houseless populations, LGBTQ+ communities, and formerly incarcerated individuals.

The ELC program is a step in the right direction to both ensure all people have the resources necessary to meet their basic needs and to hopefully prevent people of color and marginalized communities from deportation and criminalization for simply not having an ID.

Coalition building and bringing in perspectives from communities who would benefit from this program is essential to a successful implementation process that reaches as many people as possible. If you’re considering bringing this program to your locality, reach out to LP Texas Chapter Manager Kara Sheehan  and our partners at TOP and the ILRC, who can share their expertise from years of work in multiple jurisdictions.