Lab Project 2018 – Cardholder Retention and Activation

MHLS 2018 Lab Project



The MHLS 2018 Lab Project identified and tested key strategies and best practices to increase the retention rate of active library cardholders.


Participating Libraries

  • Gillian Thorpe – Julia L. Butterfield Memorial Library in Cold Spring
  • Gloria Goverman – East Fishkill Community Library
  • Emily Chameides – Hudson Area Library
  • AnnaLee Dragon – Kinderhook Memorial Library
  • Daniela Pulice – Pleasant Valley Free Library


Project Goal

To engage with current cardholders in a way that inspires them to interact with library services and programs so that more citizens in our community are aware of, use, and find value in their local public library.



Increase active cardholder retention rate by 5%.


Key Strategies Adopted

  • User Experience: New Card Edition
    • Analysis of current registration processes: in person & online
    • Staff education & talking points
    • What is handed to a new patron?
    • Tours for new patrons
    • Proof of residence postcards
    • Temporary cards
  • Welcome Email
  • Proactive Notification of Imminent Card Expiration



The formula below, along with the CircActive field in the patron record and total number of cardholders, was used to determine customer retention rate or cardholder retention rate. Instructions for running reports in Sierra to gather the necessary data are available here.

  • Customer Retention Rate = ((CE-CN)/CS)100
    • CE = number of customers at end of period (active cardholders)
    • CN = number of new customers acquired during period (new cardholders)
    • CS = number of customers at start of period (total cardholders)



Most libraries that participated were able to increase the percentage of library cardholders that were actually using their library cards using the key strategies identified. Improving the first contact the library had with patrons was considered to be especially important. Libraries reported that looking at the patron’s user experience and working with staff to find ways to minimize the points of friction that people experience in trying to use the library were some of the most valuable parts of participating in this program, and will have long-lasting benefits for library patrons. Providing a good patron experience is important, and it requires regular evaluation to make sure the libraries policies and procedures are focused on providing the best experience possible.


Cold Spring: +1
East Fishkill: +2%
Hudson: +1%
Kinderhook: +5%
Pleasant Valley: -3%

Top Tips from the Project

  • First impressions count
    • Front line staff can make people feel welcome and help them learn about library services through tours of the library and its website.
    • Welcome rack cards can help people learn about library services.
    • A welcome email or letter in the mail for new cardholders helps engage patrons and provides a great first point of contact.
  • Audit your patrons’ library experience
    • What is it like for a new patron to get a library card?
    • Are library services explained to them?
    • Make it easy!
  • Online card registration
    • Online library card registration and renewal provide 24/7 access to library services and convenience patrons expect from online services.
  • Renewal notices
    • Online and over the phone renewal interactions are a chance to let people know about new and current library services while retaining cardholders.
  • Get patron email addresses
  • Retaining current cardholders is important
    • New cardholder registration should be one of several measures considered when assessing the libraries efficacy in providing services.

Templates and Examples


Recommended Reading


  1. The number of Active Cardholders for a library was determined using the CIRCACTIVE field in the patron record, which is updated each time a patron uses their library card for any of these of actions. The date in this field was used to determine whether a patron was active within the past 1 year period.
    • “Active” is defined as when one of the following circulation activities was performed for or by the patron, as recorded in the Circ Active field of the patron record in Sierra:
      • checking out an item
      • checking in an item
      • renewing an item
      • placing a hold
      • verifying in the WebPAC
      • viewing patron information with Patron API
      • viewing patron information via the My Account Web Service
      • updating the patron record via the Patron Update Web Service
      • paying fines via the Fines Payment Web Service
  2. The number of total cardholders for a library was determined using the HOME LIBR (home library) field.
  3. The service population is the number of people the library serves based on geographic areas outlined in their charter documents, and populations reported by the U.S. Census.
  4. Data


Do Try This at Home

To determine whether library cardholders were using the library, data from two reports in Sierra were combined. The total number of library cardholders was determined using the Home Library field, and total number of active cardholders was determined using the CircActive field. Total active cardholders divided by the total cardholders determines the percentage of cardholders that are active. Both of these totals can also be compared to a library’s chartered service population.

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