Hoboken Tot Denied a Library Card Because of Illegible Signature

A mad Dad reports his unhappiness with the Hoboken NJ Public Library due to his four-year old son being denied a library card. Here's the story from Hoboken 411.

Letter-writer Dave Dessel goes on to say: "My wife called several libraries in the area, including Millburn, Maplewood, Summit and Ridgewood, to find out what their policies are. Every librarian she spoke with was appalled by HPL’s policy. One went so far as to say that the story was heartbreaking, and the policy archaic, the kind of thing that was done away with forty years ago.

I wonder if the library administration has changed much since On the Waterfront?"


If you've ever seen my signature on something, it usually is a mess. It isn't any better these days. Twenty some odd years ago it played a factor in my getting a library card.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

I've never seen a library policy that depends on the quality of handwriting. Every library I have patronized or worked at had clear-cut policies on membership based on age, not penmanship. It would be simpler to have a set minimum age requirement than to have a library clerk assess the readability of a child's signature.

And if you judge on the standard of penmanship alone, most adults wouldn't be eligible for library cards either.

Sounds like standard procedure to me. They have to know who it is their giving a library card to.....right??

Rogeo Riguyel

As a child I couldn't sign my name well (I was born with a slight disability) and at first was denied a library card. My mom raised holy hell about it and the clerk eventually caved in.

I don't think this policy is very unusual. but it probably is archaic and should be done away with

Four year olds should not have library cards. The parents are responsible for the books. The parents should have a library card and the books should go on their account.

My main objection to this type of policy is it is very vague. It depends on the judgment of a library clerk, who may or may not allow a child to have a card based on something as interpretative as a signature....if you can call it a signature.

A membership policy should be as clear as possible.

"Unclear standard" above is absolutely right, but then there's the heartless treatment of an excited 4 y.o. Nothing like growing future library users. I can't imagine keeping application/registration cards anymore. When our library first automated ten years ago, we dropped the registration cards like hot potatoes. Scan the barcode, type in the info, and we're done. For kids, the age is five, and the kids know it, and it's a big deal when the time comes. But there's no performance test. I hope something is wrong with this story.

If the kid's writing is too large for the space provided, perhaps the library should think about creating a more child-friendly library card form with larger spaces for the name.

If you feel strongly about this, here is a site with the contact info to let the library know:


I suppose *not* getting a library card at first go would be a pretty good incentive for learning how to write one's name. :-)

We have several patrons who are handicapped and are unable to sign their name in a readable manner. I wonder if they would be turned down at this library as well?

Sorry, I must've missed this story at some point. I'd be without a library card at this library too, even though my signature is very legible. (Contrary to popular belief, it is much harder to forge a legible signature than it is a messy one. One set of squiggles tends to look like another.)

Anyway, my signature is perfectly readable, if you happen to read Japanese katakana. I've signed my name in Japanese for well over a decade now, since college. So yeah, most people can't read it and that's the very definition of illegible.

Really, I have to say, this is a stupid policy. If I need to know whose library card I have in my hand, I do what everyone else in my profession does, I search for it in the ILS.

Some books contain the machinery required to create and sustain universes. Tycho (Jerry Holkins) @ Penny Arcade


Angry and anonymous. Wow. This isn't 5-bit radioteletype. You don't have to use all-caps as your computer can encode more than just all-caps. Unless you somehow used an old-fashioned radioteletype machine to comment, you should know better.
Stephen Michael Kellat, Host, LISTen
PGP KeyID: 899C131F

Most things requiring a signature also have a block for a Printed or Typed name. These differ from a signature for a reason - LEGIBILITY! A Signature is a signature... a printed name is a printed name. End of story. It's so sad when an idividual, in this case the library clerk, feels a need to exercise his/her only source of perceived power for their own little power-trip. Get over yourself and know the difference between a signature and a printed name.

The title on LISNews is lisleading. It had nothing to do with a signature. The newspaper article said the child was required to print their first and last name.

Brian C. Gray