Free museum passes for library patrons, some assembly required
November 30, 2020 7:11 PM   Subscribe

I am looking to create a way for library patrons to check out a family pass to one of several local museums/zoo/botanical gardens for a short period of time. Our local library system has never done anything like this before and is a little baffled at how to possibly move forward and I need as much help as I can to convince funders and administrators that it can be worth the expense and potential headache.

[[I am currently working with my local public library in the programming department and have been told I have relatively free reign to come up with ideas for new programs and offerings for the entire library system. I am working on creating a project proposal that is relatively put-together before I bring it to the board for approval to move forward with further study and potential quotes. I have the justified "why's", I just need the "how's."]]

I am looking to create a way for library patrons to check out a family pass (usually 2 adults and 3 children) to one of several local museums/zoo/botanical gardens for a short period of time. These passes must be easy for the library to check out and track, easy for the museum to check, require little extra steps from the patrons as far as tech, and limit fraud if possible.

While we will be reducing the costs as much as we can I expect to have the majority of it covered through city funding and local grants. Our local Friends group has a large fund that is earmarked for programming that targets family and culture and I am certain I can get them on board if I can convince everyone else.

So far I have been met with some confusion inside the library system and I want to nail down my project proposal before the entrenched old guard shoots it down. I believe very strongly that this could be a great asset to our library and the community and it could make a huge difference to our diverse, vibrant, but also (in parts) low income area.

If you are a library/attraction worker- what is your experience using similar programs? What pitfalls/resources/best practices can you point to? If possible- what technologies and budgets did you utilize in rolling out and maintaining the program?

If you have used these programs- what has your experience been? What did you like? what would you improve? If there was anything that kept you from using to continuing to use this service, what was it and how could we reduce those barriers?

Everyone else- Would you use this and why/why not? What would you like to see your library provide to you in regards to this type of service? If you might not use this service- why not and what barriers could we reduce for you?
posted by shesaysgo to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I used a program like this in the past (pre COVID) and it was great. My library uses Discover & Go. I've told a lot of friends about it and they also tried it- it seemed like the main barrier was that they didn't know that it existed. Popular tickets also sometimes sell out. I tried logging on now and I'm not sure that it's working at the moment, though (or maybe it's just that everything here is closed now...)
posted by pinochiette at 7:19 PM on November 30, 2020

My library uses Plymouth Rocket’s TixKeeper, which I guess is now called TK Mars, for just this service. We lend out dozens of passes, both returnable, discardable and print on demand. Patrons can reserve the passes from home via our website or call us to do it. I believe you have to have a card from our consortium, but I think some are only for people with cards from our specific library. The interface is a little kludgy, but it works fine for what we need it to do.
posted by Biblio at 7:32 PM on November 30, 2020

My library in central MA allowed online checkout of museum passes even before covid. And at least some of the museum passes didn’t need to be returned - they were tickets or coupons locked to a date (so that only the person who checked out the ticket for Saturday could use them on Saturday) and had barcodes for authentication. I definitely visited museums I wouldn’t have gone to without the pass (and then told others about the places so I imagine that’s some free advertising).
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:33 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Does your library have one location or several? I both work in a library that offers these passes (they just are checked out like normal things except they are just a card, usually in a bigger envelope that the patron can show at the museum, and there are fine associated with not returning them promptly and we don't otherwise have fines) and I also have used them (sometimes they are not worth it because you save like $2 on a $15 admission but they are HUGE for families who can get a one-price entry, if that is available). A few other thoughts:

- Circulating these things is usually as easy as having a tangible item (often the museum will have a pass just for this that they'd give people if they were a member) that you can put a bar code on and having a special short check out period. I think in my library you can check them out for 48 hours so it's really important that they also be items that people can place holds on (and we allow for late returns if they have it checked out to be returned on Sundays so savvy patrons will often check a card out on a Friday). Some libraries have huge complex pass-reserving online systems and we don't usually do that but some ILSes will allow this sort of thing pretty easily like Biblio's does
- People definitely like the ones that have the bigger discounts or are free, or who offer options good for families. The ones that are like $2 a state park entry are less of a big deal but real $$ off of the aquarium? Huge.
- Usually these are contracts that are negotiated at the beginning of each year. Sometimes the library pays money to the agency that provides the cards, sometimes the organization just offers them as a goodwill offering, it can be all over the map. Having Friends donate is an excellent use of Friends funds.

These are a super normal thing for libraries to offer. We have a ton of them in Vermont and most of our libraries are teeny and serve really rural populations so they're a big draw if they can be scheduled, less useful if they can't be. Some libraries also negotiate passes for local stuff so different libraries have some different things and then some are done at a state level.
posted by jessamyn at 7:36 PM on November 30, 2020 [3 favorites]

Toronto has the Museum + Arts Pass (MAP), which is colossal. The line outside libraries for MAP before they open can be huge.
posted by scruss at 7:36 PM on November 30, 2020

We use LibraryInsight to manage our passes which makes the whole process a pretty solved problem. We're on pick up in COVID times, so I just place the physical pass/coupon in a DVD case for the patron to grab.

Most museums have timed entry at this point, so you want to make it clear to the patron that they will have extra steps when they want to book their pass. You do not want to get into the business of being a travel agent for patrons - give them the info up front, be clear what a pass does, and send them on their way.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:22 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Some places give a book of single-use tickets; others issue a hard pass that the library needs to get back after the patron's visit. My library has passes of both systems, and has multiples of the hard cards (to allow patrons to pick them up the day before).

We seem to use a booking system from to reserve the passes online, which I assume is a subscription service.

We have a generous donor who pays for many of the annual passes. Currently they're suspended by most museums because of COVID. :7(
posted by wenestvedt at 8:27 PM on November 30, 2020

A decade or so ago, my local library system offered this. At that time, there was a physical admission card that you could reserve online & check out just like you'd check out a book. The current version of this is smARTpass, which seems to be totally web-based. Their FAQ page might be helpful for you.
posted by belladonna at 8:29 PM on November 30, 2020

I haven't used it, but the Denver Public Library has this program, and it is very popular. They have online chat and would be happy to answer questions, I'm sure.
posted by cyndigo at 8:59 PM on November 30, 2020

I've used this program at our library and I LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT.

What has your experience been?
I understand that they used to actually have physical passes in the library that you'd have to go and pick up and then return. Ugh, terrible, you'll never get families with small children doing this. Currently my library has an online portal where you can check out tickets. Each activity center (museum, botanical garden, park, etc.) has a limit on the number of tickets - sometimes its just one free ticket, sometimes it's 2 adults and 2 children, etc. I assume the activity center decides. You also can only check out passes once per year for each place. It's all managed online. You then get an email and have the pass on your phone or in some rare cases, have to print out the pass.

What did you like?
I loved that it was easy to use (online-yay!) and it was a great way to adventure and discover new places. About half of the places we would have never gone, ever. But now, of course, we'll go back. A few of the places we became members after getting the free tickets originally and deciding it was a place we wanted to return.

what would you improve?
More free tickets.

If there was anything that kept you from using to continuing to use this service, what was it and how could we reduce those barriers?
Covid. Could you find a vaccine?
posted by Toddles at 10:48 PM on November 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

Before my current incarnation as a corporate research librarian I was a public librarian and we also used TixKeeper for exactly the scenario you describe. I agree with Biblio on the clunky interface that nevertheless does what's needed. The option to search for available days by certain days of the week was helpful with patrons who could only do weekends or knew that they always had a certain weekday off. I'll add that the interface looks a lot better on the patron side. If you want to check this out, look at any library in the Minuteman Library Network.

If you're in a consortium you may want to limit the more popular passes to your own residents. The library I worked in also limited the reservation window to three months out, which definitely helped even the access between the super-organized patrons and those who might not know their schedules too far in advance.
posted by The Librarian at 4:02 AM on December 1, 2020

My library system has this. The passes are listed in the online catalog so you can see if someone has already borrowed them or not, and you can put a hold on one. Then you have to go to the library (in our town they are held at just 1 of 4 branches) and check it out. You can keep it for 3 days which is nice because maybe you want to pick it up on Day 1, go to the museum on Day 2, and return the pass on Day 3.

The drawbacks are that sometimes the passes turn out to just be $2 off admission so it's not worth the drive to the library. Also the selection could be better - they don't have a pass for every nearby museum.
posted by xo at 5:38 AM on December 1, 2020

Librarian in Massachusetts here - yes, these are very popular; it's funded primarily by our Friends of the Library plus a couple of other organizations that sponsor one pass each. Most museums/attractions in this area have an established library membership program, with costs ranging widely from $150 to $700. The reservation software options that libraries around here use are Tixkeeper, Library Insight, and Assabet Interactive, with subscription prices around a few hundred dollars yearly (not sure if that scales depending on the size of the library?) If you're just doing one or two passes I'd start with staff managing the reservations manually with a paper calendar or spreadsheet. It's one of those things that a lot of people use occasionally, and a few people use really heavily - if using software you can restrict how many reservations someone has in a specific time period.

It's a challenge for people to keep track of all the different ways museums implement this, like other people have said (especially in covid times when they now often have to reserve both the pass, and a specific visit time through the museum website.) If you're getting a museum/attraction to set it up for the first time, I'd definitely ask them to do either an electronic pass that can be emailed to people (reservation software can do this automatically), or disposable paper ones - having a physical membership card that has to be returned is less convenient because of lost passes, overdue passes that aren't there for the next person to pick up, etc. For paper passes, some museums give us a book with dated paper passes for every day of the year, others do a certain number of passes per month or per year and don't police whether it's used twice on the same day. If it's a permanent physical membership card, one institutional membership should provide 3 cards, 2 at the very minimum, so that you always have a card for someone to pick up for the next day. Some museums will do a Tu/Th/Sat and a Wed/Fri/Sun pass, others will just do multiples and ask us not to give out more than one per day.
posted by songs about trains at 7:33 AM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was on the museum end of this. For us, it was pretty like jessamyn described it. We made something like 64 versions of a very large folding laminated pass touting our museum and its exhibits. They were complicated enough that nobody would really go to the trouble of making their own to scam the system. They were distributed by the library system to a bunch of branches (several to each) where they were listed in the catalog. We also made and had printed a bunch of posters for the libraries to promote the program, and we wrote some promotional copy and gave them images to use in their emails and social media. We also promoted the program on our end. We were one of a dozen or so museums participating.

You can find it and get on the waitlist just like you would for any other library materials. Tracking a physical item like that made it familiar to the patrons, library staff, and museum staff alike. Pretty quickly, there was a huge waiting list for every pass, up to 600 families deep!

We would occasionally resupply them with fresh copies of the passes and posters.

We participated as part of our deal with the city to offer a certain number of free admissions each year, but also because we knew that for some families even inexpensive admissions put museums out of reach, even more so for families with a bunch of kids.

If you contact the San Diego Public Library, I'm sure they could find you someone who could speak more about it.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:46 AM on December 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

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