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The most important school supply? A library card

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With schools starting this week, displays in local stores have been flooded with piles of pencils, paper, backpacks, rulers and all those essentials that make going back to school an overwhelming shopping event for parents and an exciting chance to get new stuff for kids. The National Retail Federation estimates that the average American family will spend over $600 on back-to-school-related supplies, electronics and clothing in 2015.

However, according to Delta County Libraries district director Annette Choszczyk, the most important back-to-school supply is not only free, but will last a lifetime if properly used. "I would like to propose that a library card be at the top of the list for every Delta County student," she explains. "The benefits of having a card in good standing are enormous for students of all ages."

Choszczyk is not alone in this belief. Teachers and other school staff advocate for library cards as well. "I always encourage my students to get library cards if they don't have them. Not only can they use them to check out books, but to access valuable research databases as well," says Delta High School teacher Kelly Johnson.

Johnson is referring to databases that are available on the library district website 24/7. These electronic resources include easily searchable academic journals, periodicals, and newspapers, downloadable fiction and non-fiction e-books and audiobooks, downloadable music, online classes, resume builders, language programs and more. Unlike many things a student may encounter on the Internet, these resources are safe and provide accurate, valid information. Additionally, because these products are the same resources available at larger libraries around the country, a user is not limited by living in a rural area or attending a small school. Everything on the library website is free, but almost all the links require a valid Delta County Libraries card.

Unfortunately, years of childhood library card use can result in overdue fines that block a student's card. Helping a student to locate and return overdue books, then creating a plan with that child to pay the associated fines provides an opportunity to discuss the importance of fiscal responsibility, meeting deadlines and using the library sensibly. A clear library card can then be used in a variety of ways to enhance the student's education and reading enjoyment.

That library card has the potential to carry a child through his entire school education. Unlike crayons that break or backpacks that go out of fashion, a library card will always provide access to up-to-date online and in-library resources. A child exposed to the library at an early age and encouraged through school years will have the skills and mindset for library research in college and in future jobs.

As far as putting the library card at the top of back-to-school lists, Choszczyk says seriously, "I'm not saying your child should get a library card instead of a backpack or new school clothes. Just don't overlook the value of a library card in your child's education and future success."

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