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By W. Gardner Selby December 11, 2010

David Dewhurst says you can't check out a library book without a photo ID

Advocating for a law that would require Texas voters to present photo IDs at the polls, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst told an interviewer this summer that "you can't get on a plane without a photo ID, you can't buy Sudafed without a photo ID, you can't check out a library book without a photo ID . . . We need to protect the sanctity of our votes," he told a representative of Americans for Prosperity in a June 11 interview at the Republican State Convention in Dallas.

Most everyone knows that airline passengers have to hand up a photo ID before going through airport security. And since 2005, Texas pharmacies have been required by state law to make a person purchasing pills containing ephedrine, pseudoephedrine or nopseudoephedrine to display a driver's license or other ID containing the purchaser's photograph, as noted online by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy. Sudafed, a decongestant, contains pseudoephedrine, according to WebMD, a medical information website.

But showing your ID to check out a library book?

To our inquiry, Dewhurst spokesman Mike Walz shared information we confirmed indicating that applicants for library cards from the Austin, Dallas or San Antonio public libraries must present a photo ID. His point: If a photo ID is needed to get a card, that's like requiring a photo ID to check out a book. You need a card before you can check out a book.

In Austin, according to its library website, adults seeking a card must apply in person at any branch and present a current photo ID plus proof of home address. Minors seeking a youth card may also apply at any branch, with a parent or guardian, the site says. "They should bring current photo ID and proof of current residence address," a library site says.

Next, we looked into whether libraries around the country have identical photo-ID policies.

Not so, according to Amy Sargent, spokeswoman for the Chicago-based Public Library Association, a division of the American Library Association. Sargent, who undertook an overview at our request, said via e-mail that "for as many listings we found of libraries that require a photo ID, we found as many that don't, so it's safe to say that the requirement is not nationally consistent" or "even consistent among types of libraries (urban, suburban, rural, etc...)."

"Even if a photo ID is a primary requirement," her e-mail says, "many libraries seem to make concessions for people without IDs."

According to the association, individuals seeking a Chicago library card must present a current ID with their photo or two pieces of current identification, such a a personal check, voter registration card or a current telephone, gas, electric or cable TV bill. Applicants for cards from the El Paso public library must show a photo ID or, if lacking picture identification, one type of non-photo ID with their name and current address.

According to the association, applications for a card from the Montgomery County (Md.) library must be accompanied by "official identification," such as a driver's license, a check with pre-printed address or a postmarked letter addressed to the applicant.

Photo IDs are required to get cards at libraries in San Diego, Calif.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Manchester, N.H.; and Troy, Mich., Sargent said.

And what about practices in Texas? Gloria Meraz, director of communications for the Texas Library Association, said local communities set their own policies. At our request, she asked librarians to share their approaches. From the responses, we learned that the Plano Public Library does not require a photo ID from applicants for library cards, while public libraries in Alamo, Allen, Baytown, Haslet, Irving, Richardson, Taylor and Wells Branch do have the ID hurdle.

Broadly, many libraries require photo IDs to get a card, some do not. Still, we found no instances of libraries requiring a photo ID when actually checking out a book.

Walz of Dewhurst's office said the lieutenant governor makes his point. "If there are libraries that do not require a photo ID" to get a card, "there are certainly some that do," Walz said.

Our take: Dewhurst's claim confuses activities that are subject to uniform regulations in Texas--boarding a plane, purchasing Sudafed--with one that is subject to inconsistent, local rules.

Photo IDs are always required to board a plane or purchase Sudafed, while public libraries simply don't require photo IDs at checkout. However, patrons of most libraries have to show a photo ID when applying for a library card, a factor that gives Dewhurst's statement an element of truth.

We rate the statement Barely True.

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Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.

Our Sources

Austin Public Library, websites, "Library Card Application Information for Adults" and "APL Youth Card Application Information" (accessed Dec. 3, 2010)

Dallas Public Library, website, "How to get a library card" (accessed Dec. 3, 2010)

E-mail and interview, Mike Walz, communications director, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Dec. 2 and 3, 2010

Interview and e-mail, Gloria Meraz, director of communications, Texas Library Association, Austin, Dec. 6, 2010

RightOnline, video interview of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, "Bloggers' Row, David Dewhurst, Part 2," June 11, 2010

San Antonio Public Library, website, "Frequently Asked Questions" (accessed Dec. 3, 2010)

Texas State Board of Pharmacy, website, "NEW STATE AND FEDERAL REQUIREMENTS FOR SELLING PSEUDOEPHEDRINE PRODUCTS!!!" undated (accessed Dec. 6, 2010)

WebMD, website, entry for Sudafed (accessed Dec. 6, 2010)

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David Dewhurst says you can't check out a library book without a photo ID

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