When Eye On St. Paul thinks about memes and videos that go viral, what springs to mind are cat antics, trending dance steps and outrageous sports feats. Not library cards.

But viral is exactly what happened to the St. Paul Public Library late last year when staff members launched the Laser Loon library card, inspired by a beloved design suggested for the new state flag. An effort to coax a few more folks to use the city’s libraries quickly became a sensation and brought in thousands of new users. Eye On St. Paul recently chatted with Stacy Opitz and Claire Huber of the library system’s marketing department to delve into the origins of perhaps the coolest library card ever and ask about what might be coming next.

This interview was edited for length.

Q: Who came up with the laser-eyed loon card?

Stacy: It was Claire’s idea. We, the marketing team, had been thinking for a while about ways to bring more people into our libraries. And I think the L.A. library had done limited edition cards based upon the anniversary of hip hop. And so we had been keeping our eye open for what’s St. Paul’s thing or what’s Minnesota’s thing and Claire raised up the Laser Loon.

Claire: I kind of proposed the ideas, almost thinking not anybody would take me up on it, right? I was like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if we just did a limited edition card with this Laser Loon on it?” And sure enough, we have a culture here at the library of saying yes to things, trying things, you know, experimenting and learning from projects. And so this was one of them that we said, “Yeah, let’s, let’s give it a try.”

Q: What was the goal here?

Stacy: Claire and I are on the marketing and communications team. Our big job is to tell the library story and make sure residents are aware of and using their library. Some folks in our community might still be thinking that libraries are just warehouses for books, right? We offer so much more. Of course, library cards are an important piece of using our spaces. If you want to access materials and some of our other services, you do need a card. To get more people in St. Paul signed up for cards, that was our big goal.

Q: Did that happen?

Stacy: Absolutely.

Claire: Our original goal when we first started this was to get a total of 1,000 residents a new card — or to come in and grab one of those stickers [that covers the old card]. Our total at the end of the campaign was 5,620 residents coming in to get a card or a sticker. Just in the first day of launching this campaign, we saw a 295% increase in library card signups compared to 2022.

Q: Why Laser Loon?

Claire: I think the loon itself is such an emblem of the north, of Minnesota. It’s such a cool animal and one that’s so unique to our state. And then I thought: A laser shooting out of its eye just adds this level of quirkiness, a silliness, a kind of “We’re here and we’re strong and we’re cool too.” You know, I went to school out west, and people often talked about Minnesota being flyover country and things like that. So it’s kind of like an illustration of our strength and being a cool state and worthy of attention.

The way that we came about making this design was I just looked up how to draw a loon online and ended up drawing it on my computer and using this step-by-step tutorial. And I just added a line to have it be the laser shooting out of the loon’s eye. A lot of the other community submissions that came had loons, even shooting lasers out of their eyes. So, that’s where the original inspiration came from. We wanted to tie it back to the library, so we added “read” at the bottom of the card.

Stacy: Libraries are constantly evolving with what the community needs. And community engagement processes are a big part of the work that we do. That’s how Minnesota developed its new state flag. And so we value that. We understand that and we wanted to celebrate and lift up the creativity that we were seeing.

Q: What’s next?

Stacy: We’ve been asking that ourselves and we’ve had staff and community members sharing ideas with us since the loon. There will be something, but it’s not clear to us yet. Part of the magic here is looking to community for what the thing is that is bringing joy and bringing us together.

Q: Where can people go to make suggestions?

Stacy: They can email me or Claire at Stacy.Opitz@ci.stpaul.mn.us and Claire.Huber@ci.stpaul.mn.us.

Claire: They can also contact us on social media too, at https://x.com/stpaullibrary?lang=en or https://www.linkedin.com/in/ckhuber/. We check our our DMs often.

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