Mystery Shopper: Is it as easy to read and work in Philly as it should be?

Our mystery shoppers go online to get a library card and working papers for summer. How simple was it?

Mystery Shopper: Is it as easy to read and work in Philly as it should be?

Our mystery shoppers go online to get a library card and working papers for summer. How simple was it?

With summer around the corner, school students are thinking about summer reading and summer jobs. So in this installment of our Mystery Shopper series, in which we unleash undercover reporters to test out city services, two locals explore how easy (or not) it is to get a library card, and summer working papers. Check out their reports below.


You can find all our previous Mystery Shoppers here. And while you’re at it, let us know what services you’d like us to test.

How to Get a Library Card 

Steps Taken: 

  1. I go to
  2. Click on the “services” bar, type in “Library card,” in the service directory search bar. 
  3. Click on the phrase “Library card, get a,” next to the large letter “L.” 
  4. Under the “To Get Started:” phrase, I click on the underlined part of the phrase “Sign Up For Library Card Online.” 
  5. I take notice that for Philadelphia residents, the policy page states that cards are free of charge.
  6. Click on “I am 13 years of age or older and I agree that I will be responsible for any loss, damage or fine for any material borrowed on my library card” at the bottom of the page.
  7. Type my name, my middle initial, my last name, my date of birth (mm/dd/yyyy), my phone number; select my gender, type in my email address, choose and type in my four-digit PIN, type in my email address again to confirm it, type in my PIN again to confirm it, type in my address, my zip code, the city I live in, and the state I live in, select home home library preference.
  8. Click on the check button in the “I’m not a robot” box.
  9. The website gives me a response saying I already had an account: “Based on the information provided, it looks like you might already have an account with the Free Library. Please use the Forgot Your Library Card option on the login page to retrieve your information. If you do not already have an account with the Free Library, please read the two options below:”
  10. I’m confused. Maybe I forgot I already had a library card?  I click on “forgot your library card link.” 
  11. Type in my first and last name, and my date of birth, and click submit. 
  12. Site says that “We could not find a library account for you in our system. Sign up for a new library card today!” Somehow I both have an account…and don’t have an account. More confusion. 
  13. Repeat steps 1-11, but instead set my home library to a different home library, a library close by.
  14. A green pop-up says “Your library card is now activated! Your library card number was emailed to you. Please log in.”
  15. Go to my email and click on the email with the subject “Activate Your Free Library Account!” sent by [email protected], and click on the implied verification link, which takes me to a separate tab. 
  16. Refresh email. 
  17. Click on the email with the subject “Welcome to the Free Library” and click on the link that says “login to verify your account.Go back to email, and copy and paste the library card number, and paste it into the box next to the “Library Card Number” phrase, then put in my pin in the box below. 

Time Spent: 50 minutes, because of the issue with the recovery of the card. 

Result: New Free Library of Philadelphia card! 

Takeaways: For the most part, the process went smoothly; however, when I inserted my full name and birthdate for the library card recovery (because the site said that I already had a card) it said that my card didn’t exist. I think the library card may be linked to the address and home library, which makes sense, but it should maybe be clearer? In the end, it was worth it, and I find that it’s great that the card is free for anyone who lives in Philadelphia and wants one. 

Lightning Bolt Rating (out of five): ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️ (one star down because of difficulty with recovery of card) 

How to Get Working Papers

The situation: As a minor, I need working papers to get a summer job in Philly. With Covid-19 precautions that requires going online. 

Steps taken: 

  1. I go to the Department of Education’s website for Philadelphia Pennsylvania. 
  2. Click a link sending me to the electronic application on the website.
  3. Download and print the electronic application.
  4. Fill in all required information on the application.
  5. My legal guardian/parent fills in any required information.
  6. I turn the paper application into an electronic pdf using Apple’s “Notes” app.
  7. Attach the application to an email sent to [email protected].
  8. Fill in whether I had a promise of a job with this information copy and pasted: 

Yes, I have a promise of a job.  I will be working at (ENTER NAME OF EMPLOYER) and my start date is___________.

No, I do not have a promise of a job at this time, but I am actively searching

From the Department of Education’s website

9. I send the email.
10. I receive an email with a Google meet invitation.
11. Click “accept” on the invitation.
12. Join the Google meet using the link on my scheduled date and time.
13. I’m asked to prove my age through a document; I choose my birth certificate.
14. The meeting ends after having my application approved.
15. I wait one to two weeks to receive my papers by USPS mail.

Time spent: 10 minutes filling out the application, 20 minutes during the Google meet, a week and a half waiting for the papers to arrive by mail. 

Takeaway: Yes! I can legally get a job this summer, working papers in hand.

Lightning bolt rating (out of five): ⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️⚡️

Special thanks to the students of Meg Cohen Ragas’ and Anne Gerbner’s high school journalism class at Germantown Friends School.

Header photo by Anggun Tan on Unsplash

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story

Advertising Terms

We do not accept political ads, issue advocacy ads, ads containing expletives, ads featuring photos of children without documented right of use, ads paid for by PACs, and other content deemed to be partisan or misaligned with our mission. The Philadelphia Citizen is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and all affiliate content will be nonpartisan in nature. Advertisements are approved fully at The Citizen's discretion. Advertisements and sponsorships have different tax-deductible eligibility. For questions or clarification on these conditions, please contact Director of Sales & Philanthropy Kristin Long at [email protected] or call (609)-602-0145.