Library services for seniors

A while back, I wrote about library services for victims of domestic violence.  Another special population in need of more support is seniors – from the Boomers to the elderly.  The majority of age-related programming in libraries focus on children and youth, yet older adults also need more targeted services.  Over 20% of library users are seniors, and the continued aging of Baby Boomers will soon double the senior population.

Older adults have specific information needs, such as financial questions related to retiring and accessing certain social service agencies.  Many are on fixed incomes with limited access to other resources, and may be dependent on the library for help.  Library services for children and teens are invaluable.  Yet, senior programming needs the same recognition.

The rapidly growing senior population could be better served through library positions to provide assistance to them, like the senior services staff at the Alameda County Library.  However, nationwide there are few library staff focused on older adults programming.  One challenge in creating these positions is of course a lack of funding.  With shrinking budgets, it’s difficult to justify the creation of any new position, regardless of need.

In addition to budget issues, another challenge in supporting seniors is the vast difference in the services that the older adult population requires.  Seniors are ages 55 years and older, and needs range from retirement questions to resources for the homebound and physically frail to the information needs of the sick and dying.

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If creating senior service librarians isn’t possible, additional programs for the elderly could be offered, such as read-aloud programs; educational workshops on topics like Medicare, travel, volunteerism, and new careers; and computer classes just for older adults.  Studies have shown that once seniors are trained on using technologies such as the internet, they are avid users due to decreased anxiety and better understanding of how to use technology to get the information they want.  Yet, only about one-third of libraries offer computer classes for seniors and general technology classes often begin at too high a level for them.

Resources for such programming is often limited, but creative approaches can address the needs of older seniors as well as younger, more active seniors.  A library in Arizona found a memoir writing class to be a highly demanded program by seniors and a New York library sets out popular devices, like iPads and Kindles, so older adults can try them out and ask questions in an unbiased environment.

The Creative Aging Public Libraries Project offers workshops by professional teaching artists in public libraries for older adults.  Programs such as these help improve the overall health and well-being of older adults, provide social activity, and can lead to decreased depression and isolation.  They can also engage the younger older adults, who may be hesitant to attend activities at senior centers.

While there are challenges in serving older adults, there are opportunities that may arise by focusing attention and resources on this generation.  Baby Boomers, defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, are retiring more educated and healthier than any generation before them.  As they do so, they bring a new perspective on what retirement means – the opportunity to do what they want to do, including volunteering and continuing their education, and not what they have to do.  Libraries can recruit seniors as volunteers and make use of their experience and enthusiasm, such as serving as trustees and mentoring youth.

As the number of seniors continues to grow, resources are needed now more than ever to ensure that the needs of older adults are met, as they are for children and young adults.  Creating senior services librarians, establishing volunteer opportunities that leverage life experience, holding computer classes solely for seniors, and changes as simple as providing more seating near large print materials and offering senior-requested programs like memoir writing would go a long way in giving this underserved, and sometimes invisible, population more of the support it needs.

References:
Alameda County Library. (2015). All locations.  Retrived from http://guides.aclibrary.org/content.php?pid=121671&sid=1690080

Angell, K.  (2008).  Boom or bust: the need for senior services librarians.  Progressive Librarian, 32, 29-35.

McDonough, S. K. (2013). Lifetime arts. Public Libraries, 52(3), 29-35.

Singer, D., & Agosto, D. (2013). Reaching senior patrons in the digitized library. Public Libraries, 52(6), 38-42.

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