Healthy Aging at the Library
Aging can be lonely, whether you live alone, miss old friends, or want to get out of the house occasionally. Public libraries understand these needs and offer activities, live and virtual, to engage seniors and help make connections with others.
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We all benefit from regular exercise and healthy eating habits. Public librarians can help with this, too. And above all, public libraries almost always have something exciting and new for nearly everyone.
It’s the mission of public libraries to serve the needs and interests of all public sectors by staying up-to-date with the latest books, music CDs, DVDs, and even events connected to issues and topics related to the local and global communities.
Seniors and Public Libraries
So, what makes public libraries such a special place for seniors to congregate? We can only make an educated guess — however, it seems that public librarians have unique talents for serving diverse publics. They shift gears readily, from helping teen readers at the circulation desk to handing newspapers to seniors (there tend to be many) at the information kiosk.
But public libraries and librarians do much more than this for their older adult patrons.
Library-Based Activities Tailored to Seniors’ Needs
While there is no “senior section” in most public libraries, librarians from all areas (including children and teens) are prepared to help them find what they ask for and even help them discover new resources. Many libraries go to great lengths to accommodate patrons' needs.
For example, Hope Place Library in Daytona Beach, Florida, sits next door to a transitional shelter for homeless families, even though it serves an entire neighborhood. Over 2,000 people have attended programs planned for children, teens, adults, and seniors.
One 66-year-old woman said of her “Sit and Be Fit” exercise class, “this is nice for retired seniors in the community. Since this is in my community and only a minute away, I thought this would be a fun thing to do on a Monday morning.”
Yet another public library — this one in St. Catharines, Ontario — took a different, yet equally engaging, approach. In partnership with Meals on Wheels, they provided 2,700 seniors in the community with free takeaway bags over six months. The library pointed out in a May 2021 news article that “The bags [would] have themes such as home safety, fitness, birding, gardening, and more, and [would] include activities, equipment, and pertinent information.”
Still, activities for older adults go beyond these entertaining activities. For example, some public libraries have adopted the role of social matchmakers, whether platonic or romantic!
Seniors Making Social Contacts Thanks to the Library
In 2020, libraries across densely populated Long Island, NY, took on both the pandemic and seniors’ need to remain isolated. Librarians there understood that this group is likely to suffer from loneliness almost as much as a dangerous virus. So, they began finding ways to deliver the regular library classes and events directly to the homes of this vulnerable group.
As with many other libraries, some of these presentations were interactive and used Zoom or similar group communication technologies so seniors could meet one another and hold discussions. And in the Town of Huntington, the Senior Center delivered exercise videos on TV’s Optimum Channel 18 and FiOS Channel 38 in the morning and late afternoon to early evening and via the center’s Facebook page.
Did any romantic relationships develop during this New York “Pause” period? We can’t say for sure. However, we know that some public librarians have assumed the role of connecting single older adults.
Yes, that’s right. Because some seniors “are looking to make actual soul connections, some librarians are now moonlighting as matchmakers.” Outreach Services Manager Tina Williams has been running the two-hour dating class Dating Over 50: Have Fun, Be Safe on the last Friday of each month at the White Oak, Illinois Romeoville branch library (and less frequently at the district’s two other branches) since 2017.
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Using 21st-Century Technology
Librarians understand, almost intuitively (and through a lot of experience), how to help seniors approach new technologies that will help them locate the information they need. Some create short paper tutorials for older (and younger) users that they can take to a nearby computer.
Not only did today’s seniors not learn computer skills while in school because they didn’t exist “back then,” but new applications continue to appear nearly every day. What’s more, many of them don’t own and perhaps can’t afford home computers. So libraries offer two services in one: computer access plus tutorials equal improved knowledge and understanding of new technology.
But how can libraries get computers in the hands of senior patrons? Like the iPad and Kindle Fire, tablets are easy to carry and use. Low-end PCs running Windows 10 are an option for libraries with sufficient budgets. However, they must come packaged with:
- Cases (for carrying, protection, and storing accessories)
- Charging and peripheral cables
- Any needed assistive technology
It’s sometimes true that older adults say they embrace new technologies but quickly grow frustrated trying to use them. As Shengzhi Wang of the Design Lab at the University of California San Diego pointed out after conducting a study on this topic for the journal Healthcare, “frustration appeared to be a significant barrier, which led to a lack of self-confidence and motivation to pursue using the technology.” So, public libraries have essential roles to play by helping them learn.
The Best of All Worlds: Seniors Enjoying Public Libraries
For many public libraries, intergenerational learning is a current and, hopefully, future trend. The more age groups (not to mention cultural backgrounds) participating in library discussions, workshops, and other events, the greater the learning. Former First Lady and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton used to say, “It takes a village to raise a child.”
We would change that only slightly to say that it takes an intergenerational meeting of the minds to provide the support and learning every generation needs for a strong future. There is no shortage of senior “Baby Boomers” today. And although a lot are now retired, many still lead active lives.
Public libraries understand this and continue to pursue intergenerational activities, where children, adults, and seniors can learn and share their knowledge and perspectives.