Aging & Libraries

Two older adults socialize during a painting class at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library.
Two older adults socialize during a painting class at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library. Do they look like “senior citizens”? (Photo credit: Herb Scher)

In this section of the Creative Aging in Public Libraries Toolkit we will look at the demographic and societal trends driving the positive aging movement and its potential to change how librarians understand and work with 50+ adults.

Age is in the Air

The aging of America is re-shaping all aspects of American life. From the workplace and the clinic to the campus and the home, growth in the numbers and the proportion of older adults is changing policies, practices, attitudes and expectations regarding people aged 50 and up.

These changes are perceptible in all sectors and institutions, including public institutions such as public libraries. Even in the face of long-standing professional practices that reflect outmoded assumptions about aging there are indications that libraries and librarians are beginning to change.

A Movement within Libraries

Some library leaders are questioning the language used to label older adults, i.e., “seniors,” some are questioning the current emphasis on outreach as opposed to participatory, in-library programming, some are consulting older adults in their service areas to learn from and work with them more effectively, and some are experimenting with new partnerships and programs in lifelong learning, financial planning, re-careering and creative aging.

These changes, collectively, constitute the emergence of a movement within the library community – a movement that envisions the public library as a hub for positive aging.

“… libraries are a place where people can discuss and totally change their understanding of who they are and what their potentials are.”

– Mary Catherine Bateson in Boomers and Beyond: Reconsidering the Role of Libraries

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