Over the past decade library leaders and librarians across the country have become aware of the increasing number and proportion of older adults in the nation and in their communities. They have recognized the diversity of these older generations and the lack of alignment between their interests and needs and current library programs for “seniors.”
As a result, some librarians have started to question long-established structures. They have started to experiment with new collections, programs and community partnerships, and even to replace the long-standing term “senior services,” with new phrases such a “Next Chapter,” “Boom Time at the Library,” and “creative aging programming.”
Spaces for older adults have been developed or renovated, such as the Tempe Public “Tempe Connections Café,” Library’s and New Haven’s “50+ Transition Center.” Passive entertainment is being augmented or replaced by participatory and/or peer led activities such as photography workshops, financial planning counseling and intergenerational poetry readings. Planning for the new activities is being carried out with rather than for older adults, and partnerships with organizations in the arts, social services, higher education, health and local government are helping to broaden the topics and formats for library programs.
Despite the lack of a recognized model for the new 50+ library services, they are characterized by several qualities that mark them as responsive to the new dynamics of aging. These emerging “benchmarks” include: *
- An emphasis on diverse programming rather than one-size-fits-all
- Reflection of recent scholarship on older adult development, particularly cognitive development
- Engagement of older patrons in planning and/or service implementation
- An emphasis on participation, skills mastery and individual or group expression
- Inclusion of opportunities for peer exchange and social dialogue and, also, communications across generations
- Partnerships that enable the library to leverage community expertise and specialized resources for the benefit of older patrons
- Activities that are replicable and sustainable, rather than one-time events
Although these “benchmarks” are not yet codified in library literature or taught in schools of library and information science, they are important as an emerging scaffolding for the evolution of 50+ services and 50+ libraries in response to population aging.
* From 50+ Library Services