Libraries are an important aspect of every community across the world. Modern libraries are not just places where people can easily borrow books, libraries have also integrated a wide range of other services, such as digital skills and technology education, health and fitness information, which assist libraries to remain relevant in the current ever-evolving society.
As libraries continue to plan activities for this demographic group, some questions arise such as what are the benefits to have targeted resources for seniors and what impact does this have on the community?
To have a better understanding over the topic at hand, it is necessary to have a look into the reasons why libraries are a place of interest for seniors while looking at some statistics from the past 20 years, with the North American continent being the reference point.
The technological implications and ageing
In the USA, a senior citizen is considered to be a person over the 65 years mark – but this does not mean that all those who fit in this category have the same struggles or needs. Advancements in the medical field have had an impact on the life expectancy, with our average life span reaching in the upper 70s nowadays.
In the future, there will be more elderly people who are digitally literate and comfortable using computers, as they would be familiar with the internet as they would have had experience using it while growing up or in a working environment. Therefore, the future senior generations will be likely more open to the new opportunities that technology has to offer.
The past 15 years have seen libraries to go through an unprecedented revolution: due to the rapid development of technology and the widespread of the internet becoming more accessible all around the world, libraries have been keeping up by offering computer access at their locations and/or running digital literacy activities to inform and educate their participants.
With these facts in mind, it makes sense that libraries offer relevant services for seniors who have different or varied needs that libraries can help address.
Feeling welcomed every time
Due to the librarians’ passion and their efforts to offer a most welcoming experience to everyone that steps through their domain’s gates, libraries play a very important role in their local communities.
After the invention of public computers and, of course, the internet, the role of public libraries changed forever. Librarians have had to tackle new tasks such as helping visitors access websites, print a document or simply apply for jobs. Perhaps this paradigm shift could be seen as the catalyst for the increasing number and variety of activities that libraries across North America offer, allowing to understand their visitors and their needs better.
In short, libraries can be seen as a multi-purpose place that feels welcoming to everybody. This fact is particularly important for elderly people, since they are more prone to require assistance with tasks that they do not have familiarity with.
Being healthy, the latest trend
With health becoming a trending topic in society, it is important to highlight that some of the library programs related to physical activities, such as running or yoga, as well as information on ageing, healthcare and nutrition. These are all activities that senior citizens have been able to get involved with to improve their physical health. By choosing the library as the venue to do these activities it provides them with a safe and familiar place to try new things such as new physical activities.
This showcases that libraries and librarians are aware of the current needs in their communities, and try to tackle them either through their knowledge and skills, or by partnering up with volunteers, local community organizations or social workers who can run the programs mentioned above.
What makes libraries great for elders
In a 2018 research article on public libraries, research has found out that senior citizens tend to prefer a hands-on approach when it comes to learning new skills, preferably in a group with other elders.
Furthermore, in a 2019 survey conducted by Dr. Noah Lenstra, who started Let’s Move in Libraries back in 2015, showcases some of the most important aspects of running these activities in a library. Most libraries that took part in the survey offer an exercise-based activity for seniors at least once a week, implementing them 3 to 5 years ago. The main people who run the programs are volunteers or local community organizations, with the main partners being senior centers, fitness studios and community organizations.
Accessibility for everyone
As a staple of their communities, libraries are often a reference point which is known by everyone, and their innovations do not stop in the digital industry. In order to assist their senior patrons in an easier manner, more libraries have improved the access to books for them by either implementing easy to access bookshelves, waiving fines for members over the age of 65 or providing special computers that can be accessed by those with visual or auditory health issues.
Libraries can be seen by elders as a central point for information related to health and ageing, which can be distributed both online but also in person by visiting the library. Additionally, libraries have in most cases the possibility to offer the necessary space for running these activities, as well as the means to make them possible in case of need.
It is worth to stress here that the staff’s willingness and openness to their patrons is a factor that greatly influenced the apparition of library activities focused on the needs of seniors. This trend has gained more traction in the past 5 years across the North American continent, with more and more examples coming up globally, in an effort to bring communities together and care for our elders.
As times goes by, despite technology advancing at a fast pace, people will start looking after their physical well-being with more interest and care. Libraries already started to have an impact when it comes to spreading awareness throughout their communities about healthcare, with seniors first in mind to receive the message. Libraries have also been the place to bridge the gap in regard to technological education and skills, with seniors being an active segment to use these resources.
It could be said that the fuse has already been lit and having access to nutritional, healthcare and physical activities in libraries will become a norm rather than an exception to look up towards. The change begins with the most important people at the center of it, mainly librarians, as it is through their efforts, passion and dedication that the well-being of their community members will always take center stage and be an important focus.
We will be back next week with another interesting article from the library world!
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