by Donna Marie Smith, Systemwide Adult Programming Coordinator
Palm Beach County Library System, Florida
They might be known as seniors, the elderly, senior citizens, old people, 55-plus-year olds, or the AARP crowd. In South Florida, they are fondly called Snowbirds. They may or may not be retired. They may be active and healthy or may be in need of a little assistance. Regardless of how they are called or perceived or what their age is, these “older adults” are a diverse group of people hailing from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. They have a wide variety of interests, skills, needs, and tastes. Basically, the primary commonality of this group is their age.
Here at the Palm Beach County Library System (www.pbclibrary.org), located in the largest county in Florida, older adults are a vibrant and active part of our library community. They are supportive and appreciative of the variety of materials and services we provide, but most especially, they take advantage of the free, quality programs and events that we have each month. While we do not have a separate programming schedule for seniors, we do provide workshops and classes that older adults are traditionally interested in: health and wellness, computer basics, financial and estate planning, tax assistance, and genealogy. For example, our award-winning Community Health Information Services department offers workshops on such topics as Medicare benefits, heart health, and other medical issues, in conjunction with government agencies and nonprofit organizations. Several of our locations, including the Main Library in suburban West Palm Beach and our Hagen Ranch Road Branch in Delray Beach, work with local organizations and health care providers to present a community health fair right in the libraries! Hundreds of seniors come out to get free information, blood pressure screenings, wellness tips, and to have fun with their friends and neighbors.
Some of the programs that are the most successful with seniors are those that we offer throughout the Library System: our annual book discussion series, our annual Writers Live! author event, and our adult summer reading program. Older adults make up about 75 percent of the attendance at these popular book-related events. Musical and theatrical performances are also very popular among seniors. For example, the Presidents & Their First Ladies, Dramatically Speaking (www.presladies.com) performances by husband and wife acting team, William and Sue Wills is an annual favorite at our libraries, particularly with our seniors who make up most of the audience at each of the 12 performances we host.
For any library interested in providing quality programming for seniors, here are some guidelines to keep in mind:
- Remember, all older adults are not alike. Their specific age is irrelevant. Adapt programming ideas to your community; forgo the “cookie-cutter” approach to programming. Events and programs geared to multi-cultural populations should also be considered.
- Programs that encourage life-long learning and empowerment are key ingredients to a successful senior program.
- Consider the seniors’ needs. If they are “active adults”, programs that incorporate gentle or moderate activity like Tai Chi, Wii Bowling, and container gardening are excellent ideas. For seniors who are physically limited, programs that provide entertainment and encourage a sense of community are important factors in the planning process.
- For all stages of a senior’s life, activities and workshops that engage the mind -- crafts, lectures, book discussions, computer classes – can be extremely beneficial to maintaining a quality of life. Lectures on politics and current events, Socrates Café, writing groups, scrapbooking are all popular with older adults.
- Talk to your seniors. Get their input through program evaluation forms and surveys. Consider forming a Senior Advisory Board to help you develop your program plan.
Serving your older adult population through quality programming can be a rewarding experience for both you and your patrons. The key to successful senior programming lies in keeping an open mind, being creative, and having fun!
For Further Reading
Guidelines for Library and Information Services to Older Adults
Honnold, RoseMary. Serving Seniors: a How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians, no. 127. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2004.
Mates, Barbara T. 5-Star Programming and Services for Your 55+ Library Customers. Chicago: American Library Association, 2003.
Piper, David, Serentity Palmer, and Bo Xie. “Services to Older Adults: Preliminary Findings from Three Maryland Public Libraries,” Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 50.2 (Spring 2009): 107-118.
The Public Library as Programming Resource for the Senior Community
Targeting the Ages: Programming that Hits the Mark: Soaring to Excellence Teleconference, College of DuPage