Reading Future Trends, Libraries Reach Out to Older Adults

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May 16, 2011; Source: SecondAct | Some enterprising public libraries around the country think there’s much more they can do to serve aging baby boomers. As a result, they’re starting programs and making other changes designed to cater to the interests and needs of adults between the ages of 50 and 75, a group that’s projected to represent 65 percent of U.S. library patrons by 2014.

In California, where up until a few years ago the state’s library system offered few programs for “mid-life adults,” the Transforming Life after 50 (TLA50) initiative now offers training and guidance on the kinds of programs and resources that would appeal to active, older adults. Stephen Risau, a Portland, Ore., consultant who helped on the TLA50 initiative, says that it’s in the best of interest of libraries “to change because boomers are living extended lives and have active lifestyles, and they’re looking for not only how they could participate in programs but increasing how they might contribute.”

According to SecondAct, changes can be as simple as asking adults who volunteer at the library what they would enjoy doing or find meaningful instead of just assigning tasks to anyone who comes through the door offering to help. According to assistant director Cornelia Van Aken, the Palo Alto library saw an opportunity to engage more mid-life adults in the library, especially those who weren’t interested in volunteering, by offering lunch-hour health and fitness programs.

In Portland, the Multnomah County Library has teamed up with local groups on a service-oriented book club program. Adults participating in Book-to-Action, read a book on a topic and then take part in a related community service project. For example, after reading about Portland’s homelessness problem, participants volunteered at a local center that serves homeless individuals.

At least one California library has come up with a variation of the Portland program. The Hayward Library focuses on organic farming in urban environments and offers participants in its program the opportunity to create gardens at area elementary schools.—Bruce Trachtenberg