Programming and Issues in Senior Services

Back when I wrote about adult programming after a webinar on the topic, I promised I would follow up by sharing some of what I learned in graduate school when I investigated children’s and senior services for a course on public libraries.  Well, now it’s that time.  Doubly so since I had a long conversation on this topic with a coworker two weeks ago (more about the new part-time job will follow another week).  Thus without further ado…

Computer Basics taught by Barb Hauck-Mah

“Computer Basics taught by Barb Hauck-Mah” by RTLibrary from Flickr Creative Commons.

Serving older adults is important for public libraries because many frequent public libraries after retirement.  Literature suggests this is due to lack of workplace socialization and need for social interaction with fellow citizens.  Thus public libraries need to be designed with seniors in mind and offer older adults a wide range of programs.

The Decker and Kleiman articles (cited below) I read in graduate school addressed library space design.  Both stress that the need to conform to ADA requirements not only helps those with disabilities, but also make it easier for seniors to navigate the library.  Wide aisle width and lack of clutter allow not only wheelchairs through, but those who use walkers and canes can more easily access the library materials.  They also recommend ample, comfortable seating to allow seniors to rest while using materials and to promote social interaction with fellow patrons.

Decker and the Kitchener study advocate health programming for seniors.  The majority of health related information has been placed online because easier to keep updated.  Librarians must realize seniors may need to be taught how to access this information, as many do not have prior computer and/or internet experience.  This is even more critical today, as medical records in the United States are now required to be electronic and are accessible online to patients.

While the health programming and library space design are important within libraries, the overarching theme between all of the mentioned articles is seniors’ need for technological programming.  Many lack computer skills or only know the basics.  All the authors concurs that seniors need increased programming for technology and continuing support when using the technology.  The programming must be designed to encourage the seniors to become more confident with technology.  Seniors often need more help learning the technology, so longer courses and supportive library staff are very helpful in this regard.

Research within the studies supports the need for technology programming and continued support for seniors.  The Kitchener, Christchurch, and Xie/Jaeger studies indicate that teaching seniors computer skills over longer periods of time (days or weeks instead of hours) increases ease with the technology.  These studies also indicate that a hands-on approach is best because the seniors’ learning and confidence-level increased when they had a chance to perform the actions themselves.  The Christchurch and the Xie/Jaeger studies and Butcher and Street indicate that collaborative technology learning environments are best because seniors assisting each other further increases their confidence.

Lastly, to further aid senior programming, libraries should attempt to create partnerships with community organizations.  As Decker points out, when planning health programs for seniors it is a good idea to involve local health and fitness organizations.   They can not only contribute to the program, but can provide outlets to promote the presentations.  Honnold and Mesaros’ chapter “Partner with Outside Agencies” provided many other ideas of places to partner with, such as local charities, county fairs, local businesses, the American Association of Retired People (AARP), etc.  The partners may also have great ideas for library programs.

Any questions?  If you work in a library, do you have any points or ideas to add?


Note:  Because of database licensing issues, I cannot link to most journal articles.

Butcher, Wendy and Patsy-Ann Street.  “Lifelong Learning with Older Adults.”  Aplis 22, no. 2 (2009): 64-70.

Decker, Emy Nelson.  “Baby Boomers and the United States Public Library System.”  Library Hi Tech 28, no. 4 (2010): 605-616.

Hoffman-Goetz, Daniela B. Friedman, and Ann Celestine.  “Evaluation of a Public Library Workshop:  Teaching Older Adults How to Search the Internet for Reliable Cancer Information.”  Journal of Consumer Health on the Internet 10, no. 3 (2006): 29-43.

Honnold, RoseMary and Saralyn A. Mesaros.  “Chapter 5: Partner with Outside Agencies,” in Serving Seniors, 75-88.  New York:  Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2004.

–“Chapter 6:  Mix Seniors with Teens and Children,” in Serving Seniors, 89-113.  New York:  Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2004.

–“Chapter 7:  Surf the Net with Seniors,” in Serving Seniors, 89-113.  New York:  Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc., 2004.

Kleiman, Allan M. “Senior Spaces:  The Library Place for Baby Boomers, Older Adults & Their Families.”  IFLA Conference Proceedings (2008): 1-6.

Xie, Bo and Paul T. Jaeger.  “Computer Training Programs for Older Adults at the Public Library.”  Public Libraries 47, no. 5 (2008): 52-58.


8 thoughts on “Programming and Issues in Senior Services

  1. thank you for sharing your findings and citing your sources. the library I work at offers tech classes and we have many seniors who show for them, however the classes are 1-2 a month for 1 1/2 hours and we’ve been advocating for changing the format to once a week for an hour, solely based on our experience. now we have research to back it up. best!

    • Ms. Hernandez, you are most welcome! I’m extremely happy to hear that my research has helped you! That’s a first! I hope once you look at the actual articles and chapters mentioned (and perhaps the rest of “Serving Seniors;” it has other great ideas too) that your library is able to implement the change. Best of luck!

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