1 The Reference Librarian, 50:99 108, 2009 Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: print/ online DOI: / WREF The Reference Librarian, Vol. 50, No. 1, November 2008: pp Reference Services to Senior Groups in the San Antonio Public Library Reference P. Prasad Services to Senior Groups PANNAGA PRASAD Central Library Division, San Antonio, TX The senior population in America is expected to double from 35 million in 2004 to 70 million by 2030, creating an ever-growing need for libraries to provide quality senior services and programs. This article discusses the services and programs that the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) offers for senior groups, the issue of additional services that the SAPL can provide in the future to accommodate the needs of seniors groups and those with disabilities, and what services other public libraries provide to senior citizens. KEYWORDS library services, library programs, public libraries, senior groups, senior citizens, disabilities INTRODUCTION There are many senior citizens with special library needs. Due to their relative inability to access library programs and services induced in part by a wide variety of perceived or actual barriers such as living in nursing homes or residential homes, seniors with disabilities may no longer be able to come to the library. Seniors with limited English proficiency, those living in poverty, and those from different cultural backgrounds may also have special needs (Honnold 2004). The latter group can physically visit the library to use the resources and services provided. The main goal of the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) service is to attempt to provide all seniors equal access to global information resources and high-quality library programs and services that will assist them in fulfilling their individual needs to the greatest extent possible (San Antonio Public Library 2004). Although the library does not have a department Address correspondence to Pannaga Prasad, City of San Antonio, Central Library Division, 600 Soledad, San Antonio, TX
2 100 P. Prasad that exclusively serves seniors, SAPL attempts to provide library services to this group based on the seven guidelines set by ALA for serving seniors (ALA 1999). SERVICE PRIORITIES Integrate Library Service to Older Adults into the Overall Library Plan, Budget, and Service Program SAPL does not specifically allocate services and resources exclusively to senior citizens. Instead, it provides integrated library services to all age groups, including seniors, in a comprehensive library plan, budget, and service program. Provide Access to Library Buildings, Materials, Programs, and Services for Older Adults San Antonio is a multi-ethnic community with an international flavor. People of many different ethnic origins use library services. According to recent census figures, 59 percent are Hispanic, 32 percent are Anglo, and 7 percent are African Americans living in San Antonio (Anonymous 2007). 1 The SAPL provides a large collection of library materials in Spanish and Latino languages as well as other foreign languages to meet the needs of the diverse population. For elderly people who have disabilities or visual problems or are wheelchair-bound, SAPL has special need services with rooms, material, and equipment. SAPL frequently organizes programs that are helpful to seniors on topics such as Medicare or health information (San Antonio Public Library 2007b). The SAPL publicizes these programs heavily using TV ads, newspapers, radio and flyer distributions, and postings throughout the library and on the SAPL homepage. In addition, SAPL buildings have been built to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards for access to the library that consider the welfare of all people including seniors. SAPL offers computer-training services to people of all ages, including senior citizens. According to the Senior Net Survey on Internet Use, seniors age 64 to 75 years are the fastest growing segment of Internet users (SeniorNet 2002). They seem to enjoy using cyberspace to access information on education, health, genealogy, and hobbies. They are also involved in online communication that helps them to mitigate any feelings of being isolated from society and use the Internet to communicate with family and friends. To assist these seniors, SAPL offer computer facilities on site. In addition, it also offers free classes on basic computer usage, like ing fundamentals, web basics, and word processing to all age groups, including senior citizens. These
3 Reference Services to Senior Groups 101 classes assist seniors to learn computer skills and become Internet savvy (San Antonio Public Library 2007a). The SAPL also offers genealogy services for all ages including seniors. The SAPL has a Genealogy division called the Texana/Genealogy Department that seniors like to visit for conducting genealogy searches (Texana/ Genealogy Department 2003). SAPL also offers a separate Government Documents department catering to all ages. Seniors may find this department useful for any governmental-based information, particularly related to Medicare, tax preparation and assistance, and social security (San Antonio Public Library 2002). Treat Older Adults with Respect San Antonio has a large population of senior citizens. People aged 55 years and older represent approximately 36.1% of San Antonio s estimated 2007 population. The senior population in San Antonio is also diverse with significant numbers from African American, Hispanic, and Asian backgrounds. The Hispanic/Spanish population continues to be the fastest growing group locally and represents the group that could most benefit from literacy training assistance. At home, at least 40.6% of people living in San Antonio do not speak English as their primary language. Based on these facts, the SAPL provides assistance to these diverse groups by hiring staff who can speak both Spanish and English (Anonymous 2007). The city has been selected as one of the best places for retirees to live according to a recent edition of America s 100 Best Places to Retire (Armstrong 2007). The city offers economic, social, and cultural benefits to seniors. If seniors select San Antonio as their retirement home, the SAPL can expect increased patronage. The SAPL is aware of these developments and continues to offer top-notch programs and services to treat all these older adults and diverse groups with respect. Use the Experience and Expertise of Older Adults The SAPL welcomes volunteer participation for all people aged from 14 years and up. Volunteers create good public relations for libraries and can provide and expand services professionals cannot achieve due to limited time and full schedules. The SAPL library will train volunteers and partner with volunteer organization. The SAPL also offers evaluation surveys for feedback from older patrons to continually improve our services to this important group. The SAPL also allows seniors the flexibility to volunteer their services in any of the many task areas in the library. This allows the seniors to select volunteer areas they are most comfortable in and provides them with an opportunity to enrich their lives (San Antonio Public Library 2007c).
4 102 P. Prasad Provide and Promote Information and Resources to Older Adults The SAPL provides many resources such as books, encyclopedias, magazines, Internet web links, and electronic databases to seniors on the topic of aging. For instance, the library offers an online brochure that compiles various web sites for senior citizens in general and for those with disabilities in particular (San Antonio Public Library 2007d). Today, seniors have become a major force using the services of the travel industry. According to the Travel Industry Association of America, grand-travel is becoming one of the fastest growing travel trends. Many in this group travel more, choose to remain active, and use travel services. The SAPL web site also includes appropriate travel-related information for this group. Seniors can also access SAPL electronic databases on various health aspects and find benefit in looking at the health information both in the library and from off-site using their SAPL card number (San Antonio Public Library 2007e). Provide Library Services Appropriate to the Needs of the older Adults The resource needs of seniors range from seeking information related to retirement, medical, and other age-related disability issues to knowing the procedure to draft up a will and much more. Our library professionals provide information on these topics to senior patrons. If information requires secondary research, our professionals conduct this research and inform people of the results by phone, through , or through regular mail. Many seniors may have difficulty accessing library resources due to lack of adequate mastery of computers or other factors. There are also senior members of our population with severe disabilities and special needs who visit our library frequently. Some senior citizens have hearing, vision, and memory loss and other health related/disability issues because of age. The SAPL currently offers services appropriate to the needs of the older adults such as special need materials, equipment, magnifying glasses, and materials request by mail for homebound individuals, collection of fiction and non-fiction books in large print format, books on tape and CDs for individuals who have difficulty reading, a small collection of Braille books, closed circuit televisions that allow material to be magnified onto a television or computer monitor, and computer terminals for the visually impaired. The library s offerings also include closed captioned videos and DVDs, descriptive videos, magnifying glasses for public use, a TTY (Teletypewriter) device service (that allows access to the library over the phone for people who are deaf), wheelchair accessibility and availability for the public to use at the main library, and sign language interpreter service at library events (if requested 48 hours prior to the event) (Stanford 2005).
5 Reference Services to Senior Groups 103 Collaborate with Community Agencies and Groups Serving Older Adults The SAPL partners with various health agencies to provide free health programs for seniors. For instance, SAPL has a partnership with the Bob Ross Senior Multi-service Health and Resources Center, a true one-stop clearinghouse for senior services. The center also offers information on book discussion groups and other related activities where seniors can make new friends and enhance their quality of life (Bob Ross Senior Multi-service Health and Resources Center 2008). In addition, the SAPL offers an outreach program that involves visits to nursing homes and day care facilities volunteers and library staff deliver or read books to seniors. For instance, SAPL staff has partnered with the Rotary Club, AARP, and the Beacon Hill Presbyterian Church that hosts an American Association of University Women book club service where large print format book talks and presentation on non-book materials such as audio books on CD and Cassette, VHS, and DVDs are arranged. The SAPL, in conjunction with these partners, engages in distribution of pamphlets and handouts related to genealogy and to SAPL special need services (Deleon, April 12, 2008). Many seniors have a passion for genealogy and seniors make up the majority in these clubs. The SAPL frequently offers book discussion meetings (in a variety of formats) and provides refreshments to patrons. A notable feature of these meetings is that all age groups are encouraged to attend, which allows the seniors to interact with people in different age groups. These meetings, therefore, enhance the quality of life for seniors. The SAPL has also organized a poetry month called Poetry Picante, where selected poetry is discussed. Here, all age groups are invited and rewards are often offered for the best discussions. In addition, there will be film shows on award winning films and Latin dance classes offered frequently for all age groups. Although not specifically targeted toward seniors, these forums offer seniors the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of age groups, thereby enhancing their quality of life. WHAT ADDITIONAL SERVICES CAN LIBRARIES PROVIDE TO SENIORS? The SAPL provides many services to accommodate the needs of seniors, just as many other libraries in the United States do. However, there are also other services that libraries can provide to seniors; some are offered at particular libraries, which serve as models for others. 1. Libraries can expand efforts to bring traditional, enhanced, or new library services to seniors in particular. The library can organize exclusive
6 104 P. Prasad senior focus groups where seniors can discuss among themselves what library services and materials are most useful to this group. Surveys may be offered to every senior patron, every resident in a nursing home, and every homebound patron to solicit feedback on the services, and a senior page established. A senior advisory board consisting of interested seniors from the community may be formed. This board may then be charged with the task of improving existing services or suggesting new services. 2. Libraries can build collections to serve senior adults. These collections could be housed in a specific department with a specific senior page exclusively devoted to senior citizen needs since senior interest in reading material can be different from that of other age groups. For instance, Cuyahoga County Public library has a senior page specific to senior adults offering health education programs, online information on community, government, Medicare and consumer information, travel, and recommended reading and listening (Cuyahoga County Library 2006). 3. Libraries can offer informative and entertaining programs devoted exclusively to seniors. For instance, the Boston Public library offers a program (labeled as the oldest library-sponsored program in the country) that offers informal programs such as lectures, films, videos, and concerts on Thursday afternoons, October through March, specifically for patrons ages 60 years and over (Boston Public Library 2007). Libraries can also offer programs such as summer and winter reading programs, cooking, crafts, games, genealogy, travel programs to share their travel experiences, performance and entertaining programs, senior teas, author guests, writing groups, coffee club for discussion of holidays, and commemorative events for senior audience that they would enjoy (Lamdin 1997). 4. Libraries can conduct programs in relation to senior groups that encourage integration and simultaneous participation of seniors with teens/children in library services. According to the recent U.S. Census, the numbers of children in grandparent-headed households have increased 30 percent since 1990 (U.S. Census Bureau 2008). The library can mix seniors with teens and children in participative forums that contribute toward bringing generations together to strengthen the community at the library. Children can benefit from frequent interaction with their grandparents and other experienced seniors. The library is the perfect meeting place for people of all ages, and intergenerational programming is the perfect setting to bring different generations together for an enriching exchange (American Library Association 2008). The library can also offer programs to seniors and children simultaneously, such as combined story times where the very young and the elderly are brought together for story times and book buddies programs (seniors and children are buddies sharing a story). For example, the Los Angeles Public Library has an ongoing program entitled Grandparents and Books that does precisely this, and has been a
7 Reference Services to Senior Groups 105 successful program for more than ten years (Los Angeles Public Library 2007). These programs can help increase awareness and contribute to a sense of the shared community. Libraries can offer Grandparents Day programs in which grandparents can spend quality time with their grandchildren in the library. These programs can be offered as collaborative ventures by the children/teen department and the outreach/senior adult department. Programs can be offered that invite teens and seniors together to discuss historical topics or offer a teen or senior web connection with seniors to learn how to use Internet (Brandt 2002). Other programs include titles such as Grand Time at the Library, Grand Recipes for our Grandchildren, and Grandparents and Grandchildren are Winners can also be offered in the library. During some of these programs and as appropriate, grandparents can share information related to the games they played when they were young. Information sharing on how to grandparent can also be shared at these forums. 5. A library can increase its involvement with outside agencies. The library can organize and support model programs in partnership with other community organizations and agencies that provide services to seniors in general. There are agencies that collaborate with libraries for the program such as the local council on aging, AARP, and Volunteers of America (AARP 1995). When libraries partner with other agencies, everyone benefits. Important organizations such as the AARP, churches and synagogues, the United Way, the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and Scout troops all provide services to seniors. The library can collaborate with these groups to enhance offerings to seniors, and also provide for a mutually beneficial partnership. For instance, the Tiffin Seneca public library participates each July in seniors day at the Seneca County Fair, a full day of activities planned just for seniors (Tiffin Seneca Public Library 2007). The Toledo-Lucas Public Library partners with several community agencies like Toledo Legal Aid, the American Red Cross, and Social Security Administration to offer a community-wide forum for grandparents. The program presents needed information, resources, and community connections for grandparents (Toledo-Lucas Public Library 2007). The library can also partner with local businesses, health and safety professionals, legal and financial professionals, book discussion groups, county fairs, and local charities to improve services to senior patrons. 6. Computer and Internet training is an important service that libraries can provide to seniors in particular. According to Jupiter research, it is estimated that the senior population is expected to surge to 16.3 million by Another SeniorNet survey indicated that two-thirds of online shoppers are older than forty years of age. Ninety-four percent of people stay in touch with family and friends, 70% research health information,
8 106 P. Prasad 72% access news, 52% make online purchases, 38% play games, and seniors spend more time (twelve hours per week) at the computer than any other age group (SeniorNet 2002). Seniors would enjoy access to beneficial information on health, fitness, retirement benefits, travel and entertainment, researching genealogy, producing memoirs, monitoring investments, starting a business, and communicating with faraway friends and relatives through and discussion groups. They can do online shopping, which is also more convenient for those who lack transportation or are homebound due to health or disability problems (Mates 2003). SAPL offers free computer classes on a routine basis starting from Web basics, Internet, set up, Word and Excel, etc. to all age groups. Due to the projected increase in the senior population (Area Agency on Aging), 2 more can be done to serve this group by directing them to online computer instruction sites such as AARP s SeniorNet and Cyber Seniors (Cohen 2001). Volunteers can be added as required to teach computer classes and as coaches during classes. Many libraries enjoyed success by teaming up teens and seniors for computer tutoring sessions. Some libraries offer offsite computer lessons by placing computers in the senior facilities. Others engage teachers or volunteers to teach classes for seniors from their own computer labs. A portable computer lab with laptop computers and wireless cards can be transported to senior citizen communities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior apartment complexes, for in-house training programs. 7. Libraries can encourage seniors to volunteer more of their time. For instance, senior volunteers can offer their services within libraries performing various activities as desired or required, can serve on senior advisory boards, or can serve as members of the friends of the library group (Friends of Libraries 2007). They can also assist in campaigning for more library funds for programming and special items from the local community, if possible. 8. Libraries can increase availability of library services to seniors by bringing the library to seniors where they live (Trottak 1993). The library can develop and implement programs to serve senior individuals with disabilities by taking the library to the homebound (Strauss 2003). For instance, the Ohio Valley Area Libraries offers a Books-By-Mail catalog online where patrons can order materials to be delivered right to their mailboxes (Ohio Valley Area Libraries 2007). Nursing homes like to provide outings for residents who are able to go out into the community. Libraries can schedule library visits for these residents and make it memorable and special. For instance, programs such as the Flags program (this program celebrates the U.S. Independence Day) and fosters a sense of patriotism among the participants. Older adults usually appreciate such programs, especially during the summer (Streufert 1994),
9 Reference Services to Senior Groups 107 a celebrate fall program during the fall season, and Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year theme programs during winter months. Finally, these programs can be assessed periodically to determine their effectiveness in helping targeted patrons by evaluating responses to patron surveys. Improvements to these programs can then be made on an ongoing basis. By learning from each other, all libraries can improve their services to seniors. NOTES 1. Anonymous The SRDS lifestyle market analyst. Wilmette, IL: Data Services. 2. Area Agency on Aging Administration on Aging: A Profile of Older Americans < REFERENCES AARP < American Library Association (ALA) Guidelines for library services to older adults. < American Library Association Services to the elderly, list of intergenerational programs. < Anonymous SRDS: The lifestyle market analyst. Wilmette, IL: Standard Rate & Data Service. Area Agency on Aging Administration on Aging: A Profile of Older Americans. < Armstrong, Elizabeth America s 100 places to retire. Houston, TX: Vacation Publications. Bob Ross Senior Multi-service Health and Resources Center Newsletter. < ver=true>. Boston Public Library Services to Senior Adults. < seniour.htm>. Brandt, Scott D Teaching technology: a how-to-do-it manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman. Cohen, Laura B Ten tips for teaching how to search the web. American Libraries 11: Cuyahoga County Library Senior space. < SeniorSpace.aspx>. Deleon, Cynthia SAPL outreach services to seniors. correspondence. Friends of Libraries Who we are? < Honnold, Rosemary, and Saralyn A. Mesaros Serving senior: a how-to-do it manual for librarians. New-York: Neal-Schuman. Lamdin, Lois, and Mary Fugate Elderlearning: New frontier in an aging society. Phoenix: Oryx Press Los Angeles Public Library Grandparents and books. < about/gab.html>.
10 108 P. Prasad Mates, Barbara T star programming guides and services for your 55+ library customers. Chicago: American Library Association. Ohio Valley Area Libraries (OVAL) Books-by-mail catalog online. < San Antonio Public Library Strategic Plan. < gov/library/ strategicplan.asp?res=1280&ver=true>. San Antonio Public Library. 2007a. Computer and internet classes. < San Antonio Public Library Government documents. < sanantonio. gov/library/govdocs/>. San Antonio Public Library. 2007b. Programs, events, book clubs, and others. < San Antonio Public Library. 2007c. Volunteer services. < library/support/volunteer.asp?res=1024&ver=true>. San Antonio Public Library. 2007d. SAPL websites: Seniors. < nio.gov/library/web/seniors.asp>. San Antonio Public Library. 2007e. Medicine health and mental health: SAPL electronic database. < SeniorNet SeniorNetSurvey on internet use. < default.php? PageID=6880&Version=0&Font=0>, Stanford, Dan Resources at central for customers with disabilities. SAPL Intranet Website. Strauss, Karen Your books are in the mail: launching a books by mail program. Public Libraries 42(1): Streufert, Duane The flag of the United States. < Texana/Genealogy Department Serving the past for the future. < Tiffin Seneca Public Library Seniors day at the Seneca County Fair. < Toledo-Lucas Public Library Partnerships. < startpage/senior/senior.asp>. Trottak, Marcia Managing library outreach programs: a how-to-do-it-manual for librarians. New York: Neal-Schuman. U.S. Census Bureau US Population Project. < www/projections/projectionsagesex.html>.
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