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Libraries – Could They Help Support Positive Aging?

Libraries – Could They Help Support Positive Aging?

By Susan Williams

One of our friends shared the details of a recent conversation he had with his daughter who is currently in college.

She had been complaining to him about how much work she had to do at school. He shared with us the small rant he then had about how much easier she had it then when we were in school because of her easy access to information on the internet.

Beyond the humour of laughing about how we swore we would never have the “when we were kids” rants like our parents did, what our friend specifically focused on in his conversation made us really think back and chuckle.


Back in our day (oh, goodness – there’s another term I swore I would never use), any information or research we needed for school or a project we had to go to the library to get.

I can remember vividly racing to the library at the last minute when an assignment was due and praying that the book I needed to do my research was still available or was a resource that couldn’t be taken out.

At that time the library was really my only option to get information. That or the very brief summaries published in the encyclopedias my mother had collected from the local grocery store promotion.

Today it’s so different.

The internet now provides an unlimited resource and information smorgasbord 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.

My kids still use the library today.

However, it’s not for the information or research housed there. They will use it as a quiet study area when preparing a paper or studying for an exam. Sometimes my daughter will reserve a book online on the off chance it’s actually available.

As for myself, I rarely visit the library. Any information that I need, I pretty much google. And as for books, I often get them from friends, a garage sale or download them on to my e-reader.

So, I decided to go to the library the other day just to check it out.

It’s funny – when I walked in, I found I instantly had a sense of calm. It was like a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. While I was surrounded by the books and soft noise, I felt like I escaped into another world for a brief period of time.

Libraries used to be part of the heart of the community. And in many cases they still are. I even found some research that stated public libraries services are available to 93% of the population.

Beyond providing books and resources, they also provide a social gathering place and often offer programs specifically designed for young children to encourage reading and social interaction. Many have also expanded their reach to help other groups as well – immigrants, special need groups and senior programs are also being offered in many libraries.

But I wondered, could libraries be more?

Staying socially connected, keeping our brains active, and a need for purpose are just some of the requirements for healthy aging.

Could libraries play a critical role and support the development of opportunities to help close some of these gaps in our communities?

Here’s just a few of the ideas that I had;

Mentor Centers

There is so much knowledge and experience available within the older population that is just not being tapped into.

Business mentors, child rearing mentors, home repair mentors… the list just goes on and on. Over time, older people have built up a knowledge base that the younger generations could definitely benefit from. The library could be the community hub where this knowledge is cataloged, shared and mentor relationships matched. A library could also be used as the safe public place to meet and develop these relationships within the community.

Weekly Library Clubs Based on Interests

What interests you? Is it history? Is it art? Is it cooking?

Libraries were established to share resources and knowledge within the communities that they serve. Speakers, recommended books and resources, discussion groups. Wouldn’t it be great to spend some time discussing a topic that you’re interested in with other people who also had the same interests? Or if you’re an expert – even lead the group?

Elders Helping Youngers

Reading. It’s such a critical life skill and it doesn’t always come easy to children. What if the elders of the community helped the younger children learn to read. Or learn the basics of mathematics or any other primary skills for that matter.

The World Health Organization (WHO) referenced a program that placed older volunteers in schools to help children learn to read discovered the following benefits for the volunteers;

  • an increase in physical strength and capacity
  • increased cognitive activity
  • maintenance of walking speed
  • improvements in social networks – that is, volunteers had people that they could turn to for help
  • fewer depressive symptoms

Learning doesn’t have to be reserved to only schools. With libraries typically being so centrally located, this could truly be a community sharing program that benefits the entire population.

Libraries were designed to provide resources and knowledge to the communities they serve. But maybe it’s not always about serving.

Maybe the time is right to now have the older population provide their resources and knowledge back to the libraries.

And this could then benefit everyone.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.