Institute on library services for baby boomers

In mid-July, California State Library (CSL) Library Programs Consultant Suzanne Flint attended the Lifelong Access Libraries Leadership Institute at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Flint was one of 23 Fellows who participated in the five day event that addressed how libraries might better serve the nation’s millions of baby boomers nearing retirement age. The Institute is one component of a multi-year initiative funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies and facilitated by Americans for Libraries Council.

Of the 23 participating Fellows from rural and urban public libraries in fifteen states, California boasted three members, Flint, Richard Bray from Alameda County Library and Lynne Cutler from Oakland Public Library.

Discussing boomer demographics and trends, civic engagement, intergenerational programming, brain health and community collaborations in North Carolina were the nationally acclaimed Mary Catherine Bateson, writer and cultural anthropologist; Dr. Robert Butler, professor of geriatrics at Mt. Sinai and Pulitzer-prize winning author; and Dr. Paul Nussbaum, clinical neuropsychologist and author.

Aging trends in California

Flint explains that California, like the rest of the nation, will soon experience a tremendous aging boom.   The state’s elderly population is expected to grow more than twice as fast as the state's total population, increasing 112 percent from 1990 to 2020.  As early as 2010, 1 in 5 Californians will be 60 years of age or older. Flint notes that some California libraries are already progressively addressing aging and disabilities issues.

Though the increased number of aging Californians could be a strain on the state, Flint and her colleagues analyzed ways to make boomers’ vitality, knowledge and skills a benefit to their communities via their local library, already a familiar community hub for adults.

Older Americans, Flint reports, want to remain engaged in the broader world and to continue learning. At the Institute Flint learned that current library services for "seniors" do not address the potential contributions of baby boomers. If libraries can transform their practices to support lifelong learning and civic participation, they will help mediate the great social transformation that this growing demographic of healthy, active older Americans signals. Flint says, "It's exciting to be considering new approaches to library services in response to this pressing demographic and societal opportunity."

State Librarian of California Susan Hildreth says of the trend, “When Baby Boomers retire, their skills, energy, and cultural sophistication are certain to benefit California’s communities. Libraries need to be ready to take advantage of these engaged citizens.”

 

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