Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Services to the over 65s in New South Wales Public Libraries

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Services to the over 65s in New South Wales Public Libraries

Article excerpt

As the Australian and New Zealand populations age public libraries will need to address the particular needs of the over 65 cohort. This paper looks at the provision of services to seniors in New South Wales in city and country libraries, the needs of seniors and how libraries are attempting to meet them


For all ages, nationalities and religions, libraries are centres to pursue study, recreational and other reading and more recently centres to learn about the world of the internet. As the populations of Australia and New Zealand age, libraries will play an important role in the well being of the over 65s. The United Nations estimates that the number of people over 60 is 629 million worldwide, growing to 2 billion by 2050. (1) A seven year study into the risks of dementia showed that it was reduced by eight per cent if leisure activities were engaged in. The pursuit of intellectual activities gave the highest risk reduction. (2) Libraries are adding to the general well being of seniors by running internet and computer classes, author talks and facilitating social networking. Moreover, they have the attractions of being generally free, air conditioned and secure, important considerations to seniors with limited incomes.

Public libraries are increasingly recognising the role they have to play in the quality of life for seniors. Lockyer-Benzie (3) highlights a survey conducted in Western Australia in 1998 amongst Western Australian senior card holders for the Office of Seniors. This survey (4) showed that the most popular activities for seniors in the previous 12 months were

Movies (55%)               Recreational walking (36%)
Library (42%)              Reading (31%)
Tourist attraction (40%)   Music concerts (30%)
Art gallery/museum (37%)   Live theatre (30%)
Gardening (36.5%)          Craft exhibitions (21%)

Whilst the major activity in libraries is still reading of newspapers, periodicals and books, the internet and internet training courses are increasing in popularity. (5) In fact, in the US older adult usage of computers has increased by 106 per cent in recent years and is expected to grow to 34 million by 2004. However, there has been no gender analysis of these library users.

One of the fallacies about ageing is that all will become frail and ill. Hugman points out that

   it will be less than one third of the population aged
   over 65 years who have a sufficient degree of frailty or
   ill health so as to require either assistance or support
   from others in their daily lives or the intervention of
   professional services (6)

The period of ill health prior to death is also reducing.

Selwyn (7) believes that computers can help seniors re engage with society and 'bridge the generation gap'. Computers can

   improve the situation and quality of life for all people.
   Secondly, technology is important to a social policy of
   ageing because it pervades every aspect of life ... and
   has the potential for assisting with many of the
   traditional problems associated with ageing

Blake (8) has argued

   for most older people, some kind of public access
   would seem the best solution, with the public library
   presenting itself as an appropriate venue. Increased
   availability of the internet in public libraries would
   certainly enhance opportunities for older people to
   gain access to the internet

Libraries are recognizing their role as internet trainers. Yet Gorard and Rees (9) state

   Although schools, libraries colleges and museums may
   well be physically located in communities, their
   connectivity with older adults is debatable. There is
   considerable evidence that adults (both older and
   younger) do not use [them] ... borrowing books from
   public libraries is mainly attractive to the social groups
   already well versed in the practice (10)

This means that libraries will need to rethink their marketing to encourage seniors who are nonusers. …

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