Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Community Critical: Australian Public Libraries Serving Seniors

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Community Critical: Australian Public Libraries Serving Seniors

Article excerpt

In common with other developed countries Australia has an ageing population. Responding to the informational, learning, quality of life, wellbeing and independent living needs of that population will require increasing investment by all levels of government and agencies. This includes local government and particularly public libraries, local government's most heavily used and valued community provision. Some of those libraries are adequately funded to provide comprehensive and innovative responses to the varied needs of older adults. Most, however, are inadequately funded to provide such responses. They often lack the accessibility, buildings, space, resources, professional staffing and funding to ensure that all older adults are able to take full advantage of what a modern public library can provide for them. Knowledge of what they currently provide, and have the potential to provide if properly funded, is not well recognised by the Australian, state/territory and local governments. Edited version of a report to the nation by Friends of Libraries Australia available at


Like most developed countries, Australia's population is ageing. Since 1901 the proportion of people 65 years and over has tripled, and the fastest growing group is those aged 75 and over. By 2051 the former group is projected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics to be 25% of the population and the number of people over 60 will exceed those under 15 for the first time. Older adults will attract increasing political and bureaucratic attention. Not only are they a growing proportion of the population, the percentage of them with high levels of education is rising, something of particular import to public libraries.

However their impact on local government and public libraries will not be even. As the 2005 Ageing awareness and action survey report of the Australian Local Government Association states

   There are wide variations in the rate of population
   ageing across and within Australia's states and
   territories. It is projected that older Australians will
   continue to be concentrated in local government areas
   that are located along the east coast of Australia,
   particularly in Queensland.

   By 2019, the local government area of the oldest
   population in Australia is expected to be Bribie Island,
   Queensland. Around 37% of its residents are expected
   to be aged 65 years and over. This is an increase of
   9% from current levels, and almost 20% higher than
   the projected national average. Bilinga in Queensland
   will maintain its place as the nation's second oldest
   local government area with 35% of residents in this
   age cohort by 2019. Victor Harbor in South Australia
   will have 33% of its population aged 65 and above,
   making it the 3rd oldest local government area. (1)

Who is a senior?

In terms of chronological age, there are several answers to this question. The Australian government's seniors website www.seniors. specifies that it is a resource 'for all Australians over 50'. Most state seniors card entitlements start at age 60. Other sources and agencies use 65.

Chronological age alone is thus not a good definer of who is a senior. From older workers retiring in their 50s, to the elderly in their 80s and increasingly beyond, there is a wide range of physical capacity, experience, interests and mental alertness represented. No general definition of senior based on those individual aspects suffices either. Expectations, cultural background and economic life cycle add even more variables that separate seniors into several stages of ageing. The one thing that seniors have in common is that they are all different. In Australia, as in several other developed countries, the seniors population also comprises a diversity of races and cultures.

The first premise of planning library services for seniors is therefore recognition of this diversity, and avoiding gerontological stereotyping. …

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