Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Public Library Strategies for the over 50s: Everything Old Is New Again-Or Is It?

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Public Library Strategies for the over 50s: Everything Old Is New Again-Or Is It?

Article excerpt

Will public libraries be serving a new breed of senior as the baby boomers age? What will an over 50 community with a passion for enjoying life and exploring new horizons demand from their public library services? How will libraries meet the increasing demand for services to frail aged clients? Strategies for libraries designing services and programs for the over 50s are considered. Edited version of a paper presented at the Next Chapters conference, State Library of NSW 1-2 May 2009.


In 2011 the leading edge of the baby boomer generation will reach 65 years of age. This heralds a significant change for public libraries both in demand for services and also in the style of services they promote to older people. There has been much speculation about how the baby boomers will approach these years. Far from being a homogenous group, the older adults of the future will be a diverse range of library clients with a great variety of needs and priorities. Perhaps more significant is the anticipated increase in the number of people over 85 years and the need to future proof library services for frail aged and housebound community members.

The age wave: a new era

Between 2000 and 2030, the Australian Bureau of Statistics projects that Australia's population will increase by approximately one third. In the same period the number of people aged 65 years and over is projected to increase by 139% and will comprise more than one in five of the total population, or 5.7 million people.

Projection scenarios developed by Statistics New Zealand show the number of New Zealanders aged 65 years and over will exceed one million by the late 2020s, compared with half a million people aged 65 years and over in 2006. New Zealanders aged 65 years and over are also projected to outnumber the population aged under 15 years by the mid 2020s. (1)

Why are we getting older?

The main factors driving ageing in the Australian and New Zealand populations are declining fertility rates, increases in life expectancy and shifts in the level and composition of migration. Internal migration can also cause even higher proportions of older people in some local communities, a common phenomenon in many rural areas where younger people leave to find work and educational opportunities.

There are two dimensions to the ageing of communities

* numerical ageing--the numbers of older people increasing

* structural ageing--the proportion of older people in comparison with younger people and people of working age increasing.

The ageing of the cohort known as the baby boomers in Australia and New Zealand has both of these dimensions.

Why are the baby boomers different?

Baby boomers is a term that describes the generation born between 1946 and 1964. The leading edge baby boomers turn 65 in 2011. However there are vast differences between the life circumstances of the leading edge and the trailing edge boomers. As a cohort, boomers are educated, opinionated, articulate and well organised. Throughout their careers they are likely to have had the opportunity to work with computers. They have also been hit hard by the global financial crisis, with demographer Bernard Salt commenting that with diminishing superannuation balances caused by the global financial crisis

   Unlike younger generations, who have time
   to recover, there's no slack in the boomer
   retirement plan. The solution may be that
   boomers will have to work longer ... but I
   think a further concern is shaping the
   boomers' view of the world. And it relates to
   the ageing of their parents. The boomers
   have notched up many 'firsts': first protest
   generation; first women's rights generation;
   first generation to change sexual mores. But
   there's a new first they're just discovering.
   The generation born in the late 1940s and the
   '50s is the first to witness their parents'
   progress into frail old age. … 
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