Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Readers Advisory Services for Older Adults

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Readers Advisory Services for Older Adults

Article excerpt

This paper examines the range of readers advisory services being provided for leading edge baby boomers over 55, the well aged and the frail aged. Currently there is little targeting of readers advisory to specific age groups or agilities. Readers advisory services for older adults require experimentation, a willingness to make mistakes, and learning from those mistakes to provide more imaginative and better services. Edited version of a paper presented at the Next Chapters conference, State Library of NSW 1-2 May 2009.


In Australia and New Zealand we have ageing populations. There are quite a few countries in the same situation and we can learn from their experiences as well as having them learn from ours. Readers advisory services for older adults can help contribute to people continuing to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives. We should not take the same approach as Chicken Little--panicking and misreading the signs. The three little pigs form a better basis for planning as they learn from each other's experiences and succeed when they work together.

Another reason we should care is that we are faced with elderly relatives and friends as well as our own ageing. These services are for people who already use libraries as well as for people who have not yet discovered them. Readers advisory (RA) services are for people we know, and they may even be for us. It makes good sense from a service perspective to plan readers advisory services for older adults as it can provide a better outcome for the future of individuals as well as build community, and social inclusion. Libraries remain one of the few public spaces with intergenerational activity and interaction. The intergeneration space is important. While this conference is focusing on ageing because Australia and other developed countries have a rapidly ageing population, it is worth remembering this is not a universal trend--for example 50% of the South African population is under 20.

Current readers advisory services for older adults

As I could not find statistical information about readers advisory services for older adults, I collected my own through a brief survey of the state of readers advisory services for older adults via Australian, New Zealand, North American, and other international email lists. One hundred and seventeen library services responded.

The location of respondents was predominantly North America and Australia. However there were also responses from New Zealand and the UK. The aim of the survey was not to provide exhaustive data, but rather to locate indicative data. I wanted to find out how people had been thinking about this core service and how they had been planning for it in their library service. I also wanted to find out if people had not really been thinking about how to provide library services to this group of people.

Emails I received from people who had filled in the survey provided additional indicative data. They also gave me a large number of people who will be receiving summaries of the data I have collected because they would like to see the broad trends in service delivery and planning for service delivery in this area. I was not alone in noticing that the area had been underexplored in planning readers advisory services.

The comments from the survey demonstrate some of the thinking.

   We offer extensive reader advisory services to all
   individuals who come into the library,
   irrespective of age. Many who make use of this
   easily available service are older customers,
   which is offered to customers virtually all hours
   the library is open. At present we do not have
   specific plans to change this service, although we
   will shortly be further promoting the home
   delivery service.

The following comment highlights a certainty and confidence about the services already being provided.

   We will be updating our library system later this
   year and are planning a number of online RA
   initiatives including author lists, suggested reads
   and book groups. … 
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