Services to Older Adults: Preliminary Findings from Three Maryland Public Libraries

By Piper, David; Palmer, Serenity et al. | Journal of Education for Library and Information Science, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Services to Older Adults: Preliminary Findings from Three Maryland Public Libraries


Piper, David, Palmer, Serenity, Xie, Bo, Journal of Education for Library and Information Science


This article reports preliminary findings of an evaluation of the services to older adults at three public libraries in Maryland. Data were collected in spring 2007 through interviews with nine library administrators and staff, and surveys with twenty-six older adult patrons at the three libraries. Approximately eight hours of observation were also conducted to gather contextual data to supplement the interview and survey data. The seven guidelines laid out by the American Library Association (1999) were used to guide the design of data collection instruments and the analysis of data. One key finding is that these libraries offer few programs and services geared to healthy and active older adults, thus leaving much room for improvement in the future. Interestingly, the libraries still received high praise from the older adult participants, a phenomenon that requires further examination. A number of recommendations are offered to help public libraries to better serve the aging population in their communities.

Keywords: Older adults, aging, public libraries, user satisfaction, American Library Association Guidelines

Introduction

The population of the United States is aging rapidly. By 2005, 36.8 million Americans were age 65 and above, a 9.4% increase since 1995 (Administration on Aging, 2006). The number of older adults in the country will continue to rise in the coming years as the Baby Boomers age. It is projected that the population of people 65 or older will expand to 40 million in 2010, and reach 55 million by 2020 - a 36% increase in that decade alone (Administration on Aging, 2006).

American public libraries have traditionally focused most of their resources on the frail, homebound, and older adults residing in institutions. While these initiatives were well-intentioned, they sometimes came at the expense of the majority of older adults who are active and generally healthy (Kleiman, 1995; Moore, 1985; Robertson, 2001; Van Fleet, 1989). In addition, similar to what Bundy (2005) found among the Australian libraries he studied, many public libraries in the United States do not have older adult specialists, or services and programs geared to older adults. Part of the challenge is that many public libraries, especially smaller and rural libraries, face increasing budgetary problems (Gordon, Gordon, Moore, & Heuertz, 2003; Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2004). But even when public libraries do offer these services, they are sometimes mixed with programs for other age groups (Van Fleet, 1989). As a result, older adults may not always receive age-specific attention (Van Fleet, 1995).

In this article, we report the major findings of the evaluation of library services to older adults at three public libraries in Maryland. Along the way, we aim to emphasize that older adults are not a homogenous user group, but rather have diverse interests, skills and needs, which public libraries need to better address. Finally, we propose potential further research directions, and recommendations to help public libraries better meet the needs of older adult patrons, including both those who are homebound or institutionalized and those who are more healthy and active.

Though the study described here has limitations with regards to the small sample size and the not-identical data collection instruments used at each library, we believe that the findings are still useful for public libraries nationwide. In particular, library staff could use our methods, findings, and recommendations to evaluate and improve their own programs and services to older adults, which could help to attract older adult patrons. Not only do public libraries potentially stand to gain assistance from older adults as volunteers, advisors, or staff, but these "satisfied customers" could be strong allies when county governments are deciding what public services should receive more funding (Mates, 2004).

Literature Review

Previous research has addressed the diverse information needs and interests of the older population (Jones, Morrow, Morris, Rites, & Wekstein, 1992; Moore & Young, 1985; Palmer, 1988; Wicks 2004). …

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