By Allan M. Kleiman, Chief Consultant, Library Consultant(s)-on-Call, Old Bridge Public Library
The “silver tsunami,” is near! The population throughout the United States aged sixty and older is projected to grow substantially in the near future as the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) reach retirement age. In 2000 there were 1,443,800 New Jerseyans aged 60 and over. By 2025, it is projected, that the NJ population will number over 2.5 million in this age group. While the current US national average for those over the age of 60 is 13.5%, New Jersey already has over 17.2% of the population over 60, and this it is expected to grow to 23.6% by 2025.
With these demographics as a background, the Old Bridge Public Library (OBPL) began to seek ways to better serve multiple generations of older adults—now and into the future. In June 2006, the Library Board of Trustees began the process of developing a Strategic Plan. They quickly identified baby boomers and older adults as a potential area of growth and a “new mass audience” for the Library. They challenged the Library staff to “think outside the box” in terms of how to differently serve this population.
The challenge resulted in the initial idea for the “senior spaces” concept that was developed by the Library’s Assistant Director, Allan M. Kleiman, an expert in the area of library services to older adults. Working with the Adult & Information Services Department, this concept was then presented at a series of staff meetings, community focus groups and Library Board meetings for fine-tuning.
A detailed budget of $30,000 was developed for the project and the Library sought potential funders. In the end, funding of $10,000 each was provided by a contract with INFOLINK: The Eastern New Jersey Regional Library Cooperative and through a grant from the New Jersey State Library, using LSTA funds. The library’s Board “invested” in their future by funding the final $10,000 for the project.
At the same time as the budget was developed, a location was selected in the Central Library that would serve as the “physical” location for the project to parallel the existing Children’s Room and Young Adult space. The decision was made that “Senior Spaces” would best be located near the Library’s Large Print, World Language, New Fiction and Periodical “Living Room”, providing visibility and a bit of quiet in the Library’s open-air design. The term “Senior Spaces,” which was used as a concept remained as the marketing brand of this new library service. In a Library in which everything from the carpeting to the tables was blue, in order to set the space apart, the “Senior Spaces” area utilizes red.
“Senior spaces” in the Old Bridge Public Library was designed using the concept of “spaces within spaces” or activity areas. These are places where customers can actively engage in self-learning and discovery. Universal design and making the space accessible played an important role in the overall design plan as well. Thought was given to ensure that there were wheelchair height tables, large screen computer monitors, bulletin boards at wheelchair height, large print keyboards, “talking books,” a closed-circuit enlarger and a receiver from the “Radio Reading Service” in New Jersey.
Customers can listen to a Book-on-CD, a DVD or a music CD anytime they choose at one of our two “learning” workstations. In addition, the redesigned library space provides a variety of seating options for customers of all ages; everything from rocking chairs to hard back seating, to comfortable “plush” chairs that you might find in your own living room. On regular basis the “Senior Spaces” librarian can be seen showing customers how to use the equipment or the basics of video gaming, using the Wii.
But the centerpiece of this space has to be the merchandised “bookstore” where seniors can browse for a magazine to read in the Library, a book to take-home, or even DVDs of interest. Rather than arrange the area in a Dewey-like format, fully merchandised shelving was chosen that allows customers to explore topics like: “Your Family & Friends,” “You’re Still Learning,” “Your Health,” “You Remember When,” and “Your Retirement.”
One of the key reasons for success of “Senior Spaces” has been working with the Baby Boomer and older adult community through the Advisory Board. This group of 10 men and women meet monthly with the staff and provide feedback and guidance to the Library on the project. They have encouraged the Library to reach out to community groups, to provide book collections in senior residences, and have they have assisted the Library in program suggestions, promotion and marketing.
Once the physical space was opened to the public in June 2007, the Library began to look at programming efforts. A Friday afternoon program for Baby Boomers and older adults was introduced to complement existing adult programming in the evening and on weekends. Basic computer classes were expanded to include training on digital cameras, blogging, podcasting, and Second Life. “Senior Spaces” and the Youth Services Department joined forces in developing inter-generational activities around gaming using the Wii. Book discussions were expanded, outreach programs were initiated, and a woman’s discussion group and international film series were developed. All of this was in place by June 2008 when “Senior Spaces,” celebrated its one-year anniversary. New services were based on comments, feedback and survey results that we received from our library customers.
Even before the official opening, there was great interest in “Senior Spaces.” Presentations on the project have been made at local, state, national and international library conferences. Building upon the Old Bridge experience, plans are now underway in spring 2009 for INFOLINK to expand the “Senior Spaces” concept to three libraries in Central New Jersey and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Libraries plans up to six projects over the next year. For more information and details about the project along with a developing toolkit for libraries, check out the “Senior Spaces” site at: www.infolink.org/seniorspaces.
For more information, please contact Allan M. Kleiman at Kleiman@aol.com or at 732-738-5183.