I think about old people – folks in their 70s like my own parents, and people in their 80s and 90s, who have relied on the library to serve a specific role for them their entire, lengthy, lives – the borrowing of books. When Kindles came out, my parents, both voracious readers, made the shift from paper books to digital, and now exclusively read newspapers, magazines, and books (fiction and non) on their iPads. Me, at the end of my 40s, still can’t bring myself to do it. I bring this up because while my parents have easily made this shift, I don’t know that many of their peers have, nor people in their age group who don’t have the same access to technology as they do. People older than my parents who want to remain connected to their communities rely on the library, its librarians, and its other patrons to provide that connection. We must remember to bring them along with us into the future.
There are elderly people who are interested in growing, learning, and actively participating in the library. They may not know how to use a digital catalog, check out their own books, know how to access a computer, or to use or manage an email account so they can receive notification of hold arrivals. To encourage the use of the library and maintain the patronage of the elderly, we must employ our personal qualities of empathy, understanding, and patience. We must understand how difficult it might be for someone to conceptualize the internet, and to understand how the digitization and/or sharing of collections can benefit them personally. We must be patient, deliberate, and respectful when explaining how a mouse works, and how one can access the information needed on the computer. A vibrant collection of analog of books must be maintained so that they can be checked out and taken home to be read, or read leisurely there in the library. We don’t know what efforts it may have taken for the patron to arrive, or if/when they will next be back. We don’t know the courage it might have taken someone to ask to be shown how to do something, so that they can access new features or services that are available.
Offering small group classes, orienting the elderly to the library and/or its changes, and providing small group guided tours, can help maintain the patronage of these important clients.