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Published by: PublicLibraryServicesNSW on Nov 18, 2010
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Readers advisory services for older adults
This paper will look at the range of readers advisory services being provided for leadingedge Baby boomers (over 55 years of age), the well aged and the frail aged. Whatshould we be planning for?
Why should we care about Readers advisory services for older adults?
In Australia and New Zealand we have an ageing population. There are quite a fewcountries in the same situation and we can learn from their experiences as well ashaving them learn from ours. Readers’ advisory services for older adults can helpcontribute to people continuing to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives. We should not takethe same approach as Chicken Little panicking and misreading the signs. The threelittle pigs form a better basis for planning as they learn from each other’s experiencesand succeed when they work together.Another reason we should care is that we are faced with elderly relatives and friends aswell as our own ageing. These services are for people who already use our libraries aswell as for people who have not yet discovered them. These readers’ advisory servicesare for people we know and they may even be for us. It makes good sense from aservice perspective to plan readers’ advisory services for older adults as it can providea better outcome for the future of individuals as well as build community, and socialinclusion. Libraries remain one of the few public spaces with intergenerational activityand interaction. The intergeneration space is important. While this conference isfocusing on ageing because Australia, and quite a few other countries have a rapidlyaging population, it is worth remembering this is not a totally global trend, for example50% of the South African population is under 20.
Current readers’ advisory services for older adults
As I could not find existing statistical information about readers advisory services for older adults, I collected my own information. I did a brief survey to find out the state oreaders advisory services for older adults. I distributed this survey via Australian, NewZealand, North American, and international e-mail lists. One hundred and seventeenlibrary services responded.The location of respondents were predominantly from North America and Australia,however there were also responses received from New Zealand and the UnitedKingdom. The aim of the survey was not to provide exhaustive data, but rather tolocate indicative data. I wanted to find out how people had been thinking about thiscore service and how they had been planning for it in their library service. I alsowanted to find out if people had not really been thinking about how to provide libraryservices to this group of people.E-mails I received from people who had filled in the survey provided additionalindicative data. They also gave me a large number of people who will be receivingsummaries of the data I have collected because they would like to see what are thebroad trends in service delivery and planning for service delivery in this area. I was notalone in noticing that this area had been under explored for planning for readers’advisory services.The following comments from the survey demonstrate some of the thinking from peopledelivering services in public libraries:
We offer extensive reader advisory services to all individuals who come into thelibrary, irrespective of age. Many who make use of this easily available service
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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 promotion of the home delivery service.
This comment highlights a certainty and confidence about the services already beingprovided.
We will be updating our library system later this year and are planning a number of online R A initiatives including author lists, suggested reads and book groups.We also intend producing more book marks and reading guides. Many of thesewill be of interest to older age groups but we have no plans to target specific agegroups.We combine all groups and pay no attention to the age of our RA customers.We are concerned with individuals.
In one way these next two comments are great as they describe readers’ advisoryservices as being inclusive, but it also does not take into account much diversity. Thediversity may not be clustering by age, but by reading interests, but this still needs toaccount for a diversity of formats. For example current science fiction readers do nothave many possibilities for continuing reading in this area of interest once they becomelarge print readers, unless they read e-books. They have only slightly better prospectsif they listen to talking books (in any format). Graphic novels have not made it intolarge print either. There are very limited options in large print or spoken word for people who read languages other than English. There are issues of equity based onreading preferences which need to be addressed.
 As far as I know, there is nothing being done to attract anyone of this age,except my group, which was not by conscious design. RA is so backward here......
This comment presents a different perspective.For the purposes of the survey I divided older adults into three groups. 55 – 65 year olds which is broadly leading edge baby boomers, fit over 65 year olds and frail over 65year olds. I divided the older readers into fit and frail as there are some servicedelivery differences depending on how agile and robust the reader is, while therequirements of finding interesting reading and possibly engaging with other readersremain much the same regardless of age.The first group, the 55 – 65 year olds is the most contentious, not least because of theeleven year clustering. This age group begs the question at what age does onebecome an older adult. I will leave the detail of this to others as it is not actuallyimportant to the ideas I am discussing. I think that sometimes an older adult is any ageolder than the people involved in the discussion as we are never the older adults beingtalked about.In looking at the survey results I realised that I probably could have had anycombination of age categories mentioned and not received significantly differentresults. From a review of literature as well as observation it would seem that muchreaders’ advisory work (other than some targeting children and young adults) does nottarget specific age groups or agilities. The results of my survey were no different and Ithink this highlighted a broader issue. People may not be targeting specific age groupsin the readers advisory work which is being done (other than the earlier mentioned
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children’s and young adult), but neither are they being strategic about intergenerationalreaders advisory opportunities. I will return later to the idea of intergenerationalopportunities for readers’ advisory services for older adults.Note in this paper ‘book’ refers to books (printed, online, e-books, audio and any other format) although there would also be relevance to dvds and online videos (if 
readers
advisory were stretched a little). ‘Reading’ refers to reading, and listening (althoughwatching could also be included if dvds and online videos are included).For the 55 – 65 age group 21% of libraries provide age specific reading groups. Thisdrops slightly to 19% of libraries targeting fit over 65 year olds for the same kind of activity, see tables one and two. The decline in numbers may hint at the decline inmobility for some of the readers. Some of the libraries in their comments clarified their answers by saying that although fit older adults were their main reading groupparticipants they had not specifically targeted these people, that it was an accidentalfocus rather than a deliberate focus. It is also possible that this participation could bebased on the times of the reading group discussions favouring age groups who are notin full time employment or those who work more flexible hours. Reading groups havebeen a growth area for the last few years. Over 75% of the surveyed libraries runreading groups for their community. The strength and numbers of reading groups islikely to increase as people continue to seek ways to engage with others.
table 1: Readers advisory services for 55 – 65 year olds
There are no online reading groups targeting people aged 55 years and older yetbetween 5% and 14% of libraries surveyed provide online reading groups. Older readers are an area of future online expansion as the number of aged people with highlevel computer skills will continue to increase. There are also many exciting ways toconsider providing online reading groups.62% of libraries have online reading lists, and 65% had reading lists available inlibraries. From comments received only a small number of libraries made printedreading lists available in larger print. This is an area where online reading suggestionscan be an advantage to readers as they can alter the font to match their readingrequirements, or use a screen reader (which will read the information to them) if they
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