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Jeffrey Kempe's picture

Notes from Midwinter Discussion Forum - Library Programs and Services to Baby Boomers

Discussion Forum - Library Programs and Services to Baby Boomers
ALA Midwinter Meeting, Dallas, Texas
Saturday, January 21, 2012

8 people attended the discussion session, including: Karen Vargas, Texas Medical Center/NLM; Jerry Reynolds, Jacksonville Public Library; Erin Chesnutt, Beauregard Parish Library;  Frederick Augustyn, Library of Congress;  Barbara Mitchell, Harris County Public Library; Jeff Kempe, King County Library System

A number of those in attendance noted that Health and Fitness topics resonate with Baby Boomers.  The National Library of Medicine has a program where they teach classes in the region on how to use NLM resources.  This program is available across the nation.  Topics such as Healthy Aging and Caring for Aging Parents reflect what this generation is going through.  Baby Boomers are often referred to as the “Sandwich Generation.”  When attending programs, the public wants to hear from experts – in general, everybody likes doctors.  Given the choice, they really want to see doctors (MDs) give the presentation.

Some libraries host video/film programs for adults. Film is a popular medium with many midlife adults.  Film screenings are an option for libraries of all sizes – it is important to obtain public performance licenses.

Many libraries provide traditional outreach to senior centers, but this audience is changing as well.  Many Senior Centers are reaching out to baby boomers as this group is aging.  Baby Boomers are living longer and often have different attitudes than older adults in the past.  At the same time, many people still face a variety of physical challenges related to aging, and library efforts to assist patrons with a range of impairments (sight, hearing, mobility, etc.) continue to be important.  In the discussion, a study that people who use talking books have less dementia and live longer was mentioned, but we were unable to identify the source during the meeting.  It was asked if anyone in the group had experience with Loblolly,  an open source ILS for talking book libraries, but no one had any immediate input.
Convenience is a big priority for the Baby Boom Generation, including: ease of use, convenient hours of availability,  a variety of access options including online.

Popular Culture that resonates with midlife adults is another way to connect.  Popular Culture Association members cover a huge range of subject areas  from Automobile Culture to Vampires!  Their website is a great source of ideas: http://pcaaca.org/areas/areas.php.

Intergenerational programs are another way to engage patrons across generations.  The Veterans History Project – Interviewing veterans of 20th century conflicts – now 21st century is an example.  Libraries could create similar programs w/high school students interviewing veterans.  Videogame programs, particularly using the Wii platform, are another intergenerational program that has had some success.

Many Boomers like to participate, not just be spectators, so programs like Tai Chi and Ballroom Dancing can be fun.  These types of programs also appeal to those who with an interest in Health and Fitness.  Issues of sexuality and aging are also relevant to midlife and older adults.  “Sex and the Seniors”(?) is a claymationYouTube video that one of the discussion participants mentioned – it was recalled, but no source was identified at the meeting.  PLA has a program planned called Sex Through the Generations.  Online Dating is another topic that came up as a suggestion – what are the “new rules of dating” in an online environment?

Avoid labeling Boomers – it can often be better to promote activities as adult programs without reference to age.  Research has shown that people tend to think of themselves as about 10 years younger than their calendar age.   In last year’s Transforming Life After 50 Fellowship (http://www.transforminglifeafter50.org/innovators/imls-fellowship) presenters reinforced that we should avoid the word “senior” when marketing to adults born between 1946-1964.  It should be noted that some midlife adults do not like the term “boomer” either.

Aging Your Way is an effort in King County (WA) to bring communities together to discuss what is important as we age in our communities.  Groups of adults (targeting those born 1946-1964) met across the county to have discussions on what their ideal community would look like – each meeting came up with a drawing that represented vision.  For more information see: http://www.seniorservices.org/agingyourway/Home.aspx .

Museum/arts programs resonate with the boomer audience.  Civil War sesquicentennial programs being held in King County have been attracting primarily a boomer audience.   Art and Opera previews have been consistently popular in KCLS, particularly with boomers.   In Houston, the library has arranged bus trip to the Museum of Fine Arts that have been very successful.  Genealogy was mentioned as a popular topic at a number of libraries.  A program about wildfires was also successful in Houston.

Everyone in attendance noted the increase in usage of eBooks by their patrons, including midlife adults.  While many boomers are very adept with new technology, many are making use of trainings given by libraries to learn about how to use downloadable materials – this is particularly important as the process is often not intuitive.

An article in Cognotes also summarizes our discussion: http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/hall-erickson/alacognotes_dallas_highlights201201/index.php?device=accessible&pg=16