In 2019, I became the first Older Adults Program Manager at The Seattle Public Library (SPL). SPL wanted to more intentionally develop programs and services to support older adults and to make our buildings and offerings more age friendly. While we have always served a wide range of ages, we recognized that local demographics have followed national trends, where both the percentage and numbers of older adults are increasing.
Library patrons and library staff often ask me to define the age of an older adult. We see it as a long continuum, beginning at age 50. Our goals have been to find ways for The Seattle Public Library to better serve this heterogeneous age group, to work with Seattle’s diverse communities, and to align our work with that of Age Friendly Seattle.
I went to the experts—older people—as well as organizations, community groups, library staff, and individuals already working with our community elders. I heard that SPL is still a trusted institution and that we can be counted on to provide unbiased information, resources for lifelong learning, and a place for people to gather and to engage with each other.
We know that we have many community members who don’t use the library or may find it difficult to access our branches. Part of our plan included taking the library to the places they gather and where they feel comfortable.
Serving patrons at home and in the community
SPL has a long tradition of delivering materials and services out into the community. The first bookmobile began service in 1931. You can read more about the long history in a delightful article at historylink.org.
Today, Mobile Services works with patrons who are unable to use their local library due to issues like limited mobility, long-term illness, or disability. Staff visit housing and facilities for older adults, low-income housing, and childcare centers, and they make deliveries to individual homes in person and by mail.
Registered users can borrow anything that can be checked out at neighborhood branch—books, movies, and more. To find out whether your building is already on our calendar or to learn more about library service at home, call The Seattle Public Library at 206-386-4636 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Responding to community needs
Our current program is called Next Chapter. It focuses on five broad areas: aging in place/retirement, creative aging, dementia-friendly libraries, employment/entrepreneurship, and healthy aging. Next Chapter pages on the main Seattle Public Library website include upcoming virtual programs, a curated set of resources, book lists, and blog posts. It’s a perfect starting place to find out what’s happening for older adults at SPL.
The pandemic and closure of the physical library buildings in March 2020 changed everything. Quickly we focused on providing programming that helps people navigate their changing personal circumstances. For example, we learned that the Washington Poison Center’s 24/7 hotline saw an uptick in calls related to cleaning products. To ward off COVID-19, people brought a host of cleaning products into their homes—apparently, the more the merrier (or at least whatever products we could find in stores). The Poison Center developed a new educational program called “Preventing Poisoning during COVID-19: Safety Tips with Cleaners, Medications & More.” This program was exactly the type of information that SPL could offer to be responsive to emerging community needs.
Although our physical branches began providing limited services again in the summer of 2020, we recognized that community members had lost the library as a “third place”—a place to interact in person. We also knew that the pandemic had increased the very real problems of social isolation and loneliness for many older adults. Therefore, we looked at programs that could provide an activity that all participants could do together.
What could be better than art to connect people? We’ve just finished an exciting, international eight-week arts workshop with older adults in Singapore and the Chinese community in Seattle. Participants worked with teaching artists on collage, storytelling, dance, and play writing. Over the eight weeks, the participants forged many personal connections during class plus a hopping WhatsApp group.
Since April 2020, we have partnered with SilverKite Community Arts to offer over 250 “Virtual Arts for 50+” classes focused on the visual arts, dance, writing, and theater. Unexpectedly, we’ve noticed that many classes have attracted an intergenerational audience, with families participating together. This year, we also offered a Senior Social Hour. The perennial favorite of all classes has been Bollywood Dance. Who wouldn’t want to try, knowing that you could always turn off your video?
Our SilverKite classes continue through the end of December. Check the Library’s Events Calendar to register. You can scan all the library’s programs or filter the list by audience once you’re on the main calendar.
Programming for people living with memory loss
I appreciate that SilverKite’s programming includes classes designed and facilitated for people living with memory loss and their care partners. This group has been particularly impacted by limited access to social and engagement activities during the pandemic. SilverKite’s classes support one of our broad areas—dementia-friendly libraries. As a library, we have an opportunity to provide information, resources, and programs to the broader community.
Earlier this year, we partnered with the Greenwood Senior Center, Northwest Center for Creative Aging, and King County Library System to offer several programs. With the Greenwood Senior Center, we offered programs facilitated by the Center’s social worker, Carin Mack, and viewed Memory Loss: In Our Own Words, an impactful video made members of The Gathering Place, their program for individuals with early-stage memory loss. The programs addressed the often-asked question of the difference between memory issues as a function of normal aging and those which might indicate some form of dementia.
Our program with the Northwest Center for Creative Aging featured Sandy Sabersky and Ruth Neuwold Falcon, the authors of The Elderwise Way: A Different Approach to Life with Dementia. We magnified the reach of all these programs by partnering with the King County Library System, and more than 200 people registered. You can watch a recording of the program on the library’s YouTube channel.
In addition to programs, SPL’s Next Chapter supports Seattle’s older adult community by developing resources such as a curated list of Resources for Adults 50+. Topics include consumer protection, end-of-life planning, social connections, tech help, and more.
I’m sure it’s not surprising that librarians also love to read and talk about books whenever we have a chance. We make book recommendations as “reader advisors” and create book lists on subjects. The newest list celebrates resiliency in honor of Older Americans Month. You’ll find additional lists here.
What’s in store for the rest of 2021? We have SilverKite virtual arts programs four times a week scheduled through December. We also partner with Age Friendly Seattle on two program series, Close to Home: Stories of Tech, Health and Resilience and the Age Friendly Civic Coffee Hour.
Aging-in-place housing options
Next Chapter will also offer a special, three-program “Aging in Place” series focused on housing options which can promote aging in community. Hold these dates:
- Tuesday, October 26 (6:30 p.m.): Virtual Villages—featuring a panel of presenters from NEST, Northwest Neighbors, PNA Village, and Wider Horizons
- Tuesday, November 9 (6:30 p.m.): Homesharing—featuring Jennifer Hammer, Silvernest
- Tuesday, November 16 (6:30 p.m.): Universal Design and Accessibility—featuring Barry Long, Talk & Roll
Public libraries have a long history of being responsive to their communities. One constant has been to provide opportunities for lifelong learning. Please join us!
Contributor Nancy Slote manages programs for older adults at The Seattle Public Library. She is featured in a recent article, Age Friendly Seattle Adapts to the Virtual Environment (AgeWise King County, September 2021).
Not a Seattle resident? See what the King County Library System offers for older adults at KCLS.org/older-adults.