Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


The Public Library as Programming Resource for the Senior Community

Kathy Mayo, Manager of Community Access Services, Lee County (FL) Library System.

Eds. Note: Here is one library’s efforts to improve the quality of programs available to some of its oldest residents. What’s happening in your community? How do you encourage activity directors and senior groups to utilize the library for program materials that engage the mind and promote discussion? Please contact me at kmayo@leegov.com to share your thoughts for a future column.

Activity directors for senior residential and day care programs spend a big part of their day planning and delivering programs. Most faith-based organizations have a heavy investment in activities for their older adult members. In spite of these responsibilities, few of them utilize the programming resources available from their local public library. For the last decade, my library system has made a concerted effort to inform the people responsible for senior programming about library materials and services that can help them produce high quality activities.

We’ve done this through purchasing programming kits, networking with persons providing services to seniors, and offering training opportunities that cover the specifics of planning and implementing programs.

Pre-packaged program kits
In 1976 when Kathryn Leide and Lynne Martin Erickson developed Bi-Folkal Productions, they made a major contribution to programming for older adults. Their Bi-Folkal kits are a staple in libraries, senior centers, and residential facilities around the country. As a grateful librarian who has used the kits since the late l970s, I am still amazed at how effective they are in generating memories and discussions with their audiences.

For the uninitiated, a Bi-Folkal kit is a thematic, multi-sensory kit for use with a group of older adults or an intergenerational audience. Designed for a reminiscence experience, the kits provide all the elements that you need to conduct one program or a month’s worth of programs. They contain an audiovisual presentation – in slide/tape or video format; audiocassettes with music accompaniment for sing-along songs; large print audience booklets filled with poems, songs, and discussion starters; jokes or skits with the props to carry them out; and things to touch and sniff. The leader manuals walk you through the program and offer different ideas for using the kits and adapting them to local needs.

The Bi-Folkal people describe their kits this way: “Remembering any time or topic is easier when you can see pictures of your memories, or touch or hear or smell them. When memories are shared in a group, each person’s experiences can add to a deeper understanding of our past – and perhaps our future.” For complete information on the kits and to view their outstanding newsletters that are filled with program ideas, check out www.bifolkal.org.

The Lee County Library System started purchasing kits in 1993 as part of an outreach project for older adults in residential facilities and daycare programs. We bought two copies of each kit and one copy of each mini-kit – and ordered replacement pieces annually. They were an immediate hit with activity directors who saw their potential and grabbed them up. We limited circulation to residential facilities and daycare programs. In addition, the library purchased several slide projectors that could be loaned.

The coordinator for Senior Outreach works closely with activity directors and is an active member of their multi-county organization. When introducing new directors to library services, he demonstrates the kits with a group of their older adults and helps them to plan a series of programs.

In a community like southwest Florida with 25% of the population over 65, we knew there were plenty of groups and individuals that would enjoy using the kits. So, in 2003, we expanded our kit circulation to the general public. We customized the sample flyer on the Bi-Folkal web site and printed thousands for use in libraries and community presentations. A mailing to 400+ faith-based organizations ignited a new interest in the kits. Circulating kits filled with different pieces is not fool-proof, so we wrote new procedures and trained library staff to adapt.

This ten-year experience with Bi-Folkal kits has been wonderful for our community. Even the nicest residential facilities can’t afford to purchase their own kits, so the library is providing a valuable resource for older adults in residential facilities, daycare programs, and faith-based organizations.

Training opportunities for Activity Directors
To introduce activity directors to the concept of using the library for programming materials, we offered training where they could share ideas and learn from experienced programmers. Generally, training included sample Bi-Folkal kit presentations, tips for maximizing kit themes and adapting them to local situations, an overview of the range of programming materials available from the library, and a sharing of ideas and experiences. We offered CEUs at a small cost through the local community college.

With their full schedules, it was not easy for activity directors to leave their facilities for even a few hours. They needed plenty of advance notice for our half-day workshops in addition to the promise of program content that related directly to their responsibilities. It didn’t hurt that we offered the enticement of CEUs, refreshments, and door prizes.

Each workshop involved presentations from library staff as well as experienced activity directors. Library staff introduced them to the vast range of resources at their disposal. New activity directors needed the modeling of their peers to reinforce the message that the library was a valuable resource for programming materials and ideas.

We filled the room with sample materials to showcase the range of available library resources and the ways they could be pieced together to create a thematic program. It wasn’t long before people were discussing possible materials to use for their own program topics.

  • Some of the printed formats that we highlighted were our Florida collection (gardening, history, animals), poetry, juvenile materials (with their great illustrations), cook books, songs, crafts, oversized books, newspapers, and magazines. We reminded them of the deposit collections of large print books that they could borrow every two months.
  • Few in the audience knew about our extensive collections of descriptive and closed caption videos, video documentaries, travelogues, and biographies – in addition to feature films; music of every type; sound recordings of radio shows, speeches, and nature sounds; and a loaner collection of assistive devices.
  • We covered Bi-Folkal kits by giving each participant a kit to examine along with printed tips on setting up and presenting programs. This was followed by short presentations by experienced programmers using several different kits. The resulting discussion produced fresh ideas for using and expanding each kit with different audiences.
  • In addition, this was an opportunity to promote the assistance available from library staff, the Telephone Reference service, and in-library programs that groups can attend. Staff encouraged activity directors to schedule regular library trips so residents could continue to use the library, attend programs, and check out new materials.

When they are first hired, few activity directors have much experience with programming. Many come to their jobs thinking that they will be doing lots of crafts, games, and singing. While that may be part of the job, the library has helped them to appreciate the importance of engaging the minds and memories of their audience as well.

--Kathy Mayo has been a librarian for over thirty years – mostly involved with library outreach and services for elders and persons with disabilities.  One of her first positions was at a large mental health treatment facility where she started using BiFolkal kits with older residents. She has worked as a consultant at the State Library of Florida and most recently as Manager of Community Access Services for the Lee County Library System in Fort Myers, Florida. In Lee County, she directs Assistive Technology, Bookmobile, Books-by-Mail, Literacy, Multicultural, Senior Outreach, and Talking Book programs. Kathy has been active in ALA since the mid-70’s and is a frequent presenter at national and state conferences.


Reflections on Family Literacy @ a Prison Library

By Glennor Shirley, MSDE, Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries.

In March 2003, I introduced Family Literacy @ your Library at Maryland House of Corrections (MHC), a maximum-security male prison, to help the incarcerated men and their children use books and reading to develop positive interaction, and to help children improve academic performance.[i]

The primary focus of a prison is public safety and security.   This goal often conflicts with the service orientation of programs like Family Literacy so it is crucial to solicit and get the support and approval of prison officials before a program is implemented.

Programs are scrutinized for every detail that may be perceived as a breach of security. The fact that a program is approved is no guarantee that it will get implemented.   Prison authorities can withdraw permission at any time, citing security or personnel deployment concerns.  Program planning means constant negotiation about content, participants, location, and staffing resources. The prison administration approved and supported our program because we highlighted benefits as inmate’s improved behavior, improved reading skill, the chance to help a child, and positive community benefits.

Each program requires myriad paperwork for prior approval on interested inmates’ family members, materials, special guests, supplies, security, and security staff for the event.   For each event we depend on the cooperation of the security staff to let the inmates leave their cells, allow the children and caregivers into the institution, and to provide refreshments. Outsiders are not allowed to bring food into the institution.

Since our prison librarians provide services to adults and operate as one-person managers, they have little time for programming and little or no expertise in children’s literature. We asked and received help from the children’s staff at Howard County and Enoch Pratt Libraries. They trained inmate volunteer programmers on book selection, and story telling techniques. This was a new experience for the inmates, some of whom had never heard of Curious George before we began the program. The inmate volunteers rehearsed by reading to one another, and planning activities for the children.  Enoch Pratt Library provided us with a deposit collection of children’s books to supplement our selection of donated materials.

One Saturday each month for 2 hours, in the Visiting Room of MHC incarcerated males and their children read to one another.   This was a first for most of them.

After the 3rd session, I was moved to record the following personal impressions/observations:  “It couldn’t get any righter than this,” he said with a smile that I knew masked his keen disappointment.

Earlier I had asked how many of his children would attend the Family Literacy @ your Library event. “Two,” he replied, then quickly added, “But their mother has a lot of things to do, bills to pay, you know, so they may not even get here.”   I had seen it before.  These outwardly hardened prisoners eagerly waiting, but mentally preparing themselves in case their family did not show up.

I watched two pairs of eyes darting almost imperceptibly towards the entrance each time the grilled gate grinded open as the correctional officer escorted the children to the visiting room.   Smiles, hugs, and kisses followed.

Two men sat by themselves.   Their children had not shown up.  “Come join us,” I said.  “You’ll learn what to do when your children come.”  They joined in the hokey pokey, the word games, and the group reading sessions.  Ninety minutes sped by.  “Time to go.” I said when I saw the hovering security staff looking at their watches.

I turned to the father who had no child hugging him goodbye.  “Is this the kind of program you would want for your children?”  “Oh yes,” he shook his head emphatically, smiled and added.  “It couldn’t get any righter than this.”

The children waved from outside the grilled gate that now separated them from their parents.  The men watched waving and smiling until the gate clanged shut and their children were out of sight.  They turned their backs on the gate with the departing children, faced the door to their cells, replaced smiles with fierce expressions, and hunched their shoulders as they followed the officer who herded them to their cells.

Observing these flickering changes in emotions, I felt like a voyeur, but also felt glad that as a Librarian I had used books, reading, and family literacy to connect prisoners with their children for those brief moments.

[i] Many of the nation’s 1.5 million children who have a parent in prison live in areas where their schools score below performance standards.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


PLA Was a Blast!

By Jan Meadows, Bookmobile Supervisor, Pikes Peak Library District.

PLA 2004 is over, but some of the lucky folks who were able to attend were willing to share their experience and the information they gathered here with you.

Judith Lucia, Outreach Services Manager for Jefferson County Library, Port Hadlock, WA reported that the vendor displays were numerous and many goodies were collected. She spotted J. A. Jance arriving for her book signing. There was a line of people waiting to see her and the first thing she said was “Time to assume the position.” The people loved it!

All bookmobilers should be interested to know that Judith spotted a Demco product that will work well on bookmobiles for shelving CDs. It is called a CD Flipper Track Display. It fits 25” and 35” shelves or can be put on a counter and is reasonably priced. CDs face forward and patrons can easily flip through them. It is always great to find products that work for the mobiles!

Judging by the crowded room, Judith said one of the most popular sessions was “Fish!”, which is based on the great customer service of the employees at the Pike Place Market Fish Stand in Seattle. The Fish Guys believe there are four basics for providing excellent customer service: Play at work (they toss fish around the market!), Make Their Day (customers) by having fun and inviting others to join in, Be There (be present in the moment) and Choose Your Attitude. I recently took the Fish! training here at PPLD and it is excellent. In fact, I think most bookmobile staff already have the Fish! attitude (but we don’t throw fish!) and that is why bookmobile patrons are so loyal. They like the “make their day” service bookmobile staff give them!

Judith also said the bookmobile get-together, that you may have heard about on the listserv, was fun because it is always great to see bookmobile people that you only get to meet with once or twice a year. There is always so much to talk about and so little time to do it.

Judith attended Theresa Gemmer’s session about Partnering and Outreach in Rural Communities, and said it was very good. Theresa was kind enough to send the following about her experience at PLA.

PLA 2004 by Theresa Gemmer, Outreach Librarian, Everett Public Library, Everett, WA

Where to start? That was the question I had to ask myself when I arrived at the Seattle Convention Center. If you have been to PLA, this may be old news, but for anyone in public libraries who hasn’t been, it is an amazing treat. There are the vendors, filling 3 large halls, and all focused on public library interests; then there are the programs, so many that it is hard to choose which ones to go to, and added to those is the variety of people from all over the country. It is sensory overload.

Large print publishers were there and I had the opportunity to talk with them and tell them “we need computer books and knitting and crochet patterns in large print.” I could have spent several days just browsing the displays and looking at books. Since our library is looking at upgrading our computer system, it was a great opportunity to try out different systems and to ask how they provide remote access for bookmobile.

Something I had forgotten, (a tip for next time), is that some of the vendors sell things at a bargain just before the exhibits shut down so that they won’t have to pack up their books and carry them back. I got a great deal on a bunch of children’s easy non-fiction for our bookmobile, but had no way to carry them, since I had taken the bus. Luckily, one of my co-workers had her car there and offered to take them back to the library for me.

After presenting a program on Thursday, I was able to relax and then get together with other outreach people for a brief but joyous before dinner chat.

The three programs that I attended focused on services to young children and families. My program on developing partnerships to reach at-risk families is a bit of a blur for me. I know what I intended to say, but I don’t know if that is what I actually said, and I can’t remember what the other panelists said, I was too nervous! Basically, I presented how we at EPL run our outreach to childcares and preschools using our bookmobile and gave suggestions for building community partners. It takes time to build relationships in your community and you need a “people person” who isn’t shy or easily discouraged. Do your homework first; make a list of local people or agencies that have similar goals, in this case assisting at-risk families. When you make contact, be prepared to share library resources that you think may be helpful to their clients. Ask them for names of others you should talk to. I prepared a list of national organizations with contact information for local sites as a hand out. This list should be on the PLA conference page, but it lacks the important disclaimer that at-risk family is not synonymous with low-income family. We know that other families are also at-risk, but there is no easy way to target families with major problems if they aren’t related to low income.

The program on the PLA early literacy initiative was exciting. The evaluations of the pilot programs (done by an independent consultant) are positive. For anyone who is interested in developing parent education programs in emergent literacy, or incorporating tips to encourage early literacy development in storytimes, there is an absolute wealth of handouts for your use on the PLA website.

The research on early brain development and emergent literacy has really captured my interest, so the other program I attended was Rx for Reading. Through grants from the California State Library, Reach Out and Read, and local sponsors, this books for children program is taking off. Reach Out and Read provides information about their program on its web page, www.reachoutandread.org . Doctors involved in the program give children an age-appropriate book at each of their well-child checkups and talk to parents about the importance of reading to their children. The doctors say they really like the program because they actually use the books as part of their interaction with the parents, discussing small motor skills or eyesight.

Because our library is close to Seattle, and our director wanted as many people as possible to attend, I was only there for one day and my presentation, so I don’t have much to report. The programs are available in audio and handouts are posted on the PLA conference website. There is a great deal of wonderful information there, but the advantage of being there is the atmosphere. It is so exciting to see library people from all over the country.

Many thanks to Judith and Theresa for letting us take part in PLA 2004 vicariously through their reports!

If you were at PLA or any place where you learned information that would be helpful for bookmobile and outreach staff, please contact me at jmeadows@ppld.org I would be happy to share what you send me right here at 21st Century Bookmobiles!!

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