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


Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise…So does going to the public library.

Submitted by Fatima Perkins, Adult Services Manager
Cuyahoga County Public Library
Parma, Ohio

Can the library really make someone healthy, wealthy and wise? Well, we can give it a try. Call them what you may, baby boomers, silent generation, greatest generation, older adults (65+) now account for 13% of the United States population. Now more than ever, the public library being a community focal point has an opportunity to engage communities and transform lives. Three areas include health, finances, and brain power.


As we age, it is imperative that we consider our health. Many health issues may be reduced and/or eliminated through exercise and good nutrition. The public library is the perfect place to obtain and explore health information via programs, books, databases, DVDs and Playaways. Jump start your efforts by selecting a monthly health theme and hosting one health program per month based on the theme. Invite health providers to provide free hypertension and other health screenings.

Use your programs as an opportunity to partner with other community organizations. Local extension programs are excellent partners offering free programs, program templates and curriculum. For example, vegetable gardening is of interest to many older adults. Ask the local garden center to host a basic program to get individuals started. Basic programs may be followed up with harvesting and canning programs. Thinking green- this is an opportunity to introduce organic gardening. Local food markets like Whole Foods may be willing to offer a program on plant based nutrition – a nice phrase for vegetarianism.

Fitness is another important aspect of health. As with nutrition, there are several options. Local fitness centers may be willing to give exercise demonstrations including weight training and aerobics. Checkout the local fitness instructors who may be willing to do specific programs like Zumba (Latin dance-exercise), Boot Scootin’ (country line dancing), and Steppin’ (Chicago-style dance). Of course we are all familiar with the traditional chair exercises for older adults who may be somewhat frail. The local senior center is a natural partner for this type of programming. Check local dance studios to see if they are willing to offer a sampler program of tap, ballet, modern dance, Hip Hop and Jazz. Also, check out silver Sneakers. Silver Sneakers is an insurance related health program for older adults and they may even consider your library for a location. Falls are a major concern for older adults. Try offering a program like A Matter of Balance. This program was developed by  The Boston University Roybal Center Consortium.

Need more ideas for health programming, contact your local clinic or hospital. Many hospitals or medical providers have outreach mandates where they need to provide a certain number of hours of free service to the community. This is wonderful because you may often get a Physician  or Nurse to present a program.  Program information may include a disclaimer about the library providing information about nutrition and fitness versus advice. Many fitness and nutrition instructors carry liability insurance. Customers need to be informed that they are participating on their accord.


The library can offer programs to help older adults with their finances. Couponing programs are very popular and offer practical advice.. Again working with the local extension programs would be helpful as well as grocers.  Some older adults may need immediate assistance with their finances and may benefit from a program featuring Asperian (Consumer Credit Counseling). Asperian may be able to offer a series of financial education programs from budgeting to investing. Banks are excellent partners and may be able to offer instructors for the programs as well as give-aways. Some banks also offer grants for financial education just check with your local bank. A highly successful initiative is American Library Association and FINRA partnership, Smart investing @ your library. Check put the website for more information http://smartinvesting.ala.org/about/.

Tax preparation assistance is a great program to offer your community. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs offer free assistance to seniors. For more information: http://www.irs.gov.  These organizations are often looking for sites like the library to host these free assistance sessions. Seniors in particular who are not itemizing deductions may find these programs convenient and helpful.

Some older adults are eligible for benefits however are not aware of their eligibility. Many communities are working to resolve this-list statistics. The National Council On Aging ( NCOA) has a successful program, Benefits Access. Typically, the local department on aging and/or the Area Agency on Aging can assist with providing this programming on site. A computer and printer are needed. The sessions are confidential and in most cases, the customer walks away with a document describing the benefits they are eligible for and how to access them. https://www.benefitscheckup.org/index.cfm?partner_id=58

Like treasure hunts. Most states have an unclaimed funds/property department: http://www.missingmoney.com/. Check with your states division of commerce. This is a wonderful exercise to demonstrate during basic computer training at your library. Watch the excitement in your customers as they realize they have unclaimed funds that they can easily apply for online. Post a link on your website and watch the hits grow.

Seniors facing an economic hardship may be interested in senior employment. The public library may want to host an employment or career transition workshop for seniors. The program may include potential employers or representatives from a Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) . SCSEP programs like Senior Serve America, Mature Services and National Caucus and Center on Black Aged are a few organizations that sponsor senior employment programs throughout the country.

Some seniors need assistance with legal issues however may mot be able to afford the fees. Many local legal aid societies have a unit specifically to assist older adults. Host a legal clinic and provide assistance with bankruptcy, foreclosure, fraud and more.


Forgot where you put your keys – it can happen to anyone-young and old. However, many adults have a fear of losing their memory. There are programs that can assist with alleviating this fear. Memory Fitness Matters is a comprehensive program that provides strategies to enhance memory: http://www.connectionsincommunication.com/pages/Seminars.htm

Learning a new skill stimulates the brain. Libraries can offer these opportunities like learning basic computer skills, using E-readers, digital cameras and more. Basic knowledge leads to being able to communicate with family via email, playing online games, accessing information and more. This may be very attractive to older adults who do not live near their love ones. Let’s not forget Wii or chess tournaments- these are wonderful intergenerational opportunities. How about holding a Jeopardy- program featuring local history? Board games are very popular now. Have a game night specifically for older adults  or families.

Reading. We are pros at this. If you don’t have a book club for older adults, you may want to consider one. This is an opportunity to partner with senior housing complexes, retirement communities, assisted living and more. Some older adults congregate in the morning at a local restaurant like McDonalds why not take the book discussion on the road.

Individuals are looking for ways to connect with their communities. As individuals retire, many continue to have a desire to share their skills and talents. Help individuals find organizations that need volunteers. Host a volunteer fair. Seek assistance from your local volunteer organization like RSVP.

As we embark on a new year, opportunities are plentiful. Take the opportunity to create collaborative programs that attract and engage older adults. Cheers to keeping seniors healthy, wealthy and wise.

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