Creative Programming for Older Adults

Once again, we’re having student volunteers blog programs of interest from the ALA Annual Conference. This time, Jayna Ramsey covers “Introducing the Creative Aging Toolkit for Public Libraries—An Online Resource,” held on Saturday, June 29, at 10:30 a.m.

As libraries are increasingly becoming centers of their communities, we must keep in mind that all ages of patrons deserve great programming. Currently close to 14 percent of the United States population is over the age of sixty-five, with that number expected to rise to 20 percent by 2030. Library programming for older adults frequently includes a lot of passive programming, such as author talks and lectures, but little hands-on experience, unlike children’s programming. Lifetime ArtsCreative Aging Toolkit introduced a solution to this problem: hands on art programs of at least eight weeks long that provide instruction by a professional and an opportunity for socialization.

The creative aging programs that have been implemented at Boston, Brooklyn, Dallas, Miami-Dade, and New York Public and Clinton Essex Franklin and Westchester Library Systems have included various arts programs, such as painting, chorus, memoir writing, dance, and improv. The Creative Aging Toolkit website has resources on how to create, fund, and implement arts and aging programs. One of the best parts of the program was the video that was shown with interviews of participants and instructors who have participated in creative aging programs. Participants discussed how the classes had given them a way to socialize and also were a creative outlet for them. In the video interviews, participants were very open about how they felt about the programs and how they had helped them get through hurdles in their own lives. One woman discussed how she was finally able to talk about the death of her son after she wrote about his death for her memoir class. She talked about how it was a relief for her to finally be able to have a space she felt that was safe for her to write about her son’s death and have the skill she believed she needed to do it.

As a newly minted adult services librarian, programming is something that I have been thinking a lot about and realizing that there are gaps that need to be filled. Older adults at the library don’t want to be treated as if they are “old.” A great quote from the presentation is that “Older adults keep telling me that they don’t like to go to the senior center. When I ask them why they reply ‘because that is where old people go.’ ” We need to think about how to create more active programming for our older adults and how to integrate the creative arts into the programs. We also need to keep in mind how to not to exclude older patrons from our intergenerational programming, which is something that I worry about with the programming that we offer at my library.

Public libraries can take the creative aging program examples and implement them into their library’s programming. While the program examples that were highlighted in the program cost an average of $1,500 to $3,000 to implement, libraries with tighter budgets can still take the basic principals of art focused active learning to create programming for older adults in their library. An example would be to do creative activities that don’t require as many supplies such as drawing or creative writing. Seek out experts in your chosen art field who might be willing to donate their time or teach for a reduced fee.

Overall this program was an excellent introduction to creative aging programs and the tools available via the Creative Aging Toolkit. It inspired me to think about the programming that we currently offer at my library and to think of ways to make it more inclusive for older adults. It also made me think about all of the potential partnerships that are available to help make this a more realistic programming goal.