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Five Kinds of Outreach to People in Residential Care

by on October 18, 2019

The 96-year-old’s face lit up when she saw Outreach Librarian Diane Hollendonner again. She relayed she was quite happy with the book she returned – Mary Jo Putney’s Dearly Beloved– and announced that she had shared it with several other ladies at the assisted living facility…. “and now they all knew how to be a prostitute!” Hollendonner quips: “I guess I can say I’ve contributed to life-long learning.” Such rich moments might be missed without face-to-face interactions. As part of her job with Jacksonville Public Library in Illinois, Hollendonner assists with book clubs at assisted living homes in addition to delivering materials and helping residents sign up for Talking Books.

The following examples of outreach to people in residential care came in response to my request via an ALA listserv. Five main categories emerged.

In-Person Delivery of Materials
Although National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) delivers audio materials to qualified citizens free of charge, some librarians find personal deliveries provide an opportunity to engage with community members, book talk, and share information about library resources. Charlotte Nance, Branch Manager of Weatherford Public Library in Oklahoma, takes a bookmobile to nursing homes, rehab centers and retirement facilities every Friday. “I have formed relationships with the residents, and they look forward to the visits. I deliver requests as well as book talk with them about what they enjoy reading. Bonds have been formed… I would miss this service if it ever stopped.”

Book Clubs and Reading Groups
These can be traditional book clubs or read-aloud programs in which a story or article is read aloud and discussed. Valerie Weber, Heritage Branch Librarian in Yuma, Arizona, runs “Senior StoryTimes” at a local facility biweekly. She reads short stories and sometimes poems, followed by a participatory element. “Every session one of the residents, chosen the program prior, tells a story from their childhood, a defining life moment, etc.  This is my favorite part of the program.  The storytellers always seem to enjoy having the whole room’s attention, and residents are always surprised in what they learn about each other.”

Discussion Groups
Themed discussion groups provide socialization and promote lifelong learning. “Community Conversations” is a program run by Kathleen Mayo, retired Outreach Manager for Lee County Library System in Florida. Volunteers are trained to lead discussions at 18 senior residential facilities. “We center each monthly session on a theme such as Becoming an American, Women’s Lives, Letter Writing, and Marriage Advice. Each discussion uses reminiscence mixed with an assortment of readings (poems, essays, quotes, song lyrics…) as well as photos, physical objects, and music.” Residents who require physical assistance but crave intellectual stimulation may benefit from in-depth discussion groups such as the global affairs program Great Decisions offered by the Foreign Policy Association.

Memory Programs
These can be targeted towards people experiencing dementia or simply to older adults who enjoy reminiscing. Julie McDaniel, a librarian from Ohio, volunteers at a senior living facility where many residents have lived all their lives in the rural area. The public library has archived high school yearbooks and city directories which she uses to lead programs, including a mapping program: “…we start at the main square in our town and ‘map’ what the residents remember.  This is a free hand map on a large roll of paper.  I use the city directory to help get the memories started… It usually doesn’t take long for someone to remember something and that starts conversations about people who used to work at various places… or what someone remembers about shopping there. I add details to our ‘map’… I accept everything.”

Tales & Travel Memories
Provides a free tool kit for outreach to people living with dementia. Founder Mary Beth Riedner, a retired librarian, explains: “The program focuses on remaining strengths instead of losses. Many people with dementia can still read and enjoy taking turns reading short stories, such as folk tales, aloud or participating in choral reading of poetry…  Browsing through richly illustrated non-fiction books helps to elicit memories and stimulates conversations. Books and reading can be important tools to improve the quality of life for those living with dementia who are often isolated and forgotten.”

Tech-Mobiles and Tech-Help
These may include demonstrations of new technology, “petting zoos” of electronic devises to try, or clinics to help residents trouble-shoot and access library recourses on their devices. “We bring tech help to our city’s Senior Center once a month for our ‘On the Move & One-on-One Tech Help Sessions’. Staff provide assistance to seniors with using technology, and also bring some of the library’s digital devices for them to try out,” reports Katharine Chung, Assistant Library Director, Danbury Library in Connecticut.

Other ideas include collecting oral histories to enrich local history archives. As with general outreach, possibilities are almost limitless and some trial and error may be necessary to find what resonates with a particular community.

Additional Resources

ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services Keys to Engaging Older Adults @ Your Librarytoolkit includes tips for getting started, fundraising, measuring outcomes, and lists other resources.

ASGCLA Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Interest Group (IGARD) is devoted to providing library services to those living with dementia. See their list of best practice resources and join the group’s listserv to network.


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