Services for Older Adults

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Success Stories

Tips for Providing Quality Services for Older Adults

Basic Health Information Literacy for Seniors As part of our Bridge to Health Information Literacy for Denver project, funded by the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, the Denver Public Library purchased ten large size laptops and Pelican carrying cases that allow us to go to locations in the community where people already gather. In the past we have had very limited success with getting people of any age to come to classes on finding health information. Seniors were one of our target populations because seniors are among those with the greatest health information needs, but are often very limited in utilizing today's information tools. This project enabled us to go directly into their communities and to present our classes in a very different way.

In eHealth Literacy: Essential Skills for Consumer Health in a Networked World Norman and Skinner make the point that people need skills in six different literacies if they are to benefit from the great wealth of quality online health information. We chose to offer classes in basic computer skills, and to introduce [1] in every one of our classes. We taught participants the essentials of evaluation, and we provided well illustrated handouts both for practice and for contacting our public library and local medical libraries that help the public find reliable health information.

We had excellent attendance at our classes, whether for Basic Mouse & Internet, Basic eMail or Search the Internet skills. We went to three different facilities, but by far the most successful was a large residential community for active seniors. Their staff were able to handle all the promotion and registration needs, and residents signed up eagerly. We only had 2 out of 30 who registered and then failed to attend. Participants actually began arriving 15-20 minutes before the class began! Even the most basic learners were able to focus on the fun basic tasks we gave them, and within an hour and a half, genuine learning had taken place. There was always interest in MedlinePlus, as health information is relevant to everyone and reliable sources are welcomed. We really enjoyed working with these eager, engaged learners!

There is great eagerness among seniors to learn these basic computer skills and the opportunities for convenient, basic hands-on classes are often limited. In order to be sure that all students achieved a good measure of success, we had an average of 3:1 staffing: our technology center volunteers were a huge part in our success. Having some roller ball mice and the large size of our wifi-enabled laptops were critical for many.

Three resources of note: [2] For libraries (both public and medical) that will assist the public: [3]

Norman CD, Skinner HA eHealth Literacy: Essential Skills for Consumer Health in a Networked World J Med Internet Res 2006;8(2):e9 URL: doi: 10.2196/jmir.8.2.e9 PMID: 16867972

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Health and Dan Heath, Random House, 2007. This was a great help in thinking through the essentials of our message and how to present it in the most effective way.

Outreach to seniors was just one part of our larger grant project. Our Bridge to Health Information Literacy also included outreach to minorities and low income communities, training for Denver Public Library staff and the implementation of distance learning within our library system.

For questions on this or any aspects of our project, please contact Elaine Connell, Reference Librarian, Denver Public Library, 10 W. 14th Ave., Denver, CO 80204. 720-865-1363 [[email protected]]


  • Americans for Libraries Council (2006) Designs for change : libraries and productive aging : report on the National Library Leaders Forum
  • S.Fox & M. Madden (2006). Generations Online. Washington, DC: Pew Internet and American Life Project.
  • R. Honnold and S.A. Mesaros (2004) Serving Seniors: a How To Do It Manual for Librarians Take a look for a collection of services and programs for older adults provided by libraries across the US and Canada.
  • M. Joseph (2006) Active, engaged, valued: Older People and NSW Public Libraries trends, current research, stakeholders and recommendations to support strategic planning within the NSW public library network[Australia]
  • B.T. Mates (2003) 5-star programming and services for your 55+ library customers
  • Serving Seniors: A Resource Manual for Missouri Libraries
  • ALA Office for Literacy & Outreach Services (2010). Keys to Engaging Older Adults @ your library
  • ALA Reference and User Services Association (2008). Guidelines for Library and Information Services to Older Adults This latest version of the guidelines was approved in 2008.

Blogs/Websites to Watch

  • Services to Older Adults from WebJunction.
  • Senior Friendly Libraries: Resources and discussion about library services to older adults "The purpose of this blog is to provide resources for librarians including: research on aging as it influences library services, library research on "older adults", incorporating Library 2.0 features for "older adults", and examples of successful "older adult" library services and programs. In addition, I hope to make librarians aware of the need to market services to older adults in their community"
  • Senior Spaces
  • Active, engaged, valued: older people and public libraries "Exploring the impact of the ‘age wave’ on library services, programming, marketing, and facilities."

Specific Blog Posts/Articles to Check Out

  • Hangouts Feed Souls of Lonely About places seniors frequent and how the library can be included.

Library 2.0 Services to Older Adults - Best Practices

  • Technology training for the older population