Senior Spaces: creating your library as a place for older adults

Senior Spaces – creating your library as a place for older adults

Allan M. Kleiman, Library consultant with Paula Kelly and Joan Peiffer

Four year project by Commonwealth libraries – 25 Senior Space grants of $4,000 provided to libraries across the Commonwealth. Allan hired to work with staff to get these to happen, after creating 3 in NJ prior to this grant opportunity.

Changing demographics | Increase in older adult population next 20 years from 35 to 78 million | Baby Bookers turned 64 this year and are retiring aka “midlife older adults” | Returning to the Library | Changes in the Library with customer focus. Library as destination.

Warm and friendly environment for the ‘greatest generation’ and ‘silent generation’ who continue to be library users. 1910 – kids spaces, 1990’s – teen spaces, 21st century – senior spaces

Examples of Senior Spaces from two libraries:

Joan’s Grove Family Library in Chambersburg

  • Library by a retirement community
  • 55+ space
  • No room for a room, but carved out a space. Wanted an ‘information space’ – pulled from ½ of Reference to create “Grover’s Den” with a Committee. Some programs, but not a lot.
  • Put a notebook together with information and how-to’s and sits in their area, large screen monitor and computer with sites on desktop, iPad for senior (53 came), added soft seating and Rep. Kauffman came for ribbon cutting. Fiction and Non-fiction large print in the area, Signage and displays targeted to grandparents. Flyers and poster-board to share info and upcoming programs.


  • Process the Grant participants use – community advisory group to decide name and what the space should include. Many similar elements. Many purchased the large-screen computer, revamped Web sites to be useful to seniors, eReaders at other libraries – vary depending on library. Some libraries only have a corner to dedicate to Seniors.
  • Layout, what to think about: location | size | relation to other parts of the library | accessibility | light | noise | visibility | bathrooms
  • Names: Young at Heart, Senior Place, Seasons, Jones Zone, Living Room, Senior Center, Renaissance Center – branding opportunity
  • Grant funds used to buy collections: LP, playaways, audiobooks, and merchandising the collection. Slat wall – ‘Boomer Hall of Fame’ – bios of baby boomers from collection.
  • Technology – computer classes and computers next to senior space area. Large print keyboard and large print signage. Adaptive technology (what else?)
  • Seating – cozy, inviting and comfortable
  • Information component – bulletin board/flyer display combo
  • Senior magazines like Reminisce and Arthritis Today
  • Small programming space or programming on the Floor – especially tech training. Local history programs a hot topic. Other programs: Italian night, pasta, wine, poetry writing, meet the artist, English tea time, Meet the Author, Book discussions, Food for thought (good eating, good health), Become Active on Facebook, “Senior” night out at the library, Diamonds 101. Mad Hatters tea with donated cups/saucers, big hats and scones. Take teen programs and see if they can be adapted to Seniors. Creativity and range of programs over 4 years of Senior Space programs (on FB page)
  • Some where big, others small, no construction, lots of furniture changes, inviting spaces, focus on materials and ‘something to do’ (puzzle, computer, wii (less), coffee, eBooks and iPad classes), moved materials together to make a cohesive whole plan and browsable collection. Enhanced LP, weeded 300’s and legal books, and added Wiley books using AARP imprint targeted to seniors. “Boomerizing your Library collection” article by Kleiman. All of the Spaces Worked – programming took longer at some where adult programming was new. LSTA project grant – great catalyst to the 25 communities and model programs.

Paula’s Whitehall Public Library – 2010 grant

  • “Second Chapter Cafe” – with a great quote by Henry Ford on the wall “Anyone who stops learning is old. Whether at 20 or 80 anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Separate room. Committee helped developed space, includes tech petting zoo. Teen Tech Open House – local teens (NHS students) hang out in the cafe and wait for older adults to drop by with device and answer questions. Enjoy each other – very successful.
  • Cookbook Club
  • Area refugees visit and do crafts in the Cafe
  • Bought large screen TV and media player for movies, stereo system and old radio programs, coffee table books, but much spent on programming.
  • Space for coffee, quiet or conversation. Read the paper and enjoy the space and coffee. Policy in case, but no problems with mix use. Game players for scrabble and Mah Jongg – take over the space once a week.
  • Partner with umbrella group for seniors – health club,
  • New WWII conversation group in 2013
  • Bus in from senior highrise – coffee, treat and extra reference support for the visit.
  • Cozy electric fireplace, mini-blinds, TV, etc.


How do you turn attendance in Senior spaces into bequests? Not thinking about it but a good idea. Flyer on library donations in the space, but nothing unique. If the Senior Space is on the plan, create the elements and have donation opportunities ($500 to endow a computer, $150 for seating, etc. fundraising campaign). Is it rude to put a bequest plaque on items donated in the library and senior space? No. Naming opportunities acceptable – yes.

Widowed man comes to the library everyday story. Wouldn’t move after an illness because he didn’t want to leave the library he called his own!

Idea – have the space near the entrance for mobility challenged. Near doors/elevators – not a long walk.

Grants? $4,000 from Commonwealth during duration of program. Program now over. Lyons Club grants in some communities (focus on visually impaired) and/or Rotary club. Friends grant opportunity. Naming opportunities – have a public wish list posted for elements of senior space.

Committee? Community people and library patrons plus the Director. Put out flyers, too to get interest and contacts. Asked about programming, (genealogy, foreign affairs, camera club, etc.), had survey at information meetings – lots of input at the beginning of the program. Advisory council key to project – input and buy-in at the beginning. Help promote space and programming in community. Surveys.


[end notes]


Besides the Friday movies, what do we target to seniors? New programming? Senior Space at the end cap of Large Print? Move technology to give more space to Seniors? Move furniture around to create this space? They are print-oriented, so flyers and binders work.


TO DO – pull program and handouts from Marketing Your Library: 60 ideas in 60 Minutes and Sari Feldman’s “Re-Imagining Public Library Programming and Promotion” program


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