Beyond Books

My friend's mom was a voracious reader. Well into her 90s, Bernice, having only recently retired, would read several books each week. When I took her to the library, she would check out a huge stack at every visit, give them a few chapters to prove themselves and continue only if worthy.

The staff at the circulation desk knew Bernice and always engaged in a little conversation at checkout. Bernice had her favorite staff members—some for a shared taste in books, but others she came to know well enough to consider friends; she'd ask about their health, their families.

When I saw how much Bernice enjoyed her trips to the library, I wondered aloud at the circulation desk if there was a way I could deliver books to the homebound. To my surprise, I was told that books were secondary to the trip—that the reason many older patrons use the library is for social reasons. 

If you think your library is just the stacks, look again. My public library has Wii bowling, yoga and posture classes designed for older folks, t'ai chi and meditation classes, knitting circles, crafts projects, flower arranging and memoir writing. There are showings of movies from the 50s and 60s. You can find computer-support classes for every skill level and need. It's conceivable that you could use the library daily and never pick up a book.

Years ago I took my kids to every read-aloud and crafts session offered in the children's area. Sometimes the only opportunity I had as a young mother to read a magazine in peace or to chat with another adult was when the librarian had the girls sequestered in the crafts room. While I still use the library voraciously to support my reading addiction—I get anxious at the thought of running out of reading material and always have several books in process—I rarely take advantage of the social perks at the library as my kids have grown. I usually just drop off and pick up at the front desk and don't venture much beyond that. But I can see why so many older people take advantage of the stellar choice of programs.

Looking around, I also noticed that many library volunteers are themselves 65+. What a nice way for someone confident and capable to feel valued as a contributing member of the community.

You don't have to check out a pile of books like Bernice or become a chain-reader like me to benefit from regular visits to the library. Studies show that keeping active socially and intellectually are keys to a successful later life. One look at your local library calendar and you'll find opportunities to meet new people and learn new things. Best of all, a library card is free!