How can public libraries make sure they’re dementia friendly? Here are some suggestions about services, collection development, and physical space from Minnesota’s ACT on Alzheimer’s:
- Train staff and volunteers to understand dementia.
- Host programs that offer meaningful engagement for people with dementia.
- Include in the collection books, audiobooks, magazines, music, and videos that can engage people with dementia.
- Make sure the needs of people of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds with dementia are served.
- Offer individual appointments with dementia sufferers and their caregivers to help them choose library materials.
- Create memory boxes for circulation that include childhood toys, board games, crafts from previous decades, and local memorabilia for circulation.
- Take library services to senior living communities and adult day care settings.
- Make sure the library’s physical space includes appropriate signage, well lit entrances, non-slippery flooring, and a family/unisex restroom.
Looking for more detail? You’ll find the document Dementia Friendly Libraries on the ACT on Alzheimer’s website.
What is the public library’s role in serving people with dementia? Faith Brautigam, Director of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library offers some suggestions in her article “Memory Care at Your Library.” Brautigam discusses two ways to serve this population — through programming and through staff training.
The Library Memory Project in Wisconsin is one example of programming. Participating libraries host monthly gatherings, called Memory Cafés, for those with early stage dementia and a care partner. The Brooklyn Public Library’s Words and Memories program is another one. Both of these programs seek to help dementia patients by encouraging reading, conversation, and sensory experiences.
Library staff training is also important. Brautigam mentions a project at the Chapel Hill Public Library where staff participated in special training to earn a community dementia-friendly designation that promotes understanding and respect for people who are memory impaired. The American Library Association also offers training ideas in its document “Keys to Engaging Older Adults @ Your Library.”
What services for dementia patients does your public library offer?
The NLS has a tag line that touches me: That all may read. It’s a worthy goal.
NLS, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is a program of the Library of Congress that serves people with low vision, blindness, or physical disabilities that prevent them from reading or holding the printed page. Through a national network of cooperating libraries, NLS offers books in braille or audio formats, mailed to your door for free, or instantly downloadable.
The NLS BARD (Braille and Audio Reading Download) service offers downloadable digital audio books and magazines to eligible NLS patrons. There are more than 20,000 digital books and over 40 magazines available for download, with new titles being added regularly. A big advantage of BARD over library e-book services is that there are no wait lists, limits, or due dates.
In addition to BARD, NLS offers guidance on magnifying devices, braille embossers, braille displays and notetakers, accessible mobile reading apps, and audiobook players.
In Oregon, where I live, the NLS program is administered locally by the Talking Book and Braille Library at the State Library in Salem. You can find links to all the state programs on the NLS website.
If you or a loved one are eligible for NLS, I encourage you to learn more about this excellent service.
Most public libraries offer a free e-book borrowing service. It’s available to everyone of course, but this service can be especially valuable to seniors who are home bound and those with visual handicaps.
There are two services available for libraries to offer — cloudLibrary and Overdrive. Some libraries offer one service or the other. I’m lucky: my library offers both.
Libraries buy the e-books from cloudLibrary and Overdrive, so the selection available through the library is limited to the titles purchased by the library. Budget permitting, libraries can elect to buy multiple copies of e-books if they expect high demand; one copy can only be checked out to one person at a time.
Libraries set their own policies for borrowing e-books through cloudLibrary and OverDrive. My library lets you check out 6 at a time, place holds on 6 at a time, and keep e-books for 21 days. Your library could have different policies.
To use these services, you download the free apps from your library’s website (or an app store) to your computer, tablet, smartphone, or other device. During setup you enter your library’s information and your library card number. It’s pretty easy although some seniors might need help if they haven’t used computers much.
Once you’re signed up, you can find out what e-books are available from your library by searching the app. If you’re looking for a particular book, you can search by author and title. Or you can browse the library’s holdings in your favorite genre.
I’ve found that reading books on an electronic device is an acquired taste. I can do it, but still prefer to read traditional books printed on paper. But that’s just me.
Brooklyn Public Library offers an excellent program for older adults at senior centers and nursing homes. Words and Memories brings read-alouds, poetry recitals, games, film discussions and more to senior facilities to help elders remain socially engaged and intellectually stimulated. It’s offered in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Russian.
BPL currently offers Words and Memories at 16 senior sites throughout Brooklyn on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. Last year it served 1,700 participants.
Taina Evans, BPL’s coordinator of older adults services, says the program receives a great deal of positive feedback, not only from participants, but also from the facilities’ staff. One of the keys to the success of the program is that it employs older adults to lead the sessions.
“Brooklyn Public Library’s Outreach Services Department administers an employment program that teaches older adults how to deliver free cultural and educational programs at libraries, nursing homes and senior centers throughout the borough,” Evans said. “The senior assistants, as they are known, help older adults improve their minds and overcome the boredom and depression from which far too many older people suffer. They are essential to the Words and Memories program.”
The library supplies the Words and Memories sites with books, historical memorabilia and other resources chosen to spark conversation. “We try to tie into current events, the seasons, the holidays and any other relevant topics that will help seniors retain the memories that matter most to them,” Evans said.
For more information about Words and Memories and other Brooklyn Public Library programs for older adults check out their website.
Combining a community’s senior center with a branch of the public library is a trend that’s taking hold in many areas.
In some cases the branch library is embedded in the senior center, but administered by the city’s library staff. The Senior Center Branch in Klamath Falls, Oregon, pictured here, follows this model. Unfortunately, access to the library is limited to just three partial days per week for a total of 9.5 hours per week.
Some communities have built multipurpose centers to provide a variety of services across generations. The Winston Community Center in Winston, Oregon, for example, includes a computer lab, branch library, senior center, volunteer exchange, and community partnership program all in the same building.
In other communities, volunteers organize and staff a library for the senior center. In the Dennis Township, NJ Senior Center, volunteers have developed a color-coded system of categories, entered their holdings in a database, and established two-week check-outs. This library is open five days per week, the same hours as the senior center itself.
Each of these approaches works because they provide inviting spaces where seniors can read, borrow books and, enjoy the company of other seniors. I hope to see this trend continue.
My public library has a children’s room (pictured here). It has low tables, stuffed animals, picture books, and board games. Books are shelved low, making it easy for the pint-sized to make their selections.
My library has a teen room too with neon lights, counter seating, manga, and video games.
My library doesn’t have a senior reading room. The reasoning goes like this: the rest of the library is for adults; seniors are adults; a separate space isn’t necessary.
In my perfect world public libraries would set aside space for elders. Here are some features I’d hope to find in a senior reading room:
- Books would be shelved in a centered zone making it unnecessary to bend down or reach up.
- Bulletin boards and information racks would include posters and brochures about topics of interest to seniors: social security, medicare, assisted living, etc.
- Books and media in the senior reading room would reflect the needs and interests of seniors in the community.
Watch for part 2 on this topic next week.