Keys to Engaging Older Adults @ your library

Keys to Engaging Older Adults

Tips and tools on assisting older adults from the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services

The Accessibility Factor

Having a library accessible to older adults is more than just following the letter of the law. Older adults may need extra assistance due to auditory, visual, or mobility impairment. To provide the highest level of service for these users, libraries need to anticipate their needs - which means having resources and equipment, as well as a trained staff prepared to utilize them. ASCLA (The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies) has tip sheets for how to best serve people with a variety of special needs (

Here are some tips that can improve service for all older adults:

Announce yourself visually or auditorily, as appropriate, and don’t leave without the patron knowing. Be sure to speak patiently with the customer, not through a caregiver. Be on eye level and face your customer directly; speak clearly without jargon.

Offer assistive listening devices that block out ambient noise. (i.e., audioloops and FM or infrared systems)

Have a TTY (text telephone) or video phone for the hearing impaired to access the library.

Offer an assistive listening device in a quieter space to have a one-on-one conversation or reference interview. Persons with impaired vision can utilize several accessibility features. Provide real-time captioning or CART (


Provide public access computers with screen reader software that reads digital text aloud, screen magnification features, and scanners to feed print to either a magnifier or the screen reader.

Offer handheld magnifiers, large print materials, audio recordings, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) enlargers, enlarging photocopiers, and descriptive videos/DVDs with voice-over narration of visual plot elements. Assure proper lighting is available, without glare.

Promote the talking books program ( that provides audio materials and Braille for persons who can’t utilize standard print due to a visual or physical disability.


Consider a drive-up window and book drops with access from a car to benefit those who have difficulty getting into the library.

Monitor aisles for obstructions, like step stools, that can make them impassible.

Provide a wheelchair or scooter for persons who cannot stand for long periods of time or walk very far. Make sure there is seating everywhere someone might need to rest.

Treat service animals, wheelchairs, walkers and other devices as extensions of the person and do not touch without invitation.

Homebound Users

Library users who, for medical reasons, may be temporarily or permanently unable to leave home should have access to library service.

Consider books-by-mail, home visits, institutional deposit collections, institutional visits, accessible bookmobiles, and outreach programming.

Consider OPAL (Online Programming for All Libraries) and other online social tools to bring programs and shared experiences. (

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