Older Americans constitute a significant and growing segment of library users, but in many ways the services they expect—collections, programs, continuing education, and community gathering—are traditional services of the library.
Library services to older adults represent a broad spectrum of traditional and innovative library practices. America’s older adults are diverse, differing by age, education, life experience, sexual orientation, health, geographic location, and income. To meet the needs of older adults, libraries need to develop innovative practices to meet the unique circumstances of the older population.
Older Adult Populations in the U.S.
For several years, communities have been focused on and preparing for growth among the United States’ older adult population.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are over 40 million adults aged 65 and over, comprising 13% of the U.S. population.
The 65 and over population has increased by 15% since 2000, a faster growth rate than the population under age 45.
The U.S. Census, based on Census 2000 data, projects the U.S. population age 65 and older to grow to over 85 million by 2050, with the most significant periods of growth happening from 2010-2030 as baby boomers reach the 65 and older category.
It is important to note that the older adult population is diverse, spanning ethnic and racial categories, socio-economic groups, sexual orientation, and physical ability.
Equity of Access Issues for Older Adults
Many older adults, especially those termed “active older adults” (those who live in their own homes or active retirement communities, manage their own transportation, or are involved in community activities) there may be seemingly few equity of access issues. These adults regularly experience the full benefits of the library, its collections, and programs.
For a growing number of older adults, sometimes termed “frail elders” (those who are typically the oldest adults and often include persons living in residential facilities and those with various disabling conditions), equity of access is a very real concern. These older adults may experience barriers in transportation to or from the library, mobility within the library, or in accessing library materials due to visual or auditory challenges.
Libraries can help eliminate barriers to access for older adults by:
- Providing books-by-mail programs, home visits, institutional deposit collections, accessible bookmobiles, or other outreach programs for homebound older adults
- Utilizing tools such as computer screen readers, screen magnifiers, or other tools to enlarge texts and providing accessible collections including audio books, large-print formats, or Braille titles.
- Designing library spaces for accessibility, including clear aisles and pathways, available seating, accessible shelving, easy to navigate entrances.
Selected ALA Resources for Serving Older Adults
- 2009 Jean E. Coleman Library Outreach Lecture – “The Challenges and Opportunities of Serving America’s Elders” by Kathleen Mayo
ALA Member Groups Addressing Older Adult Issues
Contact and Questions
Questions? Comments? If you would like to share questions or comments on ALA’s resources for older adults, please contact ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services at 800.545.2433, ext. 4294, or firstname.lastname@example.org.