Intersections | Serving the Older Adult Community

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By Tina Williams ( | Reaching out to the community is a vital part of Library services. Five years ago, I started the Outreach Services Department at the White Oak Library District with the charge to serve the older adult population. Our District is comprised of approximately 80,000 people across three towns. Older adults make up almost one quarter of the population. I started by getting to know the community and figured out how the Library connects to their daily lives. We serve patrons in various types of communities: independent living communities, assisted living housing, memory care units, homebound patrons, and residents with physical limitations.

Many older adults are dealing with illness, depression, and death. Some patrons are just looking for a social opportunity or to connect with people. They might be isolated due to driving restrictions. They might have vision, hearing, or other physical limitations. They might be dealing with cancer, diabetes, dementia, heart disease, or other illnesses. Having the Library in the community is critical to this population. We play an important role in the lives or our patrons as we promote lifelong learning, assist those with special needs, and serve our community.

For those able to get to the library, Outreach Services staff bring them information to encourage and entice them to go to the library. For those unable to get to the library, we bring the library to them. Outreach Services staff think outside the box with limited budgets to serve our communities. We are Library ambassadors creating library cards, checking out materials, placing and filling holds, promoting programs, marketing services, and answering questions.

Some of the programs and services Outreach Services staff provide are:

  • Lobby Stops or Bookmobile Stops
  • Book Discussions, Reading Clubs, or Reading with the Animals
  • eBook, computer assistance, and other technical services
  • Tales & Travel, Reminisce Kits, or some form of memory program
  • Home Delivery Service
  • National Talking Book Programs, Mail Delivery Service, or other at-home services

If your Library hasn’t discussed serving the older adult population, it’s a good time to have the conversation. Here are some statistics to consider:

The growth in the number and proportion of older adults is unprecedented in the history of the United States. Two factors—longer life spans and aging baby boomers—will combine to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20% of the U.S. population.

During the past century, a major shift occurred in the leading causes of death for all age groups, including older adults, from infectious diseases and acute illnesses to chronic diseases and degenerative illnesses. More than a quarter of all Americans and two out of every three older Americans have multiple chronic conditions, and treatment for this population accounts for 66% of the country’s health care budget.

Along with the dramatic aging of the U.S. population during the next several decades will be significant increases in racial and ethnic diversity... By 2030…older non-Hispanic white adults will make up 71.2% of the population, whereas Hispanics will make up 12%, non-Hispanic blacks nearly 10.3%, and Asians 5.4%.5 By 2050, the racial and ethnic diversity of older U.S. adults will have changed even more profoundly. Older non-Hispanic white adults, long deemed the “majority population,” will account for only about 58% of the total population aged 65 or older, a decline of more than 20% from 2010. During the same period, the proportion of older Hispanics will almost triple—from 7% in 2010 to nearly 20% in 2050. The proportion of older Asian-Americans will more than double during 2010–2050, from 3.3% to 8.5%, and the proportion of older African-Americans will increase from 8.3% to 11.2%.5.

Heart disease and cancer pose their greatest risks as people age, as do other chronic diseases and conditions, such as stroke, chronic lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. Influenza and pneumonia also continue to contribute to deaths among older adults, despite the availability of effective vaccines.

People with chronic diseases may also have other health problems, such as substance use or addiction disorders, mental illness, dementia or other cognitive impairments, and developmental disabilities.

We continue to have the conversation about what we can do to serve the growing needs of the older adult population and continue to bring more services and programs into the community. Older adults have special needs and the Library has resources, services, and programs that can help them. What are you doing to serve the older adult population in your community?

Source: Older Adult American Statistics from the CDC, 2013, Retrieved from:

Tina Williams is Outreach Services Manager at the White Oak Library District in Will County, Illinois. She has worked in libraries for over 27 years and writes a blog, Tina Here to Help.