It is time our elected officials learned that every week is Seniors week at the library
Since 2015, the first week of October has come to be known as Seniors Week in Nova Scotia.
According to a N.S. Department of Seniors (DOS) news release on Sept. 29, 2017, “Libraries across the province will host free events focused on the interests of older adults.”
People attuned to library programming might find this statement ironic, if not a little out of touch.
First, the emphasis on libraries hosting free events betrays an ignorance of the rich and vital programming that libraries offer seniors every week of the year, free of charge.
Second, stressing that the week’s events will cater to seniors demonstrates a lack of understanding of what libraries are all about. Explore this year’s Seniors week schedule at library. nova scotia. ca and you will be hardpressed to differentiate it from any other week on a library calendar. That is because every week is Seniors week at the library. The modern library represents the quintessential, multi-generational space where youth, middle-aged and older year patrons can co-exist peacefully, and often cooperatively.
Librarians understand and acknowledge their senior patrons’ life experience and collection of life/work skills and honour this with engaging programming in addition to a place to pass the time with a good book, a warm conversation, or a helping hand. Library programs teach seniors new skills, and offer them platforms to teach other members of their community. For example, the Cape Breton Regional Library - Baddeck branch recently had guest speaker Judy King teach wool felting and David Perlman speak about digital photography manipulation.
Other regular, seniorfriendly programming in Baddeck includes restorative yoga, evening movies, a colouring club, bi-monthly knitting and a light lunch, oneto-one technology tutoring, various public information sessions and the muchlauded wee-ones program at Alderwood in which library programming is taken off-site to the nearby nursing home and toddlers sign and play in the company of elders. For the more traditional patron, books are still available for loan, and can be discussed during regular Book Club meetings. The branch offers over 500 programs annually, many of which are open to senior involvement.
While public awareness of libraries is an ongoing process, it is our elected representatives who may require the greatest education.
In February, three months before a provincial election was called, the government released their first-ever Culture Action Plan. The plan states that a Culture Innovation Fund will be developed containing “targeted monies to support the development of culture hubs in communities – places like libraries and museums.” Sounds positive, but there is no mention of what a “culture hub” is, let alone specific amounts of money that might be earmarked for libraries.
A month later, the government released “Shift: Nova Scotia’s Action Plan for an Aging Population”, along with a $13.6 million commitment to prepare for the province’s change in median age. In the single-spaced, 32-page plan, libraries are mentioned once concerning their potential as “a community Internet/ digital literacy training project” hub. Well, twice if you count the mention of a past partnership amongst C@P, St. F/X, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority and the Nova Scotia Public Library for a program entitled Connecting Older Adults with Mobile Technology. But that’s all - a place where computers can be housed and seniors can get lessons on how to use the tablet their kids bought them for Christmas.
Yes, libraries can be “hubs” for future social and technological projects, but they must also be recognized for the community hubs they already are.
At the start of Seniors Week, The Municipality of the County of Victoria released their Age Friendly Strategy Plan, spearheaded by Councillor Fraser Patterson. In the 45-page document that touched on issues of social connectivity, civic engagement, the built environment and community support services, libraries received absolutely no mention whatsoever; a glaring omission considering how inherently age friendly libraries are. To their credit, authors of the Age Friendly Plan describe it as a “living document” that is “the community’s to use and modify over time.” Hopefully, the document will soon receive its first modification.
Finally, On Sept. 26, announcement of the provincial budget once again disappointed staff and patrons of the library system in its failure to increase core funding to the system.
In a province as cashstrapped as Nova Scotia, financial prudence would dictate that we maximize the utility of existing services that give taxpayers the greatest return on their investment. For that, the government of Nova Scotia need not look any further than the public library system to invest in.