Bringing the Library to Senior Citizens
An elderly woman walks into the room and over to Jennie Fidler, the young librarian sitting at a table. “I brought you some John Coltrane,” Jennie says, holding a CD out to her. “Oooh, good!” the woman squeals excitedly, taking it from her. “I have a few more I want,” she tells Jennie, who starts writing down titles and artists to find for next month’s visit. We are in the community room of a senior independent living facility, surrounded by tables of books, movies, and audiobooks that Jennie brought from the Oconomowoc Public Library this morning. Residents come in and out of the room to visit, browse the materials, and take some things with them. Jennie sits behind a laptop, ready to scan the residents’ library cards and check in the materials they return. “My favorite thing is knowing we’re able to bring the library to people who can’t get there,” Jennie says when I ask. “One woman told me multiple times she’d go stir-crazy if I didn’t bring materials.”
Oconomowoc Public Library is just one of many libraries in Waukesha and Jefferson counties that offer mobile library visits for homebound seniors. Milena Warnes, at Menomonee Falls Public Library, facilitates a Home Delivery program that delivers library materials to residents at 10 different facilities. While Jennie brings a variety of materials for all residents to browse, Milena works individually with residents, who sign up for the program by answering questions about the type of genres they like to read, the authors they enjoy, and how many items they want each month. Then Milena and her volunteers select the materials and deliver them directly to the resident. “We offer this service so they can feel like they’re part of the library community even though they can’t travel to the library themselves…[and] to be able to enjoy all of the materials that regular patrons have access to,” Milena says. “Most of the seniors just adore the program and are thankful for the opportunity to be in it.”
At Karl Junginger Memorial Library in Waterloo, librarian Joel Zibell facilitates an OutReach Service that delivers library materials to those who are unable to use the library due to physical conditions, age, or lack of transportation. Joel works individually with participants, who sign up for the program by answering a reading interest survey questions about the type of genres they like to read and the subjects they enjoy. Then Joel selects the materials and delivers them directly to the participant once a month, either at their home or senior living facility. Joel has worked on the OutReach Service since it began in the mid-1980s, and he says he enjoys visiting with OutReach participants, as well as finding the right titles for interested readers. Like most library services, the OutReach Service is free to Waterloo residents. Mobile library and outreach services like these embody a core value of public libraries: that everyone deserves equal access to information, entertainment, and a healthy quality of life.
We’re halfway through our visit in Oconomowoc when a woman comes over and sits down next to Jennie. She has books to check out but she’s not ready to leave. Instead, she leans back in her chair, telling Jennie the latest news about how she’s feeling and a recent visit with her family. As I listen to their conversation, I’m reminded that this social connection is another crucial function of the mobile library. Through these visits, seniors, librarians, and volunteers develop friendships and make meaningful connections with each other. A friendly face and a listening ear become just as valuable as the stack of books carried out the door. The library, therefore, is not just a building, but a living, vital piece of people’s lives, meeting them right where they are with exactly what they need. As I watch, Jennie finishes scanning the resident’s pile of books and says goodbye as she hands them over. “See you next month!” the woman says to Jennie, waving excitedly as she leaves the room.