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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Growing old without "growing old"


    Yesterday I attended a meeting at the Miller Library whose purpose was to obtain input into how the Howard County Library system should meet the needs of our growing senior citizen population.  We are rapidly becoming a much more mature County as the baby boomer generation enters the retirement years.  The Library has well publicized programs for youth and the Library's partnership with the Howard County School system is one reason our Library has received so much recognition recently.  So the discussion yesterday was an important step in the Library's effort to decide how to program for this increasing senior population.  
     While the discussions had some valid points about how to make the Library more safe and accessible to a population that has issues with hearing and vision, I was disappointed in much of the discussion that centered on the fact that teenagers were seen as a disruptive force in the Libraries.  This was particularly mentioned in regard to the East Columbia Library.   My disappointment was centered on how the attendees were mentioning more ways to limit the access of these teenagers to the Library than how to develop constructive programs for youth who could benefit from supervised adult educational programs.  There was some valid discussion about why after school programming was not the responsibility of the School System rather than the Library's responsibility.   The opinion of the attendees was that as long as the School System charged for aftercare programs the kids would be coming to the free Library programs.
      Some of the attendees wanted to see the Library go back to the quiet atmosphere and we were told by library personnel to "be quiet" in our talking in the library.  Somehow the image of people becoming more rigid and "cranky" as we age came to mind.  Maybe this is an unfair representation of the aging process as there are many examples of seniors giving back to our community in positive ways but it did concern me.   The discussion also had a theme of not wanting the Library to give up what we all knew of what a library was when we were growing up.  The Library, as with many of our institutions, has to examine how they retain their relevance in the new digital world.   Many seniors have strongly resisted the changes brought on by the digital revolution and are annoyed when our institutions change their operations to move to new digital approaches to delivering their services.       Heated discussions occurred when the participants expressed their feelings that use of the words "educational", "curriculum" and "instructional" were used by the Library.  Attendees expressed the feeling that they didn't need to be "instructed" but could navigate on their own to the information they needed at the Library.   This comment surprised me as instruction and education are pillars of our Library and not simply the responsibility of the more traditional education systems.  The Library is an important resource for community educational programs, especially when those other educational systems are slow to recognize their role in meeting the educational needs of the adult population.  Seniors may not be as interested in degree programs that enhance career promotion provided by these other educational institutions but lifelong learning is an important objective for libraries wanting to meet the needs of seniors.
      I came away from yesterday's meeting feeling more than ever that to stay relevant we have to embrace change rather that expecting the world to stay frozen for those who resist change and long for how things used to be.  The world moves on whether we like it or not.

     What I find ironic is how the generation that fought how the world was in the 1960's and grew up fighting the status quo has turned out to be no different than other generations as we move in to later life.  Doesn't it seem that we are no longer the ones to push for change and improvement and have become the traditionalists that was once represented by our parents?


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