In Allan Kleiman's vision of public libraries, stern librarians don't shush chatterers with withering stares.
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Rather, Kleiman, 59, sees Wii gaming machines with active older Americans virtually bowling, shooting arrows and playing table tennis. He sees grandparents learning Skype and Facebook so they can chat online with their distant families. He sees instructors teaching retirees how to use digital cameras and giving word processing lessons. The retirees, in turn, are teaching younger people how to play chess, crochet and knit.
Kleiman is one of the nation's leading consultants on retrofitting the nation's 16,671 public libraries as beacons for older adults — and he is on a mission.
The over-65 population "will double in size by 2025, and libraries are realizing that this is a potentially new and exciting market," says Kleiman, who has consulted with libraries across America on how to attract older people to the stacks. Kleiman sees designated adult spaces as places for assembling an active, more inquiring generation that wants books, but also much more information and connectivity. He believes the proven success of interactive sections for teens and children will translate to the same for older adults.
And Kleiman's vision is catching.
Inviting 'senior spaces'
It all began in 2007, when Kleiman, then chair of the American Library Association's Library Service to an Aging Population Committee, took on a challenge from another committee member. His challenge was to incorporate gaming with seniors into the programming activities of the Old Bridge Public Library in Old Bridge, N.J., where he served as assistant director.
"Seniors are not going to drop everything and come to the library and go Wii bowling. It needs to be a bigger part of what you're doing with seniors," says Kleiman, who tapped the library's teen advisory board at Old Bridge for ideas. The young folk brought parents and grandparents for gaming events in the lobby and offered to teach technology and navigation skills.
So with the help of a grant from the Eastern New Jersey Regional Library Cooperative, Kleiman began fashioning the first designated senior space on the East Coast. The library continues to trumpet its designated Senior Spaces on its website, inviting people to attend bridge, Scrabble and craft clubs and watch new and vintage movies together on Friday afternoons.
Kleiman continued his work by helping guide 10 adult-designed spaces in Pennsylvania and New Jersey libraries, and has made plans for retrofitting six more. He also took the Old Bridge prototype and demonstrated its potential at a series of regional and national library conferences and encouraged librarians to apply for grants. The seeds he's sown over the past several years are taking root.