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Providing library programming designed for older adults can benefit older adults, public libraries and their communities

Sabo, RM.  Lifelong learning and library programming for third agers  Library Review. 2017; 66(1/2): 39-48.

Review question

•    What are the benefits of library programming for older adults, and what is the extent of their implementation in libraries today?


      The number of older adults (aged 65 and older) in the U.S. is expected to double from 46 million in 2017 to 98 million by 2060. As the size of this demographic rises globally, it is expected that public libraries will similarly see an increase in demand for programming from older adults in the communities they serve.

      It has been suggested that providing specific programming and lifelong learning opportunities for older adults will not only benefit older adults, but also provide potential gains for libraries and their communities.

      This systematic review examined the benefits associated with library programming for older adults, evaluated the current state of library programming for older adults, and provided suggestions for future improvements.

How the review was done

      The authors conducted a thorough search of the literature from two research databases. Only articles published from 2000 to 2017 were included, with preference given to articles specifically addressing library programming for older adults.

      The authors did not report any specific funding for this systematic review.

What the researchers found

      The systematic review indicates that public libraries in the U.S. have been slow to take notice of the shifting old-age demographic, and slow to provide adequate programming to support lifelong learning opportunities. Libraries predominantly tailored their supports to older adults through the provision of large print books, audio books, and services to the homebound or institutionalized. Very few libraries provided programming specific to older adults.

      Despite the lack of service provided by libraries, evidence shows that older adults are interested in attending library programming, and view libraries as a preferred place for learning.

      Older adults can benefit libraries by serving as library advocates. The benefits to older adults, in turn, are plentiful. Learning activities have been shown to improve life enjoyment, self-confidence, and overall life satisfaction in older adults. Participation in learning activities offered by libraries contributes to successful aging, and has physical and psychological benefits.

      Barriers to lifelong learning include personal attitudes (for example, a lack of confidence in the ability to learn), institutional barriers (for example, insufficient programming), and situational barriers (for example, a lack of time, transportation, money).

      Overall, the systematic review indicated numerous weaknesses in library planning and service provision. Libraries are encouraged to: 1) conduct surveys and focus groups of older adults to determine programming needs; 2) involve older adults in the planning process and form an advisory committee; 3) have a designated librarian responsible for coordinating services to older adults; 4) conduct library programming that is geared toward older adults; and 5) provide an adequate budget to support programming dedicated to older adults.


      In summary, the systematic review indicated that the growing population of older adults is generally interested in lifelong learning and would attend programs of interest at local libraries.

      Embracing this growing older-adult population can lead to the development of library advocates and potential donors while benefiting both older adults and their communities.


Systematic review
A comprehensive evaluation of the available research evidence on a particular topic.

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