Finding interest and social connections at the library is an increasingly common experience for people of all ages, particularly for older adults. With a focus on serving the community in ways that extend beyond lending and literacy, local libraries have a tremendous amount to offer. From coffee hours and lectures to art exhibits and hobby groups, there are many opportunities for people to meet with like-minded neighbors and find community at the library.
A Surprising Variety of Offerings
When 78-year-old Carol Rizzoli moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, after 30 years in the Washington, DC, area, one of the first places she went to find community was the local public library. The Sturgis Library, one of the oldest public libraries in New England, provided a much-needed social outlet for her as she adjusted to her new life.
“I felt a bit lost, and the library was a natural magnet for me as a writer,” she remembers. “I ventured in and found the most wonderful and warm welcome.”
Rizzoli was soon involved in a variety of programs at Sturgis, including joining the book club she’s now participated in for more than a decade, giving a talk about one of her own books, and going to craft shows and outdoor concerts hosted by the library.
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Something for Everyone
Programming at today’s US libraries ranges from toddler story hours to educational sessions on end-of-life decision-making and everything in between.
Looking up your local library online is likely to reveal worlds of opportunity that are ready and waiting for you, much geared specifically to older adults. Book discussions, craft programs, computer classes, lecture series, business training, chess clubs, and meditation sessions are just some of the experiences that are increasingly common at local libraries.
“We offer everything from arts classes to programming on end-of-life to series about Medicare or fraud,” says Emily Billow, Seattle Public Library’s older adults program manager. The system offers programming in five categories: dementia-friendly libraries, aging in place and retirement, creative aging, entrepreneurship, and healthy aging. Classes focus on retirement planning, preparing for medical or legal challenges, and writing, art, and theater.
In addition to classes and books, many libraries lend out useful items, or items you may want to try before buying or only need to use once. “Card tables, Legos, a telescope, jigsaw puzzles, a ukulele, and even an electric leaf blower,” says Rizzoli, ticking off some of the options available for lending at the Sturgis Library.
One of the most popular programs in Southwest Florida’s Lee County library system is “Knit and Stitch,” where people gather monthly to knit, crochet, chat, and support each other. The library provides the knitters with tools, crafting books, and other resources.
A Place to Find Your People
A lot of library programming these days has a social element, whether it takes place face-to-face or over Zoom.
“The library is one of the few places, still, where you can interact with people of different ages, races, and socioeconomic statuses,” says Lee County reference librarian Erica Hassler. “Especially if we have a book discussion group, you have different people coming together and interacting.”
As Rizzoli found, this social engagement can lead to true friendships for regular patrons active in library programming, “they’re real friendships,” she says. “A real friend is someone you can call in the middle of the night if your house catches fire, and they won’t go, ‘What? Who?’”
Libraries also offer people in the community free meeting spaces to host meetings and events. Even if you don’t see something that interests you on the library’s calendar, the library may still offer a useful place to meet with your own group or start one.
The Library Is Waiting for You
From babies to centenarians, everyone can find community at the library. And everyone is welcome. If you’re looking for a way to get out into the community, meet new people, and learn new things without paying a dime, it’s an option worth exploring.
“Everyone [should] check out their local library,” says Billow. “We want to create programs that are going to support you and your aging process. And we can be a lot of fun.”
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