Are you making the most of your local library? As a north London library worker, I’ve come to the conclusion that many older people are not, perhaps imagining them to be geared primarily to the needs and interests of the young.
In fact, today’s libraries are friendly, accessible, gentle-paced hubs at the centre of communities, with programmes of free events catering for all ages, along with books, films and audio tapes galore to borrow or just browse, free computers, advice and information, comfy chairs, newspapers, and quite possibly a little cafe attached.
I’d go so far as to say I cannot think of a group of people more likely to benefit from developing, or indeed rekindling a library habit than older people, especially those with time on their hands and the nagging feel they have nowhere to go.
Home library services
For some, mobility issues or other special needs can make a trek to the nearest library seem a daunting prospect. Free mobile and housebound library services go some way to meeting these people’s needs. So if this is you, please do enquire about theses services today. You’ll find their contact details on your local council’s website and in its publications.
Yet even the best of these outreach services can only ever deliver a fraction of what libraries themselves offer. From the buildings themselves to the services and amenities they house, there’s something for everyone. For example, here in Haringey, north London, we have nine libraries. They vary greatly in size, location and ambience.
Your kind of place
So if you’re looking for a busy town centre vibe, with an extensive adult learning service on site, banks of computers, a diverse range of books, newspapers and information stands serving an equally diverse population, plus a high street of coffee bars, shops and restaurants nearby, then Wood Green library might be the place for you.
Alternatively, you might prefer Stroud Green and Harringay library, a quaint Edwardian cottage library that retains all its old world charm. The tranquility of long-ago libraries can be found here, broken only by the equally enchanting – not to say nostalgic – sound of a group of young mums and their toddlers singing nursery rhymes. Libraries like these are some of the loveliest communal public spaces we have.
Something for everyone
The point worth emphasising here is that besides the obvious things – the books, audio books, CDs and DVDs – Haringey’s libraries, in common with library services across the country, offer an amazing range of additional activities and opportunities.
If health and exercise is your thing, we have classes devoted to gentle aerobic exercise, chair-based exercise, yoga, line dancing and meditation. We play host to regular dementia support, stroke club and weightwatchers groups, while Age UK, the British Legion, Parkinson’s UK and a local GayWise support group for LGBT people all hold drop-ins with us.
In our libraries, you can visit art exhibitions and author events, join sewing, pattern-cutting and knitting circles. You can get to grips with computers, or learn a new language. You can share your love of reading and creative writing with others, try your hand at life drawing, or join a gardening club.
Make it happen
At a time when financial cuts have been hitting local government services hard, library services should be cherished. Yet there is more we can and should be doing to serve older people. In recent years, there has been a drive to radically improve access to all kinds of public buildings and services. Cinemas, theatres, royal palaces and museums have all made adjustments and explored innovative ways of being more inclusive. Libraries should be doing the same, and one of the best ways of making us raise our game is if you demand we do so.
So visit your local library today, and see what they can do for you. And remember to pick up a copy of the brochure telling you what’s on and when, to help plan your next visit. My advice is simple: if your intent is to make the most of life, make the most of your library.
by Andrew Bence