FINLAND
Small-group Book Sleuthing for seniors

GATHERED AT THE ROUND TABLE:

Small-group Book Sleuthing for seniors

It is a warm Tuesday morning in autumn at the Simunanranta service centre for the aging in Seinäjoki. Eight women and two men sit in the day room sipping steaming coffee. The average age is well over 70. One of the women is younger than the others, and she has a book bag with her. What is it all about?

When the coffee cups are empty, the youngest of the women, Jaana Savela, coordinator for activities for senior citizens at the Seinäjoki City Library- Provincial Library, begins: “Is the library a familiar place to you? And what about a library card that looks like this?” Upon seeing the card, the group members nod their heads – it sure is familiar; they have visited the library.

Books written in large fonts and audio books on cassettes and CDs are presented to them. They can all be found at the library. Movies are also available there. The old Finnish classic which tells about Hilja, the milkmaid, is a familiar work to many. Sample copies pass from hand to hand around the table. Many of the group members have seen the movie; some have read the book.

Next, Savela shows the group members a simplified language edition of a book, which generates much discus- sion. The topic of the book is cooking of the past, an every- day activity familiar to everyone. Savela asks: “Do you know how to make beer-flavoured gruel and black pudding?” Almost everyone has memories of the traditional foods presented in the book. Buying candy in the store was also different from what it is today. Savela reads a short excerpt in the book.

Then it is time for novels. Savela has found a real jewel of a book for the senior citizens. Kinkkauskivet by Terttu Autere is an optimistic description of childhood in the 1950s. The decade and the book spawn many memories among the listeners. One woman remembers how her oldest brother would listen to audio-plays with his ear stuck to the speaker as his flock of siblings clamour around him. After the war, many of the group members saw an orange for the first time. The brother of one woman had eaten the peel of the wonder fruit without realizing it. Almost everyone took part in the discussion – what was life really like in the 1950s!

The second novel by Sisko Istanmäki tells of a group of elderly people who establish a free nursing home. The excerpt Savel reads from the book describes the residents in the ‘nursing home’ in a humorous manner. Based on the outbursts of laughter, the book’s rich humour takes hold of the listeners.

The short story collection up for presentation is written by Mirja Kuivaniemi of Seinäjoki, she writes about gloomy things, but with a twist of dry humour. The local dialect sounds natural as it rolls off Savela’s tongue when she reads about two old women being taken for a quick ride to the sauna in a nursing home. The book may offer something for the listeners to relate to in their own lives.

The last book is a surprise to everyone. The Loveliest Girl in the World is a picture book that takes the reader into the world of badly treated children and youth. The book goes from hand to hand around the table, and the delightful sight of the beautiful, empowering photographs captures the attention of the participants. Savela reads a poem written by one of the young people in the book about how difficult selfacceptance is. Everyone around the table listens in complete silence. It seems that the young girl’s message touches lives beyond generations. After the last book, Savela couldn’t help but read one last poem from a collection that contains poems about aging. This time the poem tells of love humorously and ironically. Feelings never die even though a person ages.

The hour has almost come to an end and the recommended books have been presented, but the chatting around the table continues. The participants write down the titles of books and mention that their daughter or son will borrow the book at the library. They also ask the clerk about the library’s home service; how nice to be able to get books delivered right to your door! Potential patrons grabbed a brochure telling about the service. Finally, Jaana Savela gathers together all of the books and material in her bag. Tomorrow she will meet a new day group. She will perhaps return to this same group in a year.

Not all listeners are interested in reading, but looking at the smiles and alert expressions on the participants’ faces it is evident that the session was clearly an experience; it has offered variation to the normal routine of the day. Marita Koski, group coordinator, appreciates the Book Sleuthing sessions the library organises for each group once a year. She states: “Sleuthing for seniors is an excellent thing. The topics Jaana Savela chose were touching.We would gladly accept these types of activities for our day activities.” Sometimes entire bags full of works to read and music are requested, in addition to the Book Sleuthing, for the day activity groups for the aging. “For example, wartime songs are popular,” says Koski.

Ten tips for Book Sleuthing for seniors

1. Be interested in your listeners and respect them.

2. Collaborate with the aging in nursing/residential homes in your town and with other groups for the aging.

3. Five to fifteen is a suitable size for a Book Sleuthing group to allow opportunity for discussion.

4. The place where the Book Sleuthing takes place must be appropriate and free from disturbances.

5. Make sure there is a relaxed atmosphere. If the elderly group members are restless, take that into consideration before the Book Sleuthing begins.Music may have a calming effect on the group.

6. Looking at pictures activates the listeners and fragrances arouse memories.

7. Reserve enough books; it’s better to have too many than to have too few.

8. Choose books that have had an impact on you. Also, think about the common experiences the elderly people have had, for example cooking traditional food, going to school, childhood games, etc.

9. Recommend different types of books: novels, non-fiction works, poetry, picture books, etc.

10. End the session in good time. One hour is an appropriate amount of time for holding Book Sleuthing sessions for senior citizens.

Mervi Heikkilä
Director of libraries, Seinäjoki

mervi.heikkila AT seinajoki.fi

Translated by Turun Täyskäännös

Director of libraries, Seinäjoki