New focus on library service for the elderly

Public libraries and institutions serving the elderly have to find new ways of working together. Residents in homes for the elderly rarely have the opportunity to borrow books or other library items. That’s why it is so important that somewhere in a home for the elderly there’s an attractive and comfortable place where library materials can be displayed and be easily accessible. It’s also important that staff inform residents about the library area, show them where it is and promote usage of the materials there. In order to accomplish this the staff need to be aware of the appropriate resources that are available in the form of training courses in story-telling, IT-training and TV/video gaming.

Gotland Libraries, together with the island’s homes for the elderly, want to establish a number of model libraries in nursing homes where small but effective collections can be promoted.

For many years homes for the elderly have been supplied with books from libraries and mobile libraries. Gotland, like many other places in Sweden during the 1970s and 1980s, has had an ambitious library programme for people with limited access to libraries. More recently the focus has been on the development of other types of library service and commitment to time-consuming outreach services has fallen off. However, thanks to an initiative by Gunilla Forsén in 2007, Gotland public library directors began to discuss the future development of library service to the elderly. The Gotland County Library contacted directors for the island’s institutions caring for the elderly suggesting the need for developing library service. Together, we decided to apply for external funding, initially for the establishment of a prototype model library and subsequently through cooperation with local public libraries equipping seven homes for the elderly with library facilities.We have called the project‘New focus on library service for the elderly’.

The Gotland County Library feels that the importance of a library’s ambience can’t be underestimated; the library’s environment must feel inviting and comfortable.We applied for funding from the Swedish Arts Council and have, during the initial period, worked together with staff from a local library and a home for the elderly, two artists and an IT-expert to create a library in Gråbo’s home for the elderly. Carina Norderäng and Catrin Fohlström from the Gråbo Library actively contributed to establishing the new library and now have full responsibility for the collection, ensuring that residents are supplied with material they’ve requested and that they’re pleasantly surprised by material they didn’t know it was possible to find in a library. Currently, residents have a selection of fiction – mostly mysteries – and poetry, non-fiction, Gotlandica, easy-readers and large print books and a good selection of audio books and music. Film and TV/video games will shortly be available. The nearby day centre has purchased a laptop computer equipped with enhanced accessibility programs. There is also a projector and a large screen for showing films.

The County Library has had four ITtraining courses for residents, staff and day centre visitors. Training courses in story-telling and TV/video games are being planned. Invitations to these courses are extended to all staff caring for the elderly on Gotland including library staff.

The focus has been on presentation. The library should be highly visible and very appealing. The artists, Anette Blomberg and Kenneth Broström, have used colour, beautiful textiles, attractive lighting, sheepskins and new furniture to show how inspiring surroundings encourage people to make use of the facilities.

Establishing the small library area in Gråbo has been interesting and instructive, even though it has taken much more time than we anticipated. The spirit of cooperation engendered by the two professions working together has shown how important it is that decisions leading to change are made by the right people and everyone must feel involved in the process.

As project leader I’ve come to realize how important it is that each book collection be established according to local needs and that these needs do vary from institution to institution. If this collaboration with services caring for the elderly continues the Gotland County Library hopes to engage the Gotland Museum as a partner, perhaps within the scope of the existing national project promoting collaboration between archives, libraries and museums (ABM). Memory boxes and oral narratives about life on Gotland in earlier times could be an admirable complement to the above described initiatives.

This would certainly make us feel that we’d have something really worthwhile to offer.

Alongside the small-scale experiment in Gråbo, Visby, the Gotland County Library has also had the opportunity to participate in a national project – Cooperation between public libraries, health care services and services caring for the elderly – together with county libraries from Stockholm, Västmanland, Sörmland and Örebro. The project, also funded by the Swedish Arts Council, aims to renew and improve existing library outreach services and secure access to books and reading for elderly and disabled persons who are unable to visits libraries or access digital collections. The libraries, together with nursing staff, are to ensure that patients within the project’s scope have the opportunity to read and to be able to access information by having it read aloud to them.

The aim is for libraries to achieve better working relations with the local community (health care institutions, local associations, etc.). Library staff will be given the opportunity to cooperate in different ways with personnel in health care and those caring for the elderly.

Together, both projects will provide us with better ways to improve outreach services and, above all, the inspiration necessary to give public libraries new methods and new approaches to do this.

Christina Svensson
County Librarian

Translated by Greg Church

County Librarian Gotland