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Wisdom and Wii at the Public Library

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 1216923. New York Public LibraryBy three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblest; Second, by imitation, which is the easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest. —Confucius

The New England Lifelong Access Libraries Leadership Institute took place in Newton, Massachusetts on December 1-2, 2008. Over 40 librarians from throughout New England attended, with the goal of getting tools, resources, and ideas to help them enhance public library services for older adults in their communities. I had the opportunity to attend and have written more extensive notes which you will find on the Lifelong Access blog. You will find slides from most of the presentations at the Lifelong Access Libraries website. Besides hearing “Stories from the Field” about successful programs, we had several opportunities to hear from experts outside the library field who apprised us of up-to-date research and data relating to aging and topics such as health, volunteering and employment.

One such speaker was Sharon Sokoloff, a gerontologist who directs the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis. The Osher Foundation currently provides funding for 122 similar institutes in 49 states. Though each program is unique, there are a few things they have in common: each provides classes, primarily of an academic nature, for adults 50 and over; each uses peer volunteers; and each is affiliated with a college or university.

Based on experience gleaned from many years devoted to later life education, Ms. Sokoloff expressed great enthusiasm for public libraries as similar learning hubs in the community. She also gave us some valuable words from Confucius on how to seek wisdom (see above). Although libraries may not be able to help with the other two ways, they can certainly provide opportunities for reflection, thereby supporting the most noble way of becoming wise.

Another speaker was Doug Lord from the Connecticut State Library. He encouraged us to “cook the spaghetti and throw it on the wall; if it sticks—go with it!” I must say, The New York Public Library is doing just that. Many of the branch libraries have started visiting their local senior centers to talk about what the library has to offer, register people for library cards, and invite the group over for interesting programs and classes. They have also started bringing over Nintendo Wii equipment, which many libraries own and loan. Wii bowling has proven to be one of the most popular activities at the centers, while a few other popular options are tennis, baseball, and golf.

Here is a brief rundown of ways in which some of the Bronx libraries and nearby senior centers have been collaborating:

Staff from the Pelham Bay Library visited the RAIN/Middletown Road Senior Center and the Aging in America Senior Center. Between the two centers, they spoke to 120 enthusiastic seniors about what the library had to offer, including a series of computer class for those 50+, and an upcoming musical program, From Italy with Love . Plus, library staff offered to teach classes on not only Basic Internet at each of the centers, but also on Instant Messaging! I’m impressed!

The Grand Concourse Library has twice visited the nearby High Bridge Senior Center and is developing a wonderful relationship with them. They’ve given out library cards on the spot, and will be helping out by giving some computer classes at the ten Internet-accessible computers at the center. They’re also planning some dates for Wii gaming and a book discussion group. We’ll keep you posted on these efforts.

The Parkchester Library which serves an amazingly diverse patron base residing in a 129-acre “scrupulously-planned” (according to The New York Times) community in the East Bronx, has also been providing great service for their local senior centers. One of their enthusiastic staff members has visited the RAIN/Parkchester Senior Center to regale them with stories and poems. And their visit to PEP for Seniors resulted in several of their members of their creative writing class presenting their own stories at the library’s Open Mic Night! Many of the Parkchester seniors participate in the Knitting and Crochet classes at the library.

And, exciting news for any library, anywhere with a Wii Bowling for Seniors program—you are invited to participate in the Kent Public Library Holiday Classic Wii Bowling Tournament. Your library can enter as many four member teams as you have. Each four member team will record their best combined scores of their two best games bowled from December 15, 2008 through January 16, 2009. To enter teams please email Frank Rees, Kent Public Library at frankrees@gmail.com.

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