Panel discussion with Mary Catherine Bateson, James Welbourne, Gloria Cole (?) and moderator/coordinator Harriet Henderson [Diantha Schull was scheduled to attend but had food poisoning]. This was a session about how the idea of who is an older American is changing, how this population is growing, and what one library in New Haven is doing to reach out to this population without doing al the typical senior service things.
Mary Cathering Bateson
“The notion that people go into the library… read, discuss search… this has the potential for transforming our lives”
I tried to quote as much as possible from Ms. Bateson’s speech because she was so eloquent and because she was not reading off of slides. In fact, she had an overhead projector and a few transparencies.
“I feel that there has been a notable failure of imagination of understanding the meaning of the demographic changes taking place with increased longevity and increased health…. The biggest failure of imagination of all, thinking that at age 65 they are going to spend the rest of their life golfing and watching television, maybe for thirty years… There is a real need to move people’s imaginations. Although a lot has been done so far to encourage older adults into volunteer work and civic engagement, I believe there are still a large group of peopel who haven’t understood the changed situation that we are in.”
She explained the traditional conception of “three generation” society with three sections: child, adult, old age. We are seeing people live longer, kids who have seven or eight grandparents including all the older people with loose familial relationships to a child. She posits a four generation society ["I was just learning how to make these things", referring to overheads ]. Child, Adult 1 (child rearing, productive work etc), Adult 2 (grandparent generation, healthy, involved) Old age (great-grandparent generation, possibly needing more care). We’re living in a four generation society and are not really grappling with it or dealing with it in any useful way.
We’re moving rapidly into a situation where there are fewer children and the ratio of “over 65″ people has gone from 1/6 to more like 25% and they are in good health. “Bismarck invented the idea of a pensioned retirement as an institution at the beginning of the 20th century” the idea being that if people worked until they were 70, no one should turn them out on the streets for the rest of their lives. At this point, life expectancy was 47 (worldwide 32). We STILL have the figure of 65 in our heads as when a social safety net situation should start for older people.
She started a program called Granny Voter encouraging seniors to vote “for their grandchildren” with the next generations in mind. She says that seniors are treated by politicians as if they only care about Medicare or drug benefits and yet we live in a society where we feel that we are “mortgaging the future” and making shortsighted decisions at the ballot box.
“Just as women of my generation grew up being told who they were and what to expect from their lives…. what to want. We had to struggle to notice how arbitraty it was and that we could demand something different. In the same sense people coming up on retirement age today are still burdened by obsolete concepts of again…. For each of thhe liberation movements of the 20th century, it has been essential to raise consciousness of a new circumstance”
“I’m convinced that here is a potential for a change of consciousness among older adults, people in Adulthood 2, a change that many of them need to start thinking about at age 45… They can have a huge influence on American life and maybe an influence on how we think about the future…. climate change and global warming with peopel raising the question of whether we are going to take responsibiltiy for the future.”
She issued a challenge people to start pilot programs in libraries to start this process of raising consciousness and transforming the imagination, saying “I have a new idea of what I can be and what I can do for my country and the children who are coming up” She calls this Active Wisdom (website pending) and ecouraged us all to be a part of supporting it.
“When the baby boomers retirement peaks by the year 2020 the workforce they leave behind will be so drastically changed as to be totallly unrecognizeable.”
New Haven Public Library has a 50+ Transition Center to learn to serve a generation of healthy active older adults who are shifting to a life of civic engagement. They have informal drop-in sessions where they interact, show off books on topics relevant to the active senior community, and have been starting more programming on topics of interest to active engaged older adults.
Olivia Cole from Libraries for the Future
At Libraries for the Future they call it “a third place for a third age”
“In the carrigages of the past, you can not go anywhere” – Maxim Gorky
Speaker: “We need to find a new ride.”
every eight seconds another Baby Boomer turns 50. Boomers expect to be meaningfully engaged in their communities, they want to not only participate but to design and manage activities for themselves and others. Retirement becomes a new chapter, not an end and needs to be dealth with accordingly.
As this generation moves into retirement, there is less of a distinction between paid and unpaid work, between work and community service. Volunteer opportunities are becoming the prerogative of the HR department, you can use retirees like actual employees, but you need to be willing to treat them accordingly.
She pointed to this set of reports for more information and statistics about the retiring generations. She referred to what people have been calling “the Floridazation of America” in some states 20% of the population will be retired boomers.
“Aging adults constitute out largest growing natural resource” quote from head of Civic Ventures a site she recommends.
They have a national initiative called Lifelong Access Libraries to help libraries become places for lifelong libraries and civic engagement, geared specifically towards older Americans. These are the parts of their movement.
- Leadership development
- Institute for fellows
- Best practices diseemination (via WebJunction)
- they are the community meeting place
- they are the MOST trusted institution
- there are 16,500 outlets
- there are NO barriers for age, income, belief, language
- public libraries have support for these types of programs and services already
Olivia’s real push was that we have to be ready to serve a large population that — unlike many librarians — is neither well educated, nor middle class. She said that 47 is the average age of when people become grandmothers in the US, and added “don’t get fooled by what is happening in the middle class” when we plan our services. 70% of the people we’ll be seeing in the retiring boomer generation are neither well-educated nor middle class.
This is an opportunity for the library to try to integrate its services and offerings for all members of the community. The challenges for libraries are to think about serving older people without being stuck in the mode of thinking only homebound, nursing home and large print readers.