Aged to Perfection, Part II: Libraries and the Senior Marketplace

Nancy DavisRemember the essentials of Marketing:
Delivering what the people want to the people who want it in the way they want it

Why are there children’s specialists, market segmentation (infants are treated differently from toddlers) and special programming effort for children, but not for seniors? When hiring, we should look for people with prior experience and aptitude in this area.

A responsive and supportive senior community can have a tremendous impact on the library.

Growing senior population challenges

  • Reallocation of staff and funding to include seniors, and must be able to support the tools they need (and adapt as their needs change)
  • Reassessment of facilities and collection (need to be ADA-compliant, seniors may have trouble with oversized books or high/low shelves, provide adaptive technologies, etc)
  • Libraries need to provide more personal assistance, including serving those who can’t come to the library (van/mobile services, programs outside the library)

Opportunities for the Library

  • Enrich the lives of long-time community members (and an important voting block). It’s also good to recognize long-time patrons (cardholder for 50 years, etc.
  • Seniors are great community resources themselves, and are valuable volunteers
  • Grants are available specifically for these types of services
  • There is a potential to launch a “planned giving” program, in anticipation of the shift of wealth to older generations. We need to make these people aware of the library as a recipient of donations, trusts, and grants (it is especially important for Trustees to get involved)
  • Seniors control 70% of disposable income in the US (and usually the decision-maker is female)

Seniors use the library for many reasons

  • Pleasure reading, travel information, health information (it is dangerous to self-diagnose), hobby information, starting new careers, lifelong learning, share their love of reading with grandchildren, doing genealogy research (which is also a great way to introduce seniors to databases and online computing
  • Information available at the library is free. Seniors are thrifty and often vote against tax increases, but usually are willing to support a library that they use

What the library can offer seniors

  • Free recreational reading (from other libraries via ILL, too)
  • Professional, friendly and knowledgeable service catered to their needs and their pace
  • A place to socialize with other members of the community (not just other seniors)
  • Volunteer opportunities to give back and feel needed
  • Timely information about larger social issues, community events, government services
  • One-on-one attention with a high level of service (seniors can remember a time when service was important, and they notice when they get it)
  • Access to the internet and internet training

The “Silver Market Test” – Does the library have…

  • …leadership committed to serving seniors?
  • …strategic initiatives geared towards seniors?
  • …programming and collection materials that meet the needs and requirements of seniors?
  • …a budget line-item to support senior programs?
  • …established customer service guidelines (and staff trained to these guidelines)?
  • …a facility (the building, your website, in-library technology, signage, everything) that meets all accessibility needs? See and
  • …a senior advisory board?

How to reach seniors?

  • Seniors read, so reach them through the library newsletter, other forms of direct mail, church bulletins, the newspaper
  • Freebies and promotions, grouped and branded for seniors
  • Community events and flyers/posters around town
  • Word of mouth is very important, and negative impressions circulate just as fast as positive impressions
  • Eliminate all library jargon
  • Don’t surprise them – if you promise something, do it.

Ideas that Work

  • Program around Older Adults Month (May)
  • 1/2 off fines and fees on senior days
  • Collection of materials for caregivers
  • Lunch with a Book for seniors
  • Program Ideas
    • How to downsize/relocate
    • Planning a family reunion
    • Getting started in genealogy
    • Intro to tech gadgets
    • Take pictures of your grandkids with a digital camera
    • Creating writing classes, scrapbooking
    • Container gardening
    • Display of family photos/mementos
    • Oral history programs with schools