Notes from the New England Lifelong Access Libraries Institute, Part 3
We next stepped outside the library world to hear from Sharon Sokoloff, a professional gerontologist who directs the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Brandeis (BOLLI), one of 122 Lifelong Learning Institutes currently being funded by the Osher Institute. These provide non-credit educational programs on university and college campuses for adults over age 50. Retirement can provide people with the time they never had—to learn, or even teach, and the Institutes provide opportunities for both. Classes at BOLLI are peer-led by retired, semi-retired, or other adult volunteers, many of whom are experts in the field. Many people volunteer as they get older, but are often dissatisfied by the experience; teaching such classes, though, offers a highly rewarding volunteer opportunity and enables those teaching and leading study groups to continue learning as well. Prospective teachers submit a proposal for a class, which should be academic in nature.
Ms. Sokoloff considers public libraries excellent locations for lifelong learning opportunities. Lifelong learning gives a sense of meaning to life, helps establish connections with others and increases cognitive vitality Keep in mind the importance of a regular time each week, or month; lack of structure is one challenge when one retires; having something to do on a regular basis—e.g., every Tuesday morning—will give people something to structure the rest of their week around. She suggested an excellent resource for forming a study group for reflecting upon one’s life and looking within: the book, The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom by Angeles Arrien. She also recommended the writings of two men greatly respected in gerontological circles: Robert Butler and James Birren.
After a delicious and nutritious lunch, Doug Lord from the Connecticut State Library fed us a few new ideas. I suspect he’s also known as “the man with the money” because of his role in divvying up the state’s LSTA grant money. As someone far too young to be a boomer, he started with a riff on how to “take care of” our inordinately large generational cohort. I won’t go into detail, but it involved the release of large and hungry predators. . . Don’t worry, Doug, we know you were kidding! But keep this in mind if you’re over 50-ish and in the Hartford neighborhood.
Moving on, he urged us to try new things with a great image: cook the spaghetti, throw it on the wall, if it sticks, go with it. He inspired us by telling about the amazing 50+ Transition Center at the New Haven Free Public Library. They’ve got it all: a great space, with chairs and a nice view; a focused yet broad collection of books and media, in both English and Spanish, arranged bookstore-style by subject; and activities for the body and mind such as tai chi, travel, re-careering and volunteering.
One of his slides showed tables—perhaps 50 of them of all shapes and sizes, with his exhortation to us: Be the table.! If we have felt happy to merely be at the table in the past, we should realize that we can be the table—the place where people in our community come to talk, learn and grow.
Shelley Quezada from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners followed, reinforcing our need to interact and connect with the community. She discussed a practical tool that she learned in preparation for doing staff training as part of WebJunction’s Spanish Language Outreach project—Community Leader interviews. Through your community network, find leaders in the 50+ community, and have them speak to your staff about the interests, needs and potential of this part of the population. She encouraged us to bring people together for social interaction, perhaps for a Conversation Circle or Talk Time.