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Library catering to seniors

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Large print books, audio materials and personal service are all important to seniors according to a library needs assessment survey by the Kitchigami Regional Library System.

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Renee Frethem, Wadena branch manager, said that by 2030 the majority of citizens in Wadena County will be senior citizens.

"So we need to serve them," she said. "People are living longer."

Marion Ridge, library director, said they separated seniors in the five-county Kitchagami Library region into two categories: older seniors and young seniors (ages 55-65). Each group has distinctive traits. The older seniors tend to be long-time residents of their communities who have a limited comfort level with technology, she said. For many of them the mobile library service is their only way of getting service.

The younger seniors are an in-migration population, she said. They are more comfortable with technology and have different expectations of their local library.

The survey focused on the needs of older seniors, she said. After conducting the survey Ridge said Kitchigami discovered several areas for improved services. They included an increased selection of large print and audio books, she said. Kitchigami will also apply for grant funds to target more information about library services towards seniors. The marketing will use 16-point font for easier reading and will be available in the places seniors frequent such as clinics and senior centers, she said.

Frethem said that the Wadena City Library is planning on directing a lot of their programming towards seniors in the future.

"I would say that seniors are the majority of our patrons," she said. "[We] can tell from the use of the library."

She emphasized that the attention on senior needs would not be to the exclusion of other groups of patrons.

The library is particularly important to seniors because many of them rely on it as a major source of information rather than the Internet, Frethem said.

"We're still the information hub for them," she said. "They want to hold a book in their hands. They don't want to look at a screen."

Frethem said the majority of senior patrons bring a list of books they want to check out or call over the phone rather than use the library computers to look up books.

"A lot of seniors really prefer to talk to staff," she said. "The bottom line is that's why we're here. We're not going to push them to use computers."

Although the library does not require computer use, it is offering classes to encourage computer literacy among seniors. Several times a year the library partners with Sharon Notch and the Area Agency on Aging to conduct a "Senior Surfs" computer class. The class features the basics of computer use including turning the computer on, using the mouse and getting online, Frethem said. Notch teaches seniors how to access Social Security and Medicare Web sites and get information that they need. When it is offered, seniors can sign up for "Senior Surfs" free of charge, she said.

"That's a neat program," she said. "We get a lot of interest in that."

The traditional sources of information such as books, magazines and newspapers are still the most popular among seniors, she said. Crafts, antiques, genealogy and Wadena history are all popular subjects with seniors. The library has many large print books and audio and plans to increase the circulation of those materials after the findings of the survey, she said.

For patrons with impaired vision, there is a magnifying glass available at the front desk, Frethem said. There are even Braille materials available through MN Link.

Another service that seniors frequently use is the toy checkout for when their grandchildren visit, she said. The service is handy for seniors who do not have toys in their homes.

The introduction of the Friendly Rider bus to Wadena County has also had a positive impact on the relationship between seniors and the library, Frethem said.

"Friendly Rider is just so wonderful," she said. "It's brought people in from all over the area that haven't been able to get to the library. I can't tell you how many times a week we call the Friendly Rider to come and pick someone up."

Frethem said she is glad that so many citizens are interested in using the services of the library.

"The library for seniors is something they've used forever," she said. "It's always been a viable source of information."

sarah@wadenapj.com

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