Library Makeovers Draw Seniors


In Allan Kleiman’s vision of public libraries, stern librarians don’t shush chatterers with withering stares. Rather, Kleiman, 59, sees Wii gaming machines with active older Americans virtually bowling, shooting arrows and playing table tennis. He sees grandparents learning Skype and Facebook so they can chat online with their distant families. He sees instructors teaching retirees how to use digital cameras and giving word processing lessons. The retirees, in turn, are teaching younger people how to play chess, crochet and knit.

Kleiman is one of the nation’s leading consultants on retrofitting the nation’s 16,671 public libraries as beacons for older adults — and he is on a mission.

Inviting ‘senior spaces’

Kleiman continued his work by helping guide 10 adult-designed spaces in Pennsylvania and New Jersey libraries, and has made plans for retrofitting six more. He also took the Old Bridge prototype and demonstrated its potential at a series of regional and national library conferences and encouraged librarians to apply for grants. The seeds he’s sown over the past several years are taking root.

Young and old help each other

In Pennsylvania and New Jersey, state library boards channeled funds from the Federal Library Services and Technology Act to help bolster adult-themed projects, according to Kleiman.

Young patrons teach, too. “We invite our teen technology club to teach older people how to set up Twitter and Facebook accounts and upload pictures,” Stefanko says.

“The library is like the old-fashioned general store. Everyone comes in and catches up with everybody else,” says Nancy Power, 63. “You hear computers clicking away, people talking, people gaming.”

A community beacon

“These areas are destination points, activity points to encourage people to stay and use the library as ‘place,’ ” Kleiman says. He encourages librarians, who frequently have small budgets for new programs, to seek out community volunteers to run events and teach classes.

In the Osterhout Library, Stefanko suggests hands-on presentations to encourage intergenerational participation. 

“Libraries anchor the community, if they are doing their job correctly,” says Kleiman. “And so many of them are.”

The library of the future

With steady outreach, able volunteers and increased grants, Kleiman believes, libraries could outpace senior centers as the place people gather. It could be a throwback to the “People’s University,” which sprang up on and off college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Libraries have stayed in there,” Kleiman says. “They survived the competition from Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. A decade ago senior centers were the place to go. The library has revived — it is the biggest bargain in town.”


McDonald, M. (2011, May 16). Library Makeovers Draw Seniors. AARP. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from 


This article, while slightly outdated, still seems relevant with ideas for what libraries could be (a hub for older adults to spend time as well as foster intergenerational connections), while also showing what projects have been put in place already. This sort of ties in to the article about museums, in that the library is a public place to go to not only meet other seniors, but others of all ages. This seems important because as we design for a circulator that will go around a community, we need to know where it is going and where the people want it to go. Making use of public spaces that the circulator would go to, and designing activities to be held, may be a great way to facilitate different engaging and social activities to improve mobility and/or socialization.