What I Learned: The Creative Aging Toolkit for Public Libraries (ALA)
Lifetime Arts, Inc.
By Nancy Patterson, Community Outreach Coordinator, NN/LM, SE/A Region
At the American Library Association’s Annual Conference in Chicago, I attended a session called “Introducing the Creative Aging Toolkit for Public Libraries – An Online Resource,” hosted by the nonprofit, Lifetime Arts, Inc. This is a brand new resource that just went live on June 29th:
The sharing of case studies made the session very moving (a common experience is revealed in the photo above: two seniors, who were strangers only weeks before, enjoying a mischievous laugh together). What I gained from the session was not only creative inspiration, but also a reminder not to fall into common pitfalls in thinking about connecting with seniors. The Lifetime Arts people have created a wonderful resource combining art and health, both mental and physical. Their sessions are not static but rather they truly involve and engage each individual. Part of how they do this is by offering the program over a course of many weeks, which breaks participants out of potential social isolation and inhibitions. This paced format enables them to truly connect with the other participants and instructors.
A big plus of the program is that the participants are not perceived as anything other than students ready to learn, and learn they do. As the program creators like to say, “This is not gluing macaroni to paper plates!” The instructors are actual artists with the students learning, and perhaps even mastering a new skill. Classes are in all of the art forms, e.g. writing in various forms, dancing, painting, sculpting, etc. If it is an art, it is an option, and participants seem to thoroughly enjoy themselves. The videos on the website show reserved and soul-weary seniors evolving into joyful friends who laugh and delight like kids. It truly is enlightening and quite something to behold.
There is no denying the health benefits of social connection, intellectual stimulation, fine-tuning motor-skills and physical health, and feeling a sense of purpose and pride. The Creative Aging Toolkit encompasses all of these things while adding a big dose of fun. We all work toward improving the health of our communities, and this serves as reminder that seeing the eager-to-learn, eager-to-play child in every adult student is an important step in that process.
I attended this session at ALA because of my interest in senior health outreach and to see how the Creative Aging Toolkit compares to the Toolkit for Trainers created by the National Institute on Aging (NIA):
The toolkits do completely different things. The NIA toolkit provides instruction on computer use and navigating NIH resources, NIHSeniorHealth (nihseniorhealth.gov) and MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov). The toolkit created by Lifetime Arts provides experience with physical, intellectual and creative expression, and the opportunity to master a new skill. Both toolkits provide an opportunity to learn something new and to socialize, though in different ways. I can see the two directions being combined into an innovative program that mixes dance with computer learning to break up seated time. This would introduce exercise and technology, and create opportunities for active socializing. Why not?
The Lifetime Arts people have thought this program through. On the website, you will find a very refreshing take on aging and libraries. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. And if you have any creative ideas, let me know (email@example.com).