In the 2000 Census, 18% of Floridians are over 65. In Kansas, the percentage of citizens over 65 is 13%. In the United States, the percentage of citizens over 65 is 12.4%. But in the next twenty years these figures will grow dramatically. By 2030, 25% of all Americans may be over 60. Many western European nations will reach this figure before the United States does. The nation's population is going to get much older in the first half of the twenty-first century because the large baby boom generation is aging, because people are living longer and because the fertility rate is dropping.
From an economic point of view, this trend is frankly scary. The country is going to face very serious economic problems as a huge number of retirees are supported by a smaller working age population.
But from a social point of view, there may be some very positive aspects. An older population may be more stable, more service-oriented, more law-abiding. This older generation will not only be larger than any in history but healthier. These seniors will be pursuing new careers, doing essential work, raising multi-generation families. Some authors believe that this will be an intellectually and spiritually rich generation that will bring more compassion to the workplace, the family, the environment, the government and finally, to the end of life.
But what does the aging of America mean for libraries? Many Kansas librarians are well aware that they are serving communities with high senior populations. They are also aware that older citizens are often among the public library's most active users and best supporters. Many are also shrewd enough to know that older citizens are more likely to vote.
But the Kansas library community has not yet given extensive and thoughtful consideration to how Kansas' libraries can best serve older Kansans as their numbers quickly grow. A good public library will want to serve seniors well, simply because they are a significant percentage of actual and potential library users. But serving older Kansans is also important from a marketing point of view. Older Kansans are often community leaders. They are also quite likely to be library board members. They have social, political and financial clout. When they support libraries, they can make that support count.
Older Kansans are going to need lots of information and lots of support if they are to make the senior years into good years. They are going to need:
- information on social services
- information on financial management
- medical information
- legal information
- lifeskills information
- childcare information
- materials on favorite interests and hobbies
- materials that offer positive models for the good life in the older years.
Our society needs to totally transform its attitudes toward aging. The senior years should be seen as a time of potential fulfillment and promise and not just as a time of inevitable loss. Libraries can help accomplish that if they make serving elders a deliberate priority.
The members of the Older Kansans Information Forum (OKIF) believe that excellent library service for older Kansans is not going to happen automatically. They want to organize and market information that will help Kansas' librarians and trustees serve this fast-growing population. So they are producing a website that will market electronic information and feature articles and book reviews by Kansas librarians.
The Older Kansans Information Forum wants to have a very interactive and productive relationship with the Kansas library community. As this project grows and flourishes, we are going to be asking for your evaluation, your ideas, your focus groups and your contributions. This is going to grow into a project that belongs to all of Kansas.
The present members of the Older Kansas Information Forum are:
Roy Bird, Kansas State Library
Sue Blechl, Emporia Public Library
Sarah Bohndorf, Kansas City Kansas
Christine Buller, Hesston Public Library
Joanita Doll-Masden, Central Kansas Talking Books
Travis Dudley, Southwest Kansas System
Stephanie Hall, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library
Toni Harrell, Kansas State Library
Jeff Hixon, Kansas State Library
Pattie Johnston, Lawrence Public Library
Liz Nix, Southeast Kansas Talking Books
Ann Pearce, North Central Talking books
Chris Rippel, Central Kansas System
Shannon Roy, Kansas State Library
CJ Sullivan, Johnson County Library