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Creative Aging in America’s Libraries: The Halftime Report

April 26, 2016
Older Adults / Seniors
Creative Aging in America’s Libraries: The Halftime Report
"Movement, Memories and Merengue" program with teaching artist Walter Perez. Photo credit to Herb Scher.

Lifetime Arts is halfway through a national project to help libraries better serve older adults with the creative arts.

No, we’re not selling beer or pick-up trucks. We are using this forum to keep you up to date on the progress of Creative Aging in America’s Libraries.

A partnership between Lifetime Arts, Inc. and the Westchester Library System, Creative Aging in America’s Libraries was designed to increase the capacity of libraries and librarians to develop, design, implement and sustain instructional arts programs for their older adult patrons. Supported by IMLS, this initiative involves 67 libraries in 20 systems in 12 states. Participating librarians received both online and live training from Lifetime Arts, allocations to cover the expenses of professional arts instruction in any arts disciplines, and ongoing technical assistance from Lifetime Arts staff.

"Movement, Memories and Merengue" program, led by teaching artist Walter Perez, is part of Brooklyn Public Library's programming for older adults. Photo credit to Herb Scher.

Touchstone Center for Collaborative Inquiry is the outside evaluator of this project. Through a series of online questionnaires and interviews of librarians and systems administrators, as well as participant surveys, Touchstone sought to uncover the effectiveness of this program at its midway point. The evaluators looked at the tools, training and technical assistance provided by Lifetime Arts; what impact this had on planning and programming for librarians; as well as their attitudes toward their older adult patrons and what programming might look like for that patron base. For the libraries where the programming has been completed, the evaluators also were able to see the impact on the older adult participants through post-program surveys.

The evaluators observed that “… many librarians felt that Creative Aging programs helped both staff and patrons to see a new identity for libraries as community centers for lifelong learning. While their Creative Aging programming was not the only explanation for this shift, it certainly reinforced it by showing a visible example of what this can mean." One interviewee commented, "We already do a lot of programming for mature adults. But this was different. Participants were not just consuming something. This was about learning and community. I think people took notice of these things."

On the topic of outcome for participants, the evaluators reported, “The vast majority of Creative Aging program participants — more than four in five — reported gains in creative expression, knowledge of their art form, and other aspects of artistic development, according to our analysis of 102 end-of-program participant surveys from 36 programs across 17 library systems in 2015. More than three-quarters also reported increased mental engagement and increased confidence in creating art. Social gains were reported by over three-fifths of participants: 63 percent said they formed new/stronger relationships, and 61 percent said their experience encouraged them to participate in other community activities.”

Social gains were reported by over three-fifths of participants: 63 percent said they formed new/stronger relationships, and 61 percent said their experience encouraged them to participate in other community activities.

One library coordinator remarked, "The most profound effect was seeing the artwork matted and on the wall at the culminating event. It was very striking for me and for the participants. The library staff framed and mounted the show. People took a lot of care with their final projects. This left a big impression on family members and friends."

With the majority of the programs completed, the evaluators found that over 80 percent of respondents thought the tools provided by Lifetime Arts were "useful" or "very useful." According to the evaluators, the following reflection by an administrator is typical of those interviewed: "The branch librarians were ready and well prepared. The guidance they got along the way was invaluable. This is the key piece. If I were told we had to cut costs, I would never cut out the coaching from Lifetime Arts. To me, this was invaluable. It helped adult librarians recognize the importance of vetting the presenter; it developed their understanding of sequential learning… Lifetime Arts had an excellent way of teaching that is palatable to all staff, even those initially resistant."

The evaluators also identified challenges that were noted by librarians. These included sustaining participation over the life of the class; difficulty in finding a teaching artist; finding funds to sustain programming; procuring suitable space for Creative Aging programs; and the amount of planning time required for Creative Aging programming. 

Although Lifetime Arts has addressed these issues with individual libraries, one of the challenges they face as a service provider is that, due to the significant personnel changes and retirements at libraries around the country, many of the librarians and administrators who started out in this program and participated in the training are no longer at the participating libraries. 

Lifetime Arts will be revising their tools to focus on the stated challenges and other recommendations made by participants and the evaluators. To that end, Lifetime Arts will be addressing the issue of sustainability this spring via webinar, available to all participating libraries.

There is still much information to be obtained and analyzed as a number of participating library systems and libraries have opted to wait until this spring to begin their programs. There will also be another round of online evaluations and interviews. Touchstone will present their findings of the entire three-year project at the end of this year.

We look forward to seeing Touchstone’s final evaluation at the end of the year, but even more exciting will be to see what new and expanded programs and policies are generated as a result of this initiative.

To receive the complete mid-term report, get in touch with Maura O’Malley or Ed Friedman at Lifetime Arts. Interested in learning more? Explore Lifetime Arts' Creative Aging Toolkit for Public Libraries.

Date / Time
Tuesday, April 26, 2016 - 13:30
Library Type
Job Functions
Grants and Awards
Program Evaluation
Older Adults / Seniors
Programming Librarian Forum