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Why Libraries Are a Lifeline for Seniors During COVID

Elderly asian woman reading

The coronavirus pandemic has been particularly hard on seniors, who face an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and are often socially isolated as a result. Libraries, which have always played a crucial role in supporting older adults in their communities, have risen to the occasion: they’ve been providing information and human connection to the elderly while maintaining social distancing.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, libraries have offered virtual book clubs and other programs over platforms like Zoom and Facebook Live—still, many seniors may not have internet access at home or feel comfortable navigating recent video chat technology. In order to welcome everyone in their communities, many libraries also offer programs over the phone, where anyone can dial in to a teleconference line and enjoy much needed social interaction.

Some libraries have also established pen pal programs to help local seniors connect with the outside world during this isolating time. Bryan-College Station Public Library System in Texas shares writing prompts that locals can use to write letters to residents in nearby senior living communities. These messages give the seniors “a way to see the world, since they can’t be visited and a lot of them can’t even leave their rooms,” Kate Wiemar, adult services and reference librarian, told NBC. "We’re hoping this is a window into outside life.” In addition to facilitating written correspondence, libraries like California’s Coronado Public Library are encouraging community members to submit artwork to share with residents of a local retirement village.

Park Ridge Public Library in Illinois has gotten particularly creative in working to lift the spirits of seniors and others in their community. They launched the Library Line, a phone number anyone can dial to hear a recorded song, riddle, or message from staff, with new recordings swapped in every day. Since many of their patrons are older adults who may not have access to a computer or smartphone at home, this unique call-in set-up allows everyone in the area can enjoy some daily cheer from the library.

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