Expanding the Boundaries of San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)

A Committee at the San Francisco Public Library is part of the library’s continuing effort to expand the reach of the library beyond its walls. This Committee, called 50+ began several years ago and its goal is to serve library users that are over 50, as well as the blind, the deaf, patrons with physical disabilities and home bound patrons.

The committee’s efforts are relevant to the needs of San Francisco’s citizens. Almost a third of San Franciscans are over 50-years old and over one third of people in San Francisco over 65 are disabled. This group is working on several fronts to increase these users’ access to the library.

Resources For the Blind:

One of its goals is to increase the number of resources in the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled (LPBD). This library serves about 700 users, says Jane Glasby, a librarian and the program manager for the LBPD. This library has a magnified catalog interface: (for a miniature view, see the image above).

This library also has several technologies for blind people,  including video magnifiers, text-to-speech readers and internet computers with large print keyboards, she says. It also has reference resources like talking dictionaries: (see the image below).   talking dictionary In addition, The LBPD has held yoga classes for blind yoga people for almost a year.

Resources For the Deaf:

The Deaf Service Center is located on the first floor of the main library and has information about hearing loss and sign language as well as staff who speak sign language. This library also made a video called “Deaf Culture an American Perspective” and has resources on deaf culture going back to the 1960’s. Its web site also lists classes from Bay Area colleges about sign language and deaf culture.

Resources for Adults over 50:

SFPL also has a partnership with City College of San Francisco (CCSF) to offer regular Brain Fitness/Mental Aerobic classes that are very popular, says Glasby.

This class started about three years ago, and 124 people showed up for the first class, says Cora McGovern, another librarian from the LBPD. The teacher has a video on her blog from YouTube  with a study about how elderly nuns stay mentally alert.

Improving Physical Access to the Library:

More than 100 volunteers help seniors with mobility problems move around the library, says Kai Wilson Forsley, the volunteer programs coordinator for SFPL. In the new fiscal year, the library will also buy “rollators”rollator or wheeled walkers which patrons can use  to browse the stacks and move around the library, says Marti Goddard, the library’s access service manager.

Transporting the Library to Patrons:

SFPL has several ways to bring its collections to people with limited mobility, including the library on wheels, (LOW) a bookmobile LOW for seniors or people with mobility problems, says Amy Perry, a librarian with SFPL’s mobile outreach services. LOW has a range of materials, including  fiction and non-fiction, large print books and books in other languages, movies and music, she says. “We do everything a brick and mortar library does except handling fines or offering computer access,” says Perry. Some active people also use LOW because its convenient, says Goddard.

A Broader Role for Librarians:

Other outreach services for patrons include Friends for Life (FFL) and Books by Mail (BBM). Currently 80 library customers use these programs, says Cora McGovern, a librarian with the Library for the Blind and Print Disabled. These patrons include people with mobility disabilities due to age, injury or medical conditions, and debilitating treatments for illnesses such as cancer, says Goddard.

Getting to know these patrons is both a blessing and a curse, says McGovern. “Selecting reading materials for someone can be quite intimate,” she says. “You have to learn what would please them and keep an eye out for new titles and authors they might like. Many home bound folks are in such poor health, frail or isolated. You send them articles and books that keep them informed about their conditions — if they share that information with you. If they are in a rut, you send them something that will make them laugh or keep them engaged. …You help them with phone numbers and forms and tell them about services that might make their lives easier.” (You) “check in on them if they haven’t been in touch to make sure they are alright and see if they would like anything to read. Even if they don’t want anything from the library, it makes them feel better that someone cares enough to check on them. Every time one of them dies, it hurts. But I remember that their lives were better for having participated in this program,” she says.

Future Plans:

Another goal of the 50+ committee is to create a database for users in these populations, which resembles one that the city of San Francisco has. It would contain resources, contacts, and event calendars, including trainings, classes and programs.

Expanding the Boundaries of San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)

3 thoughts on “Expanding the Boundaries of San Francisco Public Library (SFPL)

  1. Henry Mensch says:

    I find it interesting to learn about these programs at SFPL because, as a member of SFPL, I’ve not yet heard about these (except for LoW–it comes to my office every month … my office is right across from a nursing home, and LoW is visiting the nursing home).

    I have seen outreach for some of these programs on bus shelters in the neighborhood where I live–this neighborhood (94112) features a large nursing home and other services for seniors. I’ve only seen this sort of outreach in one other city: NYC.

  2. Elaine Tanzman says:

    Hi Henry:

    I work at SFPL and I didn’t know about the extent of the outeach programs to older and disabled patrons there. I had heard about Friends for Life which began in 1994 and was originally a program for people with a AIDS. However, now it provides services to all home bound patrons. I also knew we had libraries for the blind and deaf, but didn’t know about the many technologies and resources there.

    Recently, I began searching our StaffNet page, the link to our intranet and discovered SFPL has many teams and committees that are working on issues in the librarylike reference services or services to teens. The 50+ group was one of about a dozen committees.

    I’m not surprised that NYPL has similar outreach services. My impression of New York City is that it is politically progressive like San Francisco and that people there, like here, are frequent library users. In San Francisco more than 50% of people have library cards and we have passed two library bond issues in the last 20 years. I would guess NYPL also has similar levels of support from the community and so can afford to provide outreach services to disabled and senior people.

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