The ageing of populations in Western societies is a well-documented trend. With people living longer and fewer children being born, the proportion of older residents in our community is increasing. It is estimated that by 2036, over one in five people in NSW (21%) will be aged over 65 years (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010). They will not however be evenly distributed across NSW. The use of up to date local demographic data is important for library service planning. Councils should not limit this to the ABS Census data as this may not be reflective of emerging and changing communities. The NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment provides access to population projections and other demographics. Your council might have its own sources of local data.
Impact on library design and function
Older residents are already major users of libraries and this trend is likely to grow as the number of older residents with significant leisure time increases. Access to specialist collections, adult education, activities targeting seniors, increasing computer usage and browsing areas for casual users are examples of potential trends that may be experienced. Many seniors live alone and may seek social interaction by longer stays in libraries, emphasising the importance of comfortable lounge space.
Computer literacy is becoming increasingly important for all ages as services and access to information becomes electronic. Many libraries run programs on computer literacy for seniors as well as tutorials on browsing and accessing information. New retirees are likely to have more knowledge and experience in using technology and digital information and may be looking for new ways of using their recreational time. The need for library services for older residents in retirement villages and housebound services is likely to increase.
As age increases the level of disability in our community increases too. Access to library buildings and services for people with a disability will become an increasingly important issue. Legislation such as the Federal Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the National Construction Code are having a significant impact on how services are designed and provided.
Many Councils have formed Access Committees and/or have a Disability Action Plan which recommend actions for improving access to services for people with a disability.
Specific services and collections for older residents and people with a disability may also need to be considered. These may include large print books and a range of technology for accessing print and electronic resources. Designing libraries to meet the needs of our growing older population will be a major challenge in the future.
Considerations for people with dementia
Dementia friendly facilities are becoming more prevalent, influencing patterns on floors and carpets, lighting levels, signage and bathroom facilities. Signage and visual cues that are brightly coloured and high contrast can be easier for people with dementia. Signs should include images as well as text and be simple and uncluttered. Clear contrast between the text and background makes signs easier to read. Older people often look down when they walk so signage at eye level or below can be helpful. Larger bathroom cubicles may be useful for those who need assistance using public toilets, including people with dementia or mobility issues.