I Can’t Even: Ages and Adult Programs

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Library programmers, for the love of Ranganathan, DON’T DO THIS.

Here’s why:

  1. It is exclusionary as hell. I’m almost forty. I don’t see my interest in graphic novels and horror disappearing on my fortieth birthday. But apparently the library thinks I shouldn’t want to attend programs like this if I’m forty, which, delicate flower as I am, makes me feel real upset and angry and mad. Also, this book is set in the sixties, and a lot of people who grew up in and remember the sixty are way older than 39. INCLUDING THE AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK. So, you’re saying readers the author’s age aren’t welcome at your program? Why would you do that?
  2. While millennials love libraries, most millennials hate the label of millennial, so branding your programs for them as “millennials + libraries” really isn’t going to get them into your programs.

“But Julie!” you cry. “We want younger people to come to our programs! What are we supposed to do?”

Here’s what you do: you probably have millennials on your staff, or in your life. Ask them what they’re interested in and concerned about, and what their friends are interested in and concerned about. Program around those interests and concerns. Don’t use any labels beyond “adult” and, even then, avoid that label if possible.

Here’s the thing: youth librarians program by ages and grades because developmental needs roughly correspond. Youth programs need to be aware of developmental needs and differences, because of the physical and cognitive limitations. Adult programs, on the whole, do not (programming for adults with developmental delays/differing abilities is a whole other “I can’t even”). So while adult programmers should borrow a lot of ideas from youth programmers, targeting audiences by age is not one of them.

“But Julie! What about programs for seniors and the elderly? Seniors have different needs than most other adults.”

Ok, yeah, sure. But no. The same rules apply. Program for their interests and concerns, but you don’t necessarily have to call them all out as “programs for the elderly.” How many old people you know who just love being called elderly, or who want every damn place they go to full of other old people? Or for so many programs to be about preparing for death? (Downsizing, wills, etc.) Program for their interests, concerns, and abilities, keep the ages open, and you just might be surprised at the delightful mix of ages and backgrounds that come to your inclusive programs.

“But Julie! What about English language learners and parents?”

Ah! You think you got me there. But no—those are programs are different, because they are based on interests and concerns, not arbitrary generation definitions. Those programs are a-ok.

So go forth and program for interests and concerns, and don’t do things that make cranky old librarians in the Oregon Trail generation needlessly angry.

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