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This Library Creates Community for Older Residents

At the West Tisbury Library, special programs bring warmth to cold days

By Julie Pfitzinger

Winter delivers a charm all its own to Martha’s Vineyard, but it’s also the time of the year when life can be a little isolating for the area's older residents.

Patrons of the West Tisbury Library on Martha's Vineyard  |  Credit: Olivia Larsen

“We live in a beautiful place, but it’s rural,” said Beth Kramer, director of the West Tisbury Public Library, one of more than 35 libraries belonging to CLAMS (Cape Libraries Automated Materials Sharing Network) on Cape Cod. “A lot of people don’t go out except for the essentials.”

The West Tisbury Library offers a robust assortment of special events and programs for all ages throughout the year, but is particularly valued for its comprehensive library services during the winter and its draw as a vibrant gathering place for older adults.

In 2015, the library conducted a survey to tap into the needs of those who used the library; 75 percent of respondents were 51 and older. In 2017, the West Tisbury Library released a strategic plan which included a vision for the library as “a community center where life-long learning happens in a blended environment of quiet and collaborative space allowing self-discovery and connections between people.”

Kramer offered one small example of how the library meets that goal each week: “We share a campus with the Up-Island Council on Aging, and most of our patrons use both services,” she said. “On Tuesday mornings, they host a popular discussion group, and after that’s over, many people come over to the library to read the paper, check out books or just visit with each other.”

Credit: Olivia Larsen

Best Ways to Build Community

Kramer, who has been the library director for 10 years, said that a few years ago, the library staff decided they wanted to offer enhanced programming for older residents, and sought their feedback. Two years ago, the West Tisbury Library and the Up-Island Council on Aging formed a small core group of local individuals who met regularly to discuss what they were interested in learning around the topics of aging and healthy lifestyles.

“Rather than offer a dry series of presentations, we wanted to feature programs that were really of interest,” said Kramer, adding that a series of free workshops on Balance with Chi Kung, Yoga and Breath was created, and ongoing hand massage sessions were introduced.

Other programs include TED Talk screenings, and discussions of green burials (environmentally friendly ones), a topic which Kramer said is of great interest to members of the community. The library also hosts Death Cafés, a space to engage in frank conversations about dying and bereavement.

“Many times, when we offer various programs, we serve homemade soup, bread and fruit,” she said. “We are really building community and inviting nourishing talks about shared concerns.”

Guests can also participate in creative classes, including painting and paper making. The library offers a Second Sunday Jazz Series for all ages, and is currently featuring a Women’s Winter Film Series. Library patrons can even rent instruments — including mandolins, guitars and ukuleles — and enroll in guitar lessons scheduled throughout the year.

“What we offer has been defined by who is participating,” said Kramer, adding that suggestions from patrons have resulted in the richness and variety of programming.

This Library Is About Books and More


It is a library after all, so guests can find books and DVDs, join a book club, and brush up on their technology skills or learn new ones.

“We have older residents who come in with different grasps on technology,” said Kramer. “Our IT/Reference librarian, Rachel Rooney, works one-on-one with residents on everything from downloading books to e-readers to miscellaneous computer questions that might come up.”

To further enhance the comfortable atmosphere of the light-filled library, coffee and biscotti (made at a local bakery) are available at minimal cost. Since Martha’s Vineyard is home to many authors, playwrights and poets, Kramer said that, in keeping with the library’s vision, quiet rooms have been set aside for people to work. Occasionally, the writers ask the library staff for their opinions. “We try not to edit material, but we are here to serve the people,” Kramer said with a laugh.

Helping Out in the Community

In addition to building up community spirit at the West Tisbury Library, Kramer said, volunteers gather up books, tea, coffee and cookies twice monthly and pay a visit to Windemere Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in West Tisbury.

“It’s great for the people who live there to have that connection with the library. Some of them are former librarians, so their life’s work is tied to the library. It feels so good for volunteers to be able to spend time with them,” said Kramer.

And in certain cases, a librarian’s outreach is never done. “Sometimes I’ll go out to someone’s home and fix a computer problem," Kramer admitted,  "or drop off a book."

Tell Us About Your Local Library

Does your library offer innovative programming, special events or other resources for older adults?  Have you learned something new by participating in workshops or classes at your library? What makes your library a valued part of your community? We'd like to hear from you. Send an e-mail to Julie Pfitzinger or visit our Facebook page.

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Julie Pfitzinger is the managing editor for Next Avenue and senior editor for lifestyle coverage. Her journalism career has included feature writing for the Star-Tribune, as well as several local parenting and lifestyle publications, all in the Twin Cities area. Julie also served as managing editor for nine local community lifestyle magazines. She joined Next Avenue in October 2017. Reach her by email at [email protected]. Read More
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