Welcome to Library Lions interviews. Raising a Roar for Libraries

Welcome to Library Lions interviews. Raising a Roar for Libraries

Monday, April 22, 2013


Welcome to Library Lions interviews Raising a Roar for libraries and the outstanding librarians across the U.S. This week’s Special Edition highlights the Library Program serving seniors at The Ballard Landmark. I learned about the volunteers who started this innovative program when I met Greg Bem last summer at the ALA conference.

Greg, Erin, Emily and Gina have stopped by Library Lions this week to tell us about the program.
In fall of 2010, four MLIS students at the iSchool at University of Washington responded to a call for help via a listserv at UW. The BallardLandmark Retirement and Senior Living Community in Seattle needed assistance with its library.
Four students responded to the request and founded the current library program: Greb Bem, Erin Boyington, Emily Small, and Gina Kessler.

Erin Boyington (photo taken at the Museum of Flight)

Emily Small

 Gina Kessler Lee

These students came together to conduct an assessment of the library collection and actively volunteer to restructure the collection, provided reader advisory services and technology instruction to the residents. The Landmark’s collection was small enough to allow for some significant library coordination from four students new to library work. After a quarter, the library had been transformed from sheer chaos to a carefully refined, regularly-weeded and regularly-developed information center. 


The Skinny: What inspired you to create the Ballard Landmark Senior Center program?

While we were asked to come forward from the depths of academia and participate in assisting with the Senior Center, we were given a relatively “open” space to work with. Many library science students often only rarely discover opportunities to gain practical library experience, and while the Landmark is certainly fairly limited in its scope as a library, it was a perfect jumping off pad for turning all of the theory of the classroom into practical adventures. We have learned a lot through working together to make the library more organized and user-friendly and doing outreach to the resident community. Inevitably, our relationship with residents in the Landmark inspired us to continue (and expand) our program.

Tell us about the Program
The program is run exclusively by MLIS students. Our new student volunteers are: Jessica Blanchard, Susan Fitch, Breean Kay, and Shannon Moller. Students of all backgrounds and at all stages in their graduate studies volunteer regularly, and at least one of us works at the Landmark for two hours every Saturday. Our drop-in hours are advertised to residents on their monthly activities calendar.
How the program “works” depends on which volunteer is present at the library and what the volunteer is comfortable with. Typically the program begins each week with the volunteer doing shelf-reading and basic organization of materials. There is a returns container that usually has a plethora of books for reshelving, and books have typically found strange places on the bookshelves. Magazines are weeded each week as well. The library is small, consisting of just a few hundred books, but it is a beloved resource for a few dedicated users.

After the initial review of the collection has been conducted, the volunteer then seeks out residents that need help. Whether help consists of learning an iPad application, recovering lost computer passwords, finding something new to read, or getting a book review, the volunteers at the library are happy to help. In addition to working within the library, the volunteers also help residents at the two computer workstations existing around the corner, where residents are often conducting research or checking e-mail.

Gina Kessler Lee with Cathy
The volunteers also help with computer set up and other basic technology needs of the residents. In addition, we have established relationships with the Seattle Public Library Mobile Services and the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library to make sure we can get books for seniors who are no longer able to get to the public library or who need large print or audiobooks (which does make up a small part of the Landmark’s collection). Last summer, we also successfully requested an acquisitions fund and were able to purchase additional books for the Landmark at the Friends of the Seattle Public Library book sale.

Our services provide small but important benefits for these seniors, from promoting reading at every age to enabling them to keep up with new technologies. Sometimes, they are just glad to have someone new to chat with. This spring, at the suggestion of one of the staff, we hope to organize a lesson on video chat through Gmail, Facetime, and Skype so that residents can communicate interactively with their families who live far away.

University House, a nearby senior living community, employs one MLIS student as a part-time librarian, but that librarian’s primary job is collection development. We have been trying to do programming and really emphasize personal interactions with the residents in addition to managing the collection. We would love to hear from librarians embedded in other assisted living facilities to find out what has worked for them.

Roars for the Library Program
“Great job! Many thanks!” - Betty, a resident

 “Thanks so much to your group for your help. The library is looking great. We love having you.”      - Landmark’s Director of Vitality
Residents are regularly thrilled to visit the volunteers each week and know that the library is actively being maintained and facilitated by students. It’s not uncommon for a volunteer to develop a friendship with returning residents each week. The residents regularly stop by for assistance and, in some cases, visit with the library volunteers to simply exchange stories and share information with one another. They have been especially grateful for readers advisory and computer and e-reader help we provide.

Bob and Cathy stopping by for books
When we attended the Landmark’s annual herring festival (Ballard has historically been populated by many Nordic immigrants) as a form of outreach, nearly everyone we spoke with was familiar with our work and had stories of how we had helped their friends, if not them directly. We have also implemented a suggestion box, which residents use to thank us for our work, make suggestions about the layout, and request that we add certain books to the collection.

Alki, the Washington Library Association Journal, published an article by Greg Bem about our work at the Landmark. Check out the article on page 23 of the March 2013 issue.

Library Laughs

Coming to the Landmark, you never know whom you’re going to meet! In one day, I might get a dance lesson (the resident came to us with a reference question about how to get on Ellen on TV with his dancing skills), find a new thriller for the resident who has a stuffed cat and an empty mini bottle of Wild Turkey attached to her walker, and discuss the latest celebrity drama with the residents who have come to read the latest issue of People.

Library Lion’s Roar: ONE LAST BIG ROAR

In the fall of 2011 the library volunteers started using LibraryThing  to develop a basic, online “catalog” of the library collection. While not as sophisticated as an ILS, LibraryThing has allowed volunteers to document the entire collection and prepare for a public release. It is our goal to ultimately make the LibraryThing collection available to the residents so they can search their collection using modern tools. The entire collection is recorded online, and it took many months to accomplish!
Janet - Congratulations to all of you on the accomplishment! We're Roaring for you and the whole volunteer team working on this innovative program!  

Love Libraries? Give a Roar in “Comments” below.

Note to Librarians: If you’re a Youth Librarian working in a school or public library we’d love to hear about you and your library. Contact Janet at jlcarey@hotmail.com for an interview slot. 


  1. I'm impressed. Practical experience that helps others. Way to go. Thanks, Janet Carey, for sharing these wonderful people with us.

  2. I agree! It's great to highlight what these grad students are doing to keep the library vital in our community.