Smooth jazz played through portable speakers in the community room at the Edwin Towers senior housing complex as residents trickled in. The monthly Library program visit is a highlight of the center’s activity calendar, and many of the participants are regulars. They took seats quietly, curiously peeking over word searches at the facilitator.
And then the discussion began – and the storytelling, music, memories, and dancing – didn’t stop for nearly two hours.
The topic was the Civil Rights Movement, expressed through fifty years of music. Fifty years these residents lived. The music, shared chronologically, and a collection of books and biographies gave structure to the timeline but the personal recollections sparked by the music – of concerts they’d seen, demonstrations they’d marched in, jobs they’d held, people they knew – gave it life. One resident summarized, “These songs are my story.”
A goal of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s outreach services to seniors is to help residents maintain or expand a relationship with the Library, books, and learning. The subjects and format change, but our strategy is consistent: to use multisensory experiences like food, photos, games or music to trigger memories and conversation. “Music gets us to move, dance, act, think, feel and love. It’s all about sharing stories,” explains outreach librarian Pamela McCarter. Programs that evoke memories have been shown to help seniors who are becoming forgetful, and the social connection from meaningful discussion is good for everyone. At the end of the program a changed group exited the room, talking excitedly, new books in their hands, a bounce in their steps.
The Edwin Towers activity coordinator confirms that her residents love the Library program. “They talk about it all the time, and ask for more. I get ideas from these programs too – after this, I’ll add music to this room.” The outcomes are mutually beneficial, and the learning is truly lifelong. As McCarter told the group, “I researched this music and this history – but you lived it. You teach me every time I see you.”