Library extends reach out to senior citizens

By Kim Walter

Thanks to the Shenandoah County Library System, residents at Dutch Haven Assisted Living in Maurertown are reading more than ever.

The county libraries have offered e-reader assistance for some time, but the service didn’t do much for those who weren’t able to actually get to any of the branches. So, several months ago, the Maurertown facility and a library employee decided to do something about it.

David Robinson, director of adult services at the library, started going to the assisted living home once a week to introduce e-readers to interested residents. He wasn’t sure how it would go, since most were unfamiliar with the technology.

“Honestly, once we covered the basics of the device, it was pretty easy,” he said Thursday afternoon during his weekly e-reader visit. “I go over turning it on and off, and going forward and backward in a book. If they have other questions as they use it, I’m happy to help, but there’s no need to overwhelm anybody with all the options at once.”

Funding from the Shenandoah County Library Foundation has made possible the purchase of eight e-readers to use with community outreach.

There are currently three active e-readers at Dutch Haven, and residents could not be happier with the opportunity to have so many books on hand in one little device.

Betty Elzey, a Dutch Haven resident, had heard of e-readers some time ago and hoped she would one day get the chance to use one. Because she has macular degeneration, print books were hard for her to read.

Now, she uses her e-reader every day and loves that she can enlarge the font to cater to her vision.

“I’m reading books that I never thought I’d be able to read,” she said. “This has truly been a godsend. Whenever I run out of books or ideas, David has more.”

Elzey finds the device amazing in that she has a virtual bookshelf the size of just one small book. Before getting an e-reader, she had about a dozen books colleting dust under her bed.

Just recently, Elzey learned how to make notes and place bookmarks as she reads.

“Sometimes I like to reread certain parts, or show someone a favorite line,” she said. “I love the e-reader world.”

The Virginia Public Library Director’s Association recently recognized Robinson and his outreach initiatives as “Outstanding Program for Seniors.” The association said the program “embodies the best of what a library can do in a community.”

Robinson didn’t just stop at e-reader instruction, though.

Cheryl Parisi, another resident at Dutch Haven, loves to write poetry. She wanted a way to share her work with friends a family who lived too far away to see her in person.

So, Robinson got to work.

“Dave set me up with my own blog,” Parisi said, pointing to her laptop. “I had a computer, but I didn’t understand the Internet, so he showed me how to work it.”

Now, Parisi’s work is available online. She said Robinson even encouraged her to enter her poetry in a few contests.

“I write about family, heaven, things like that,” she said. “I never thought about winning anything with my poems, though. But thanks to Dave, I can’t wait to hear back from the contests. I just want to keep writing.”

Robinson and Dutch Haven’s activities director, Christine Ashcroft, also have come together to offer other programs for the senior citizens.

Ashcroft said residents enjoy the travel club – Robinson brings a projector and photos from around the world – and memory club – Robinson brings in “props” to help spark conversation among them.

She’s also hopeful he’ll be able to start a language club, since learning a language can help maintain brain activity and keep the mind sharp.

“He just keeps expanding the outreach,” Ashcroft said. “I think it’s a great example of how two community organizations can come together and do great things.”

Robinson said some people seem confused when they hear about the different kinds of technology related and other outreach programs that the library offers.

“They say, ‘That doesn’t sound like library work,’ but I would say that it has always been the library’s job to make reading available to everyone, no matter what,” he said. “It just makes sense to me.”

Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137, ext. 191, or kwalter@nvdaily.com.