New: Senior Power: "Old People Don't Read Books"

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Sunday April 18, 2010 - 06:53:00 PM

The Rippowam River rushed by at the foot of our dank street, or, depending on the season, gurgled its way to Long Island Sound. I would sit on the stone embankment overlooking the water, ignoring the garter snakes in the crevices. The Ferguson Public Library children’s room was another 1932 shelter. Story hour was held in a separate room with a large picture window. I played stamping books, using a piece of black crayon stuck on the end of a protractor. It slipped off, jamming crayon into my palm, still imbedded there in a tattoo effect.  

Saturday mornings, a few years later, I headed for the story hour in a corner of the Freeport Memorial Library’s crowded basement workroom. I read all the twins books, written and illustrated by Lucy Fitch Perkins. Kit and Kat began as The Dutch Twins (1911), metamorphosed into Scottish, American, Belgian, Chinese, Colonial, Eskimo, Irish, Italian, and Japanese stories. Then came Helen Dore Boylston’s Sue Barton, Nurse series –- senior nurse, staff nurse, visiting nurse. These books can be borrowed in your behalf from nearby libraries participating in the free Link system.  

Seventy-three year old Gail Sheehy’s books on life and the life cycle continue the theme of passages through life's stages. She refers to "Second Adulthood." Her 2006 book and CD, Sex and the Seasoned Woman: Pursuing the passionate life reveal a hidden cultural phenomenon: a surge of vitality in women's sex and love lives after age 50.  

I first encountered Berkeley author Dorothy Bryant via her 1972 literary landmark. Ella Price’s Journal is a novel in diary form of a woman who returns to school after 15 years of marriage and begins to see her carefully-structured world in an unexpected and unwelcome light. I asked Bryant about her current reading. Kay Ryan’s The Best of It, New and Selected Poems. She prefers lesser known books recommended by friends, e.g. Judith Freeman’s Red Water. Old movies on DVD satisfy the ‘recreational urge.’ When she knows what she wants, she requests it online and it is brought to South Branch public library. For browsing, she stops regularly at Central.  

Best-selling Berkeley author Theodore Roszak was turned down by 20 major publishers, reports Avis Worthington. When he proposed his The Making of an Elder Culture; Reflections on the Future of America’s Most Audacious Generation, they informed him, “Old people don’t read books.” It was published by New Society Publishers in 2009.  

Ever noticed that the central character in many biographies and novels is influenced by a public library or library staff-member? -- Goodbye, Columbus --. The novel and motion picture of A tree grows in Brooklyn. -- Perhaps because children are central to Dear Miss Breed :True stories of the Japanese American incarceration during World War II … , it has generally been assigned to children’s collections, but it is a book for everyone. (See July 31, 2007 BDPlanet.) 

The 1956 motion picture, Storm Center (1956, 85m, Columbia Pictures), is about a small-town library administrator who refuses to withdraw a controversial book from the shelves. She is labeled a Communist by local politicians (City Council members…), loses her job, and becomes an outcast in the community. Bette Davis plays the doomed librarian. Banned Books Week in 2010 will be September 25−October 2. The World Catalog lists a Storm Center dvd distributed by Sony Pictures Television… 

The word “FREE” in many USA libraries’ names (Free Library of Philadelphia, Mono County Free Library, Enoch Pratt Free Library of Baltimore, etc.) is not mere happenstance. They were founded for the public, not as “subscription” libraries.  

The University of California, Berkeley used to grant library circulation privileges to senior citizens. No longer. Governor Palin’s dubious public library involvement is not surprising. Patrons’ taxes contribute largely to American public libraries’ budgets. A children’s room has long been part of a public library’s building and program, dating back to inception of the Carnegie libraries; YP (young people, teenagers) collections and activities were later introduced. Now, more than ever, elders are dependent on our free public libraries.  

The Alameda County Library has created “Older Adult Services,” a brochure highlighting current programs. Special library materials that may interest older adults, caregivers and others include large-print books, audio books and videos (standard, close-captioned and descriptive). Trained volunteers bring library materials to homebound persons. Generations On Line is an easy-to-use program designed to introduce seniors to the Internet and email with step-by-step directions, available at Alameda County Library locations.  

It’s a good thing. Berkeley Public Library’s senior discount on overdue charges. So are the large-print collections of fiction (science fiction, mysteries,) nonfiction (biography, The Weekly New York Times,) and reference books (dictionaries, thesauri). They can be accessed using subject heading LARGE TYPE BOOKS. The BPL Outreach person is Colleen Fawley (510) 981-6160. I know from experience that she has magical insights into what subjects and books, magazines and nonprint media will interest someone who is briefly or indefinitely unable to get to the Library. She selects, delivers, and subsequently picks them up. Specific titles and subjects can be requested, and she will bring them to you soonest. Alas, “budgetary constraints” will likely shorten her hours.  

I am weary of the media’s representation of shush libraries, and of praise heaped on library architecture that has little to do with accessing books and information, and of bureaucrats’ appointment of acceptable personalities to serve on library boards and to liaison with them.  

For your consideration:  

Berkeley Repertory Theatre package options include special discounts on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday matinees for persons who are “at least 65”.  




When: Tuesday, April 20, 2010. 11 A.M.-noon 

What: Director’s Roundtable Discussion 

Where: North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst@ MLK 

Details: NBSC director Larry Taylor meets with seniors  

For more info: (510) 981-5190 


When: Wednesday, April 21, 2010. 1:30 P.M.  

What: Berkeley Commission on Aging meeting.  

Where: South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis @ Ashby  

For more info: (510) 981-5170 



Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at  

Please, no email attachments; use “Senior Power” for subject.