The unveiled its Second Chapter Café on Wednesday night, March 2.
This newly repurposed room is designed as a place for seniors to come for intellectual stimulation and as encouragement to be lifelong learners.
“We were one of six libraries to be awarded this grant,” said Paula Kelly, the library’s director. “It’s money to create a library space for boomers and seniors.”
Kelly cited census data showing that 48 percent of the population of the is age 45 and older.
“Let me put it this way,” said Mayor James F. Nowalk, who attended last night’s event. “Paula gave [borough council] one of the most impressive pitches we’ve ever heard.
“She’s always looking for new ways to serve the community. Maybe one of the reasons we have so many seniors is that no one wants to leave.”
The library staff put much thought into how to spend the $4,000 state Senior Spaces grant, filling the room with items for nearly every conceivable way of exercising and entertaining the intellect.
“We tried to create something along the lines of a mini-café/senior center where people could come in and watch movies, play board games and listen to old radio shows,” Kelly said. “And in addition to all the nostalgic things, we wanted to offer opportunities for older citizens to explore all the latest things, so we bought iPads and e-readers — all the latest technology.”
Library staff members, such as Kelly and Adult Program Coordinator Denise Ignasky, came to these insights with the help of an advisory committee.
Faustino Dunckhorst, one of the committee’s members, suggested including new technologies.
“Some initial reaction to the idea was low,” Dunckhorst said. “But even if people don’t use the technology, they might want to know what it’s all about.”
The aspect of the café that excites Dunckhorst the most is the intergenerational involvement.
“They enlisted teens to teach us seniors about all the new technology,” Dunckhorst said.
And looking at the Second Chapter Café calendar, one can see that the room is “not your grandfather’s senior center” — with “Technology Open Houses” every Saturday and “Wii Gaming for Adults” every other Tuesday.
Visitors to the new center on Wednesday night could be overheard planning their movie outings. Movies like “Secretariat,” “Eat Pray Love,” “Sherlock Holmes” and “Inception” will be shown on a large, flat-screen television every Friday at 1:15 p.m.
Prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Maxine Kmonk and Sheila Brennen guarded the ribbon. Kmonk, who works at the library on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Brennen, who helps with the library’s nursing-home programs, are two members of a team of volunteers who help staff projects like this one.
Kelly started the ceremony by thanking the Whitehall Library Board of Trustees, library staff, the Council of the Borough of Whitehall and, of course, the Office of Commonwealth Libraries for the award of the Senior Spaces Grant.
“The Borough of Whitehall remains continually steadfast in its outstanding local support of this public library,” Kelly said. “This support, in turn, allows us to do our job in maintaining and, indeed, growing the public-service standard of excellence we set for our library.”
Kelly went on to give the back story of what a “Senior Space” is in a library. She explained that while children and teen areas in libraries are common, until recently, there have been no specifically designated areas in libraries for older adults.
“The idea of a space for seniors evolved in 2007,” she said, “When, upon recognizing the demographic shift [to older adults] in his own library in New Jersey, librarian Allan Kleiman encouraged libraries to rethink and reimagine how to better serve their older patrons.”
Ignasky was the other Whitehall Library staff member who helped to lead this project. As the person in charge of adult programming at the library, Ignasky offered insight into the space’s functionality. This past October, she began to work with a senior advisor group on designing the café.
“This group has been instrumental in the decision-making process and providing innovative ideas to support lifelong learning and information literacy,” said Ignasky, who was surprised at some of the requests for modern technology for the space.
While the event was very well attended by both borough council members and patrons, there is one thing that Kelly hopes for this new space:
“We have a lot of programs, but our biggest hope is for people to come in and use this space when there are no programs going on.”