Public Libraries – Community-Based Health Clubs For the Brain and Mind?

Public libraries moved beyond just offering books long ago, but only now are demographic and scientific trends converging to sustain a more fundamental transformation in their role. A role in which they explicitly help promote cognitive health in the community, and potentially use Brain Fitness as a new framework to unify an array of lifelong learning, civic engagement, gaming, and health promotion initiatives.

A few months ago I spoke to librarians at The New York Public Library (NYPL), about “The Emerging Brain Fitness Field: Research and Implications.” I provided an introduction to how the brain works, discussed the growing research supporting how lifestyle factors contribute to lifelong cognitive health, and offered a way to navigate through this emerging and confusing field. This was part of NYPL’s first Health & Wellness Month for library staff, which in turn was an important enabler of major health events for older adults.

This experience highlights two new trends: 1) public libraries are focusing more on health & wellness promotion in order to engage older adults, 2) cognitive health or brain fitness is becoming a significant component of that promotion.

US Public Census data explains why libraries need to cater to an older audience. From 2000 to 2020, the number of Americans over the age of 55 is expected to grow from under 60 million to close to 100 million. This is due to expanded longevity and to the baby boomer generation moving up the population pyramid.

Brain health provides a unique opportunity for libraries to engage active boomers and seniors. Rohit Burman, manager of culture and public broadcasting at MetLife Foundation, explains, “Last year we identified a growing interest by boomers and seniors on brain health issues and thought that public libraries, as community and learning hubs, could play a major role. So, we decided to launch, in collaboration with the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives and Libraries for the Future, a new iteration of the Fit for Life program, focused squarely on promoting brain fitness.”

The Fit for Life program supports 17 library systems from January 2009 to January 2010 that launch new initiatives to promote brain health via the following research-based lifestyle factors: diet, physical exercise, intellectual challenge, mental stimulation through new experiences, and socialization.

There are other new programs libraries are using to promote brain health. For example, the Lifelong Access Libraries Initiative, funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies, is in practice an all-inclusive way for older adults to improve their brain fitness through civic engagement.

Gaming, thanks to the Nintendo Wii, is quickly emerging as a major opportunity to foster intergenerational activities. At least 18 of the 89 NYPL locations ordered Wii gaming equipment and software programs in 2008, for both in-library use and to be checked out. The American Library Association recently celebrated an official gaming day, including both board games and, yes, video games.

Brigid Cahalan, NYPL Older Adults Services Specialist, explains that Wii gaming has become one of the most popular activities to engage older adults in the libraries that offer it regularly, complementing the more serious computer classes that had long been the major attraction. She highlights, “If we want to become the hubs of learning and community activity, we need to offer new types of social activities.”

In short, libraries are already innovating to engage older adults with lifelong learning, civic engagement, gaming, health & wellness promotion. Brain fitness seems to be the glue that binds all these activities together.

This new reality raises some interesting questions for librarians, aging, and lifelong learning professionals to consider: Will public libraries become the brain gyms of the future?

Marzena Ermler, Coordinator of Professional Development at NYPL, explains the emphasis on brain health this way, “If only we could help people understand that libraries are healthy places for them to go. Learning through life is very important to maintain our brains in top shape as we get older.”

Pauline Rothstein, Ph.D., Co-editor of ALA book Longevity and Libraries: Unexpected Voices to be published in late 2009, recommends libraries to “think of brain fitness as the new concept that can help integrate disperse activities, identify additional needed resources, and explain our value to society. It makes sense to start with specific programming, and then use a new framework to evaluate a variety of library services. Public libraries need to redefine themselves away from old thinking and material objects (buildings, books, DVDs…) and focus on services: how do we educate, how do we help navigate the growing avalanche of information ‘specifically around how to keep our brains in shape?”

That evolution will require libraries to proactively listen to community expectations, and to partner with local organizations, such as seniors centers, to meet new requirements. If reshaped as Health Clubs of the Brain and the Mind, libraries would provide a critical service to an aging population and become centers of information and destinations for brain fitness programs.

Copyright (c) 2009 SharpBrains

Career Training Opportunities in Public Relations and Corporate Communications

Have you ever thought about why people trust certain product brands? Or how companies manage their public image? Or how certain Hollywood movie stars seem to appear in the press over and over again? The one thing they all have in common is effective public relations.

Public relations specialists (also referred to as media representatives and communications officers) serve as advocates for businesses, nonprofit associations, hospitals, universities, and other organizations. They build and maintain positive relationships with the press and the public. Media reps not only manage the day-to-day business of a company’s image, but they may also be called upon to repair the damage done by a corporate misstep or other crisis.

Jobs in public relations have traditionally been concentrated in large cities, where many businesses and trade associations have their headquarters, and press services and other communications facilities are readily available. Many public relations consulting firms, for example, are in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC. However, because of the internet, in recent years corporate communications jobs are increasingly found nearly anywhere.

How do public relations specialists manage an organization’s message? Primarily by cultivating relationships with the press, and then providing the press with positive news stories. Communications managers draft press releases and send them to reporters in the media who might print or broadcast their material. You might be surprised to know that many newspaper stories, magazine articles, and radio or television special reports begin as press releases from media specialists.

Crisis management can be important. If a supermarket chain is accused of selling tainted meat, for example, the supermarket must immediately take action to correct the problem. The next task may involve counteracting the negative impression that has been created in the minds of customers. People may switch to a competitor because of stories circulating about bad meat at the supermarket. It’s the task of the public relations team at the supermarket to make sure that the community knows that the problem has been fixed and that the chain can be trusted to sell healthy food.

In government, information officers and press secretaries keep the public informed about the activities of agencies and officials. A U.S. senator may employ a team of press officers to keep the senator’s constituents informed and monitor what the press is saying about their boss. If a negative story appears, the press officers will try to respond with something positive. During an election campaign, public relations officers are key members of the campaign team because they must constantly evaluate their candidate’s standing in the polls and image in the press.

Education and training: A college degree in public relations, advertising, journalism, or communications is often required even for entry-level positions. Some organizations seek college graduates who have worked in electronic or print journalism, those who have communication skills and training, or who have experience in a field related to the firm’s business.

Many colleges and universities offer associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in communications. A public relations program may include courses in media relations principles and techniques, communications management and administration, writing, visual communications, and research. Advertising, business administration, finance, journalism, political science, psychology, sociology, and creative writing may also be part of a program.

Job growth could be impressive. According to the U.S. Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the current decade 2008-2018 employment of public relations specialists is expected to grow 24 percent, much faster than the average for all occupations.

In an increasingly competitive business environment, the need for effective media relations should create a need for these workers in organizations of all types and sizes. People with foreign language capabilities also are in great demand. Employment in public relations firms should grow as firms outsource to provide public relations services rather than hire in-house staff.

Perhaps you could be the person who shapes public opinion for a company, a product, or a candidate. With the right training and opportunities, a career in public relations could be yours.

But how do you begin to get the training you need? A good way is to log onto a reputable online career college search engine and directory. You’ll be able to search for schools in your area that offer the degree you need, or find an online degree program. You can compare programs and even learn about flexible schedules and financial aid. Then you can request free information from the schools that interest you, visit a few, and make your decision. In less time than you think, you could be trained for a new rewarding career as a public relations specialist.

The Public Library – Are Public Libraries Still Relevant?

The internet has competition. There is another, long neglected source of information available. Like the World Wide Web, it’s mostly free and is an excellent source of entertainment and research, but it’s been around much longer than any website.

It had been far too long since I’d set foot in my local library. I’d simply lost the habit. Life, as they say, had got in the way. It’s one of those things that you don’t do unless you make a special effort. So I made that special effort, and I’m extremely glad that I did.

The slightly stuffy atmosphere that I remembered from my youth was gone, replaced by a helpful, friendly ambience. The dark wood shelves and heavy velvet drapes had been replaced too, by a light welcome airiness. Most delightfully, I felt a return of the sense of wonder that visits to the library had always conjured up in my youth. The endless possibilities held within each book was still there, but now they had been joined by computer terminals and data discs which, just like their paper cousins, were filled with everything that an inquisitive mind might desire. The adventure, the horror, the learning of the ages and so much more were still there to be rediscovered by each generation just as I had done all those years ago. More information than any one person could ever hope to learn was held within this building, a living and growing thing available to anyone prepared to make the smallest of efforts.

I was taken aback by the number of different uses that the building has been given over to. Yes, it was predominantly a lending library, but was also an art gallery and a coffee shop. It was a community centre with the obligatory notice board advertising everything from poetry readings and writing classes to jazz and dance festivals. There was even gentle soothing music being piped in from somewhere, though never loud enough to be obtrusive.

The variety of people in the place was impressive too. Middle-aged couples researching their family history, ladies in colourful robes testing their English on each other, families looking for a film to go with a pizza later and old men simply passing the time until the next bus home; all were here, and yet nobody seemed out of place. Like a multi-faith church the public library welcomed all, no questions asked, but with answers for everyone. In my absence it had become the Public’s Library.

So the next time I have research questions, or feel like giving some new music a try, or simply fancy reading some escapist fantasy, perhaps I should turn the laptop off. Maybe it’s time to rediscover my local library.

(c) Shaun Finnie 2011