A leading charity has said that social isolation among the elderly has reached a state of national emergency:
“Trevor Lyttleton, chairman of Contact the Elderly, said the number of lonely pensioners aged 75 or older was at its worst more than any time in the almost 50 years since he founded the charity,” reports The Independent. “Some go whole weeks without any human contact. … Last year, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the 800,000 people suffering from chronic loneliness ‘a national disgrace’.”
And as Mary Rance, the charity’s chief executive, points out, “The impact of loneliness runs deep, with many people suffering severe mental and physical health issues as a result.”
“Libraries,” they say, “are seen by many as a lifeline and a crucial public service, especially if you are elderly, socially isolated, poor, vulnerable, or all of the above. In rural areas, the local library, along with the village hall, pub and shop, is the focal point of community life. It’s a safe, trusted place for meeting friends and neighbours, a place for learning, information and leisure and sometimes just a place to keep warm.”
Small rural libraries must be protected, states the Age UK charity, for the following reasons:
1. They’re accessible
The obvious advantage of having a local library is that it is local. Accessibility is crucial if you have mobility problems and/or haven’t got the money for bus fare.
2. They help to bridge the digital divide
Elderly people in rural areas face significant challenges when it comes to IT access, including infrastructure problems and set-up costs. The vast majority of public libraries offer free IT access and basic IT training to the public.
3. They help to combat social isolation
Libraries are social places where people can chat, read and keep in touch with the outside world. For elderly people who can’t access a static library, mobile and housebound services can fill the gap. Sometimes a friendly smile from a library worker can make all the difference to an isolated and vulnerable person’s day or week.
Chagford resident Ruth Olley notes that the library provides a crucial lifeline to many members of our own community:
“Every time I go into the library I see the amazing work our librarian does for the elderly and infirm. She goes over and above her job description and is an obvious supportive, caring figure for these vulnerable people — from assisting with appropriate reading material, large print books and audio books for those who are visually impaired, to offering a warm, friendly and caring face (and sometimes the odd cup of coffee!) to those who might otherwise have few meaningful connections with the wider community.”
As Age UK states plainly:
“Public libraries can help to improve the quality of life of the rural elderly, therefore it’s vitally important that we protect and improve them for future generations.”