KFPL’s Reading Buddies program now includes seniors

Kingston Frontenac Public Library has expanded their popular initiative

Reading has the power to bring people together.
The Kingston Frontenac Public Library (KFPL) recently expanded their Reading Buddies initiative to include seniors, beginning this July. The program, popularized by its work with children, connects volunteer readers with those who enjoy listening. 
Anne Hall, programming and outreach librarian for KFPL, spoke with The Journal about Reading Buddies, the value of connecting people through literacy, and how they’ve expanded this normally in-person initiative during pandemic times. 
“We had to come up with a virtual version,” said Hall. “In discussing how to do that, it was suggested that we expand the program, not to just have teen volunteers reading to children, but to do a similar program with newcomer youth and seniors.” 
From this suggestion, Hall identified an opportunity in the senior demographic. 
“We were looking mainly at seniors who might be in retirement residences or nursing homes, who may not, even now, be having a lot of contact with the outside world.”
The need for social interaction isn’t age-exclusive. However, many seniors don’t engage with technology as frequently as their younger contemporaries, making it even harder for them to stay connected to their communities during the pandemic. 
Having volunteers read to seniors therefore represents a valuable social experience. Having one-on-one interactions could make their day. The Reading Buddies program is an opportunity for these seniors to engage with new people through literacy while staying safe. 
“Even if you have to settle for a virtual connection, it’s still a live one, and that still seems to make a lot of difference,” Hall said. 
The idea itself has been a hit since day one. Unfortunately, moving the Reading Buddies initiative online has created some licensing complications. 
“In pre-pandemic times, when we were reading in-person, we could pretty much read whatever we wanted,” Hall said. “We would acknowledge the title and author of the book, but just reading aloud wasn’t in any way violating copyright. To read online, even if you’re not recording or saving the reading, you [need] permission from the publisher.”
Given the ease by which recorded media can be distributed online, unregulated recordings often threaten publishers’ businesses and the integrity of their authors’ work. Luckily, many publishers have provided solutions. 
“Early on in the pandemic, publishers set up websites to make it easier to source, making it easier to get [their] permission,” Hall explained.  
She believes the majority of Reading Buddies’ technology-related kinks have been ironed out. She said seniors will have plenty of support when working their devices. 
As ‘Reading Buddies’ continues to bring people together through literature, Hall believes the program highlights the value of having public libraries in 2021. 
“A lot of people believe [public libraries] are their best-kept secret,” she said. “They’ll tell their friends about all this great stuff you can get at the library.” 
During normal times, Hall described libraries as social spaces. 
“People are often surprised by how busy it is. You might have kids who are coming in for a program, but you also have kids who are studying a course or an exam. We have lots of kids who get together to do their homework in a library, and that goes up to college and university students.”
Be it by offering students a place to work or by connecting people through the Reading Buddies program, the relationships created by KFPL are more valuable than ever.  

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