Special seminar at OPL is a ‘synergy’ of interests

By Judith van Berkom –

“It’s a great synergy of both of our interests,” says Wendy Robbins. She’s describing a six-week workshop for older adults, which will be facilitated by herself and Trudy Medcalf and begins at the Carlingwood branch of the Ottawa Public Library (OPL) in early September. Aging by the Book is an opportunity for older adults to explore what aging means to them, and learn from each other.

Wendy Robbins and Trudy Medcalf, facilitators of a seminar called Aging by the Book.
Wendy Robbins and Trudy Medcalf, facilitators of a seminar called Aging by the Book. Photo by Judith van Berkom

Trudy stresses the importance of searching for meaning later in life. “There are not many places you can do that,” she says. “A lot of work involved in being an older adult is inner work. But when you set up a safe environment, it happens. There’s a point in the first session when people realize this is the place where we can do it.”

Trudy has a background in teaching and guidance counseling and has a PhD in gerontology. She’s been hosting elder circles for the last 15 years. Elder circles are a way of getting a group of older people exploring together what it means to get older.

“I believe strongly in participatory work,” says Trudy. “Even as a teacher I wasn’t comfortable saying: this is what you need to know…. The idea of an elder circle fits here – we are not imposing our ideas but setting up an environment where people can learn together.”

Wendy comes from a 30-year career with the CBC as an executive producer, mostly in radio, followed by a Masters in Information Science from the University of Ottawa. Her thesis dealt with how the public library could be a support system for an aging population.

Aging by the Book morphed from a program Wendy produced for the CBC called Reflections on Aging: a Reading Circle. It used a narrative approach to discuss issues around aging.   Ultimately, putting the elder circles together with Wendy’s interest in reading resulted in the idea of the seminar, which was then presented to the OPL.

Wendy and Trudy select a variety of texts, which participants are asked to read before each 90-minute session. These can be excerpts from short stories, chapters from novels, poetry, or an article or two. The chosen works must have literary merit and are likely to spark interest into all aspects of aging.

Wendy and Trudy describe the sessions as a “kind of a dance” as the group discusses the texts.

“It’s not like a book club. It has aspects of a book club in that it attracts people who love to read,” says Trudy. “But the thing I like about the reading circle – compared to the elder circle where there is no curriculum – is this idea there’s some text. If people don’t want to be so personal they have the option of spending the hour and a half talking about the texts.”

“The idea is to help people move forward,” says Wendy. “It has to do with your outlook on life and reevaluating your relationship with others.”

Wendy and Trudy plan to expand their Aging by the Book program and would like it to be offered in all branches of the OPL a few times a year. Several participants expressed interest in facilitating their own group, so Wendy and Trudy started offering workshops on facilitation and are in the process of applying for a grant from the 2017 Community Foundation.

You can register for the Aging by the Book program in person at the Carlingwood branch of the OPL or online at biblioottawalibrary.ca. Registration is limited to 10 participants.

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