What long-term care can learn from librarians

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Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

If one gets to have his or her own personal version of heaven, mine would be a place where there are lots of books and authors.

Luckily, I didn't have to die in order to attend the American Library Association's exhibit in Chicago last weekend, and I even came back with lessons for long-term care conference attendees and exhibitors.

For one, I got whiplash upon glancing a booth from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services over my shoulder. Apparently wherever you go, there you are. In an example of agency organization, the booth was a precursor to a Monday announcement of how the Institute of Museum and Library Services will help states learn about health insurance marketplaces.

This project will give libraries information about the Affordable Care Act and connect librarians with CMS navigators and application counselors to help people understand options for enrollment.

Which makes perfect sense. As CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said, “libraries across this country are a tremendous resource for people in their communities.”

This led me to think about potential partnerships between long-term care and libraries, which have become community hubs in many regions.

While libraries can't be in the position of making referrals to specific places, have you, as a long-term care administrator, reached out to your local library to establish a connection? Is there a presentation on senior health that someone can give, or perhaps an informative session on what Medicare does and does not cover? Is there a list of local nursing homes among the library reference materials? Is there a way for the library to provide books or audio materials to your residents, a la the New York Public Library?

The other insight I had was the stamina of ALA attendees and exhibitors. The exhibit floor at McCormick Place was open from Friday night to Monday morning, with exhibit hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. One observation: As the day went on, booths would put out different items, generally swapping out one stack of courtesy books for another. What this means is that people would come back to the booth. This gave the vendor different chances to connect with the customer.

The other insight: People will wait in line for something they want. This is trickier for long-term care vendors, as I don't believe they're going to be able to get Jonathan Tropper, Katherine Paterson, Sara Paretsky or Marilyn Singer to sign books at their booths. (Although if you can do this, please let me know and I'll spend all day at your booth.)

Still, ask yourself: What can I give away that will have providers flocking to my booth? Many vendors only want the lead that will result in a sale, blowing off the “lookiloos.” Granted, it's frustrating to have someone with no influence grabbing all your pens. But keep in mind that plenty of the exhibit attendees who leave with free stuff aren't just thinking about what they'll use in their facility.

They are also thinking about what they can give a friend or coworker, and what's practical in day-to-day life. This is why you will see people leaving a conference with fistfuls of Purell from GoJo, or using the bright Omnicare bags as they walk around the conference floor. Is it going to mean those attendees end up signing a contract? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, you've earned brand recognition.

Finally, what long-term care can learn from librarians is how to make do with less. I met librarians who had lost their jobs with no notice because of funding cuts, and librarians who are doing amazing programming on a budget of about $120 a year. Yet their enthusiasm for reading, books and their libraries could be felt through the exhibit hall.

It's not that different, in the end, from those who are passionate about helping our nation's seniors.

Elizabeth Newman is the senior editor at McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Follow her on Twitter at @TigerELN.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.