Monday, February 04, 2008

What is in a name?

When I started this blog, I wanted to come up with a name that would be short and catchy. I realized that the term "older adults" is more widely accepted - for example the American Library Association has a "Services to Older Adults" page. However, I do not feel that there is a negative association to the word "senior" - at least with members of the "Greatest Generation".

Boomers, on the other hand, may not be happy with the term "senior". Recently I have read several articles that state that Boomers are very sensitive about activities and places that are labeled "senior". Allison Rupp wrote an article in the Casper Star Tribune about the trend for senior centers to change their name to better attract Boomers who are in their 50's. In Butler County Ohio, Tiffany Latta (of Hamilton Journal News) wrote that the local "Senior Citizens, Inc." group had changed their name to "Partners in Prime". The idea was to remove the "senior citizen" label, which may have some negative connotations for some older adults.

This idea was discussed by Dave Schleck in a recent Daily Press article. Mr. Schleck quoted author Chuck Underwood, who is the author of "The Generational Imperative: Understanding Generational Differences in the American Workplace, Marketplace, And Living Room."

Here is Chuck Underwood's list of seven words that one should not use in marketing to Boomers:

  • senior
  • retiree
  • aging
  • golden years
  • silver years
  • mature
  • prime time
This is quite a list. We may have to be creative with how we label our programs and how we market them to older adults. I think that "lifelong learning" may be a good term to use to describe library programs for older adults. What do you all think? What terms do you use for older adult programs at your library?

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Carol Bean said...

Hi Isabelle,

I have found for years that some older adults are sensitive to the "senior" term. On the other hand, the pre-boomers, who are in their 70's and beyond, don't (generally) tend to have a problem with it.

I think trying to use one term as a catchall for both groups is going to have inherent problems. The boomer group is getting bigger, while the original "senior" group is getting smaller, and the tendency is to focus on the larger numbers. Switching terms to fit the Boomer group is going to exclude parts of the older group who are used to (and happy with) the term "senior."

I don't have any solutions yet, but I think finding acceptable labels is something we need to be working on, keeping in mind that a label that's acceptable to a boomer may not be acceptable to the generation of boomers' parents (and vice-versa).

waltc said...

Well, actually, some of us pre-boomers are neither in our seventies nor wild about being called senior, aged, elderly, decrepit, whatever.

I'm 62. I'm a pre-boomer, whatever that means. I'm frankly just not wild about being labeled either in terms of not-youngness or some mythical generation. I suppose "older adult" is less troublesome than some terms...

And I'm reading your blog, but not without a certain discomfort about the title.

Isabelle Fetherston said...

I agree Carol, that we need to think about what are acceptable labels and that one label does not "fit all". Perhaps Walt has the right idea - we may need to design programs that do not mention aging labels.