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UAlbany Librarian: A Listener for the Aging

UAlbany librarian Elaine Bergman at the Dewey Library.

UAlbany librarian Elaine Bergman is in charge of the gerontology collection at the Dewey Graduate Library. (Photo Mark Schmidt)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (January 18, 2011) -- Elaine Lasda Bergman enjoys volunteering with the aging almost as much as she loves being the librarian in charge of the gerontology collection at the University at Albany's Dewey Library.

Bergman's gift for working with the elderly became apparent when she was 16, during her very first job in the kitchen of an assisted living facility.

"The older people all loved me because I would listen to them," she said.

UAlbany librarian and volunteer Elaine Bergman

Elaine Bergman combines her volunteer work with the aging with her interest in gerontology issues. (Photo Mark Schmidt)

Bergman joined UAlbany nine years ago, and is a Senior Assistant Librarian in the Dewey Library on the Downtown Campus. In 2007 she was offered a full-time position and became the bibliographer for social welfare, gerontology, and Dewey reference.

The Dewey Graduate Library's gerontology collection supports the University's Institute of Gerontology, part of the School of Social Welfare and headed by Distinguished Professor Ronald Toseland. Since the Institute's establishment in the 1960s, the University Libraries have allocated specific funds for materials to support the research of the Institute. One focus of the Institute is community engagement, and Bergman felt volunteering with Senior Services of Albany (SSA) would help her better understand some of the issue facing seniors in the community.

Through SSA, she met a spirited and independent older Korean woman who would benefit from home visits because she is not fluent in English. That was in 2008: Bergman has been visiting her friend, who is not named to respect her privacy, ever since. As a result, they have developed a special friendship.

As a volunteer home visitor, Bergman routinely checks in on her friend and helps with a variety of tasks, such as sorting important letters from junk mail. Recently, she helped her write and address Christmas cards.

"I do sort of feel she is my replacement grandmother," said Bergman, who lost her own beloved grandmother several years ago.

For older persons who speak little English, matters of everyday life can be hurdles. Filling out a form for Workers' Compensation or Medicare can be overwhelming. Navigating an automated voicemail menu can become a daunting challenge. Bergman's friend does not use an answering machine, because it is difficult to understand the messages without seeing the person's face.

"Lately I have been running interference for her with Time Warner cable," Bergman said. "They had changed their channel lineup and she was no longer getting Animal Planet." Bergman talked to the Time Warner rep and resolved the problem.

"Sometimes it is just letting her know that she needs to contact her other friend, not a volunteer – but a friend who helps her with more detailed issues…for example, she may need to visit her doctor to resolve a new stipulation from the Workers' Compensation Board," said Bergman.

The friendship enriches Bergman as well, who has learned from her friend the secrets of the labor-intensive process involved in making Kimchee, a traditional Korean cabbage dish.

Volunteering to help the elderly is just one of the many ways UAlbany faculty and staff make a difference. To learn more about how the UAlbany community is making a World of Difference, visit UAlbany's Community Connections.

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