Launched in 2015, the Library Memory Project harnesses the power of the Bridges Library System’s 24 public libraries to offer a rotating series of memory cafés. Six themes-based memory cafés are convened each month at 21 libraries across Jefferson and Waukesha counties in Wisconsin in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association and county Aging and Disability Resource Centers. Individuals living with memory loss and their care partners can count on finding warm companionship, acceptance to be who they are, and enjoyable discussions and engagement in music, art, theater, poetry, literature and more. 200 individuals participate annually, with many couples attending multiple monthly cafés at multiple locations. One unique feature is that the memory café facilitators (librarians) attend each other’s cafés to offer support, which is especially critical for the smaller libraries who otherwise may not be able to provide more than one staff person to facilitate the café. The consistency and structure of the cafés means community members living near smaller libraries can enjoy the same dementia programming as those living closer to larger facilities. Eleven facilitators have also been trained in StoryCorps to collect and preserve the oral histories of participants.
The Library Memory Project began holding their popular “Family Day” event in 2019. Convened at a local nature center one weekend afternoon a year, participants are invited to extend an invitation to their adult children, grandchildren, and close friends to join them for an enhanced memory café type gathering that includes guided hikes led by a naturalist on accessible trails, live music, and planetarium shows among other activities.
The Library Memory Project continues to grow. In 2022, they held their first all-day symposium, a professional development opportunity for facilitators to learn more about dementia, brainstorm ideas for cafés, and plan for the future. “The memory cafés give us an opportunity to get to know others who are negotiating the ups and downs of this journey” shared Pam, a memory café attendee. “No one really knows until they have ‘walked in our shoes.’ There is a strong common bond of the family members at the café.”