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February 26, 2024

You’ve Got Mail – The Old-Fashioned Kind

Elderly person's hands writing a letter

By Pam L., Public Services Librarian

Most days, opening the mailbox reveals an array of bills, offers, and advertisements. But, on rare occasions, a card or personal letter may appear – like a stamped and addressed ray of sunshine!

All the Feels

Letter writing suppliesSeeing my name scrawled across a colorful envelope always brings a smile of anticipation. This form of personal connection is a rarity in today’s sea of text messages and emails. The sender will have devoted time to selecting a card or piece of stationary, then taken pen in hand, and communicated in a more intimate, tangible, and time-honored way that makes the recipient feel especially seen and valued.

Comparing Now & Then

In current times, letter writing has become something of a lost art, practiced by a dwindling number of individuals. According to CBS News, “Just under a third (of Americans) have written a personal letter within the past twelve months. For many Americans, it’s been even longer. 37% say it’s been over five years since they’ve written and sent a personal letter, while another 15% of adults have never written and sent a personal letter.”

In the past, letters between significant others, friends, and associates served to document peoples’ lives and relationships. Historians utilize these first-person artifacts to learn about the events, experiences, and social norms of a bygone time. How will future students of history seek out such details from our ephemeral methods of electronic communications? The ripple effects of changing practices can have unexpected and wide-ranging impacts. According to Newsweek, “The decline in letter writing constitutes a cultural shift so vast that in the future, historians may divide time not between B.C. and A.D. but between the eras when people wrote letters and when they did not. Historians depend on the written record.”

Children learn by mimicking older role models. But, with the passing of each generation, there is heightened probability that the art form of letter writing may soon become extinct – unless care is taken now to value and encourage its practice. My own mother cherishes the cards, drawings, and letters that she receives from family members, especially the youngest of the grandkids and great-grandkids. Fostering these bridges between distant generations is a way to safeguard traditions, values, and heritage. The lives of both sender and receiver are enriched, and the loneliness and isolation of aging can be tempered.

Taking Action With Pen & Paper

Envelopes and letter-writing suppliesFebruary 26 has been designated as Letter to an Elder Day in an effort to brighten the somewhat dark and somber days of winter. The heightened engagement associated with end-of-year holidays will have passed, and many older folks may be feeling a bit alone. According to National Today, “National Letter to an Elder Day was started by Love for Our Elders, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting loneliness with love among senior communities.”

Maybe you have an older friend, acquaintance, or loved one who would benefit from an effort of post office altruism. There are also many local nursing homes where certain residents may be without family or friends to reach out to them. Why not select a recipient and make this effort a part of your charitable resolutions for 2024?

Resources to Help

The library contains books and other resources that can help to instruct and inspire you to become a skilled letter writer, whatever your age or previous experience. Below are several suggestions of websites and books to get you started.


American Philosophical Society: The Art of Letter Writing
Emily Post Institute: Writing Personal Letters
Grammarly: How to Write Any Type of Letter
Plain Language: An Official Website of the US Government: Writing Effective Letters


How to Say It, by Rosalie Maggio
How to Say It by Rosalie Maggio

How to Write a Letter, by Cecilia Minden and Kate Roth
How to Write a Letter by Cecilia Minden and Kate Roth

Love Letters, by Rosa Maria Szynski
Love Letters by Rosa Maria Szynski

Write Back Soon- Adventures in Letter Writing, by Karen Benke
Write Back Soon: Adventures in Letter Writing by Karen Benke