Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Prison Librarianship: Frequently Asked Questions

By Glennor Shirley, Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education.

Each week I receive at least two emails from future and practicing librarians who ask questions on a variety of topics about prison libraries and prison librarianship. Many of the questions come from library school students who write that they are interested in becoming prison librarians.

The most frequently asked questions are: How do I become a prison librarian? Can the inmates use the Internet? What are the safety issues? What kinds of books inmates read?

I normally take some time to give detailed answers and if the individual is from Maryland, I invite them to tour one of the prison libraries in Maryland. A visit is more realistic as it gives the individual an opportunity to feel the gates closing behind them, to experience the daily ritual of getting in and out of an institution, and most importantly, they see and speak to inmates who are using the libraries.

It is the frequency of these questions that gave me the idea of compiling a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on my blog. Click here to see the FAQs.

Please feel free to send comments to me at gshirley@msde.state.md.us.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


Bookmobiles on Parade: Visit from an Exoffender

By Glennor Shirley, MSDE, Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries.

In April 07, I took possession of the first prison library bookmobile in the nation. This bookmobile was designed specifically as a transitional information services unit for inmates who were on prerelease status in Maryland’s prisons, and who would return to the community in less than 1 year.

In June, we had not yet hired a bookmobile librarian, nor developed an adequate collection, but decided to participate in the Bookmobiles on Parade at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington D.C.

Our technology manager, Beverly Bowles, ever ready for a challenge, agreed to drive the bookmobile in the parade. On June 26, 2007, our bookmobile, displaying the logo of our partners, Maryland State Department of Education, Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), and Maryland Correction Enterprise, and Correctional Education, joined nine other bookmobiles as they paraded around the Washington Convention Center. We later parked at Franklin Square and posted signs inviting passersby to visit inside.

By midday the temperature soared. To keep the vehicle cool, we periodically opened and closed the door, but always looked out for potential visitors. Two of our prison librarians took a break from the exhibits in the convention center and sat in the van. I went outside, sat on a nearby park bench facing the mobile unit, and saw a man approach the unit. His eyes were fixed on the public safety logo, his fingers almost tracing the letters. He turned to move away, but I went up to him saying, “Please go in”. He looked at me as I opened the door, hesitated, and then climbed the steps with a laugh, saying something like, “I spend enough time in prison I don’t want to get caught in these things again.” I assured him we were librarians who worked in prisons and we were showing off our new van designed specifically to provide to inmates with information they need to make a more successful transition back to their communities.

He still looked uncomfortable so I quickly pointed out the computers, the smart board, the books on trade, self esteem, starting your own businesses, GED, and also the many community directories.

“Which prison were you in?” I asked. He laughed and said he was in all of them, Virginia, Maryland, and the District. “But,” he added, “I have been out for a few years now, and I have a good job. I learned a trade and am now working in refrigeration. I can fix any cooling system on refrigerators and houses, and I am now going straight.”

He relaxed his stance, leaned towards the bookshelf, picked up a book titled: Taking Charge of Anger: How to Resolve Conflict, Sustain Relationship and Express Yourself Without Losing Control. He picked up another book with a title about believing in self. He tapped the subtitle. “You see this that was my problem. I did not believe in myself. I did not feel like I was good enough, I could not understand why my wife was still sticking with me. She came from a good family and did not have to put up with me. In prison they pointed out a lot of things to me and one day I looked at myself in the mirror and cried. I decided I did not want to remain as I was. I began to believe in myself.” He became quiet, reflective. We too remained silent.

Then I said, “It’s great. to hear you say you are now going straight. As prison librarians we are trying to help soon-to-be released inmates by providing them with information that will help them so they can be as successful as you.” He nodded toward each of us and said, “Thank you for doing what you do. “I am 45 years old, and now I know how to look after and nurture my children. I’ve learned to talk with them kindly rather than being abusive. The two young ones are doing well in school.” He paused for a moment, moving his head up and down. With a smile on his face, his eyes swept around to the four of us. “Ladies, most of the time you may not see the benefits of what you are doing, but if you can save only one,” he pointed his index finger for emphasis, “it is worth it. Keep up the good work. Thank you ladies. Now I must go back to my buddies. I was only curious when I saw all these vehicles parked here.”

He descended the steps. I watched him walk towards his buddies. In the bookmobile we remained silent for a while, awed by this chance affirmation of our work as prison librarians, I felt exquisitely happy that I took the plunge and agreed to participate in Bookmobiles on Parade. Who knew that on Franklin Square in Washington, DC., our most important visitor would be a representative of the population we are trying to reach?

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


Telecommuting for a Prison Library (part 2)

By Barbara Lipsky, Telecommuting Librarian, MSDE Correctional Education Libraries.

I first began telecommuting when I worked as a Reference/Bibliographic Instruction Librarian at a community college. I worked 20 hours a week, partly as the library's Web Developer. I realized that I could do most of the web work from home, began researching telecommuting, and developed a proposal to explain its value. The proposal was accepted and I began working as a telecommuting librarian four hours per week. My decision to try full- time telecommuting was made when my youngest child was around 3, and I realized I could perform many technical library duties with a computer from the quiet of my own home. Not having the commute and craziness of driving to work with a 3-year-old was a bonus.

When I contacted Ms. Shirley about a job at the Maryland State Department of Education Correctional Education Libraries, I inquired about telecommuting, explaining my past experience. Ms. Shirley asked questions, considered the options, and was interested in having a webpage for the Correctional Education Libraries. She was willing to give this a try, and I believe this has been a benefit to both of us. I was excited about working for Correctional Education Libraries and the challenge of developing and designing a whole new website (http://ce.msde.state.md.us/library/libraries.htm).

I usually work between 8 and 12 hours a week, depending upon work assignments. I have busy times like the beginning of the year when the Required Reference List is due, and slower times when I can concentrate on updating our webpage. I am available to Ms. Shirley, through emails, phone calls, and faxes. I try to make it into Headquarters at least once a month to collect work, and to meet with Ms. Shirley and other staff members.

Some of the jobs I accomplish from home (besides developing our webpage) are ordering reference items for the Required Reference List,(http://ce.msde.state.md.us/library/reflist04rev.htm) setting up an online system to track orders, calling publishers for item information, and setting up a system to order items monthly. I also put an online National Librarians Directory on the web(http://ce.msde.state.md.us/library/Directory04/directory04.htm). I do budgeting, answer in-depth reference questions for the prison librarians, and any other special projects.

Some advantages that I see for the Correctional Education Libraries is that I pay for my own electric, cable, phone, computer and other technical equipment. There is no need to find office space for me. There is no calling in sick; I can usually work around sick days. When I work, I am at work so there is no talking around the water cooler.

Some advantages for me are that I can set my own hours. As long as I get my work done, I can get up early or work late into the night. I also make sure that I am available to Ms. Shirley and colleagues during normal working hours. I find I get quality work done in less time because I do not have office distractions. Also the commute is great!

Telecommuting is not for everyone. You need to be organized and set a limit on the time you work. Although an advantage of working from home is that you are at home, you need to know when to quit for the day. The work never leaves you. You also need to be able to work alone and be able to troubleshoot technical difficulties. Sometime it can get lonely and you need to make an effort to keep in touch with your supervisor and colleagues.

I think this has been a bonus for Ms. Shirley and for me because we were both willing to try new things. We set limits from the beginning like how many hours a week I would work, how I would be available through email, phone, and fax. I suggested that I would keep a record of the work accomplished. We also agreed that I would go to staff development functions, and come into Headquarters.

I enjoy my job as a telecommuting librarian. It has been both rewarding and fulfilling, and these past 5 years have flown by. I am so glad that Ms. Shirley and I were both willing to try something new.


Telecommuting for a Prison Library (part 1)

By Glennor Shirley, MSDE, Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries.

In Maryland Correctional Education Libraries, we experience great difficulty in attracting qualified librarians to fill our vacant positions. Our salaries are competitive and are often higher than equivalent positions in academic, special, and public libraries in the region. The main problem in recruiting for our libraries appears to be the fear of working in a prison environment.

In 2002, our advertisement for a substitute librarian was answered by a stay-at-home librarian mom who was seeking a position that allowed her to work from home. Because I needed a librarian to work in the prison, I said telecommuting was not an option. I was intrigued, however, when she said that one of her strengths was web page design.

I began to dream of a web page that would provide:

  • resources to difficult information questions for the one-person-library manager who works in isolation.
  • ready answers for frequently asked questions—a kind of one-stop-shopping for our librarians.
  • new information as it appears on the web, which would save on the cost of buying new materials and more efficiently provide information on a consistent basis.
  • a tool to convert the printed Directory of State Prisons Librarians to an online database
  • good publicity for Maryland’s prison libraries, as our information would be available to anyone using the Internet.

After two weeks of debating the pros and cons, I called the librarian, Barbara Lipsky, and offered her an eight-hours-per-week telecommuting contract. She would work from home as a reference librarian primarily purchasing our core list of required reference materials while working on the design for a web page. The ground rules we established included communication media, timekeeping records, product delivery, and feedback mechanisms. We also agreed that while most of the work was done from home, there must be a monthly (at least) office visit. Our technology manager, with the support from our IT staff, set up Barbara’s home computer so she could have access to the system’s network. Later we provided her with a laptop, along with a signed agreement that it is to be used only for correctional library business.

Since telecommuting was a new way of supervising a section of correctional library operations, the initial months saw lots of trial and error. I constantly revised and reviewed the process and the contents of the web page, working to ensure an outcome that would justify expenditures.

It was also a learning experience for Barbara, who came to us from an academic library with no knowledge of corrections, but a willingness to learn and a tolerance for the many revisions I advocated. When we eventually launched the web site, we organized a workshop for the librarians and created a desktop shortcut icon for the site for each librarian. To ensure consistent use, Barbara routinely sends email reminders about new sites. We also encourage librarians to inform Barbara of any relevant and useful sites they encounter. This way, collectively we have identified many sites for inmates reentering the society.

Virtually, once per year, Barbara initiates contacts across the nation to update the Directory of State Prisons Librarians and within Maryland to update Correctional Education Library’s list of required references.

While our librarians have Internet access, Maryland Division of Corrections rules prohibit use when inmates are around. This means there is delay in providing answers to information needs that require Internet search. Librarians are encouraged to send more complex questions to the telecommuting librarian who researches and faxes results to the requesting library.

Our telecommuting librarian is now a fixture. It hardly seems like five years since I conceived and put into action the idea of a telecommuting librarian for our prisons. I am very proud of the success of this venture, especially since the prison librarians are positive about the usefulness of the site.

As an administrator, it is great to have a staff member who is not part of the office chatter, who will not call in absent because of sickness, snow, or because of having to take care of a family member, but someone who can get up in the middle of the night and put in her required time. And speaking of time, we periodically adjust hours upwards depending on any new short-term projects that can be undertaken by our telecommuting librarian.

In our next column Barbara herself will write about her telecommuting experience with Maryland Correctional Education Libraries.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


Censorship and Prison Libraries

By Glennor Shirley, MSDE, Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries.

The Standard for Adult Correctional Institutions' Libraries* was developed to provide a tool for planning, implementation, and evaluation of acceptable levels of library services in prisons. Included in the Standards are the ALA Library Bill of Rights and Resolution on Prisoners' Right to Read, adopted by the ALA Council in 1982.

In general, prison libraries, using the Standards as a guide, aim to provide materials and services for the educational, informational, cultural, vocational, and recreational needs of prisoners. The last few years, however, have seen a surge of infringements on prisoner's right to read as prison authorities across the county try to impose restrictions on the contents of materials in the institutions. I sent a questionnaire to librarians to find out how these restrictions affected their libraries, and whether the Library Bill of Rights made any difference. My personal experience with challenges over the past five years, and the movement towards faith-based programming, prepared me for the diversity of responses to the questionnaire. Censorship in prison libraries is on the rise, the extent varying from state to state and among individual institutions within the same state.

Below are some of the kinds of challenges that the librarians reported:

  • No graphic novels because some show skimpily dressed women and it may affect sex treatment programs.
  • No hardback books, because it is easy to hide contraband in spine of these books.
  • No ethnic materials or programs because it means they would have to provide for every ethnic group that demands materials.
  • Mail room has a 20 page list of materials that are not allowed.
  • No homegrown newspapers because it reports the crimes in the neighborhood from which the inmates come and they are afraid of gang retaliation.
  • They have faith-based programs and want materials that support those programs.
  • They tear out sections of magazines that have what they consider inappropriate before sending them to the library or to the inmates who have subscriptions.

Many of the censorship challenges are arbitrary, based on the bias or punitive attitude of individual security officers or other personnel within the institution. Some examples of these are:

  • A prison psychologist advocated removal of books on crime because she felt books on true crime impeded her attempts to treat offenders.
  • A corrections officer wanted books about dogs removed because the institution had a canine unit and he feels it is not good for the inmates to know anything about dogs.
  • The administration in one institution did not want a National Geographic video about Nelson Mandela to be shown because it had a shot of an African child without clothes.
  • Some officers argued about having books on how to start businesses because they feel it is a teaching tool for inmates' scams.

Librarians cope with these challenges in a variety of ways. Some form selection committees comprising education, and security staff, and this helps to reduce the number of challenges. (The cynical part of me says at least it gets some of the security staff to read some literature). Others have used the Library Bill of Rights, pointing out that the materials in question in no way compromise security.

Yet others use the mechanism already in place by their institution's codes of regulation regarding questionable items. For example, in Maryland, the Division Code outlines the steps to challenge library materials. These are often overlooked by the line staff, who sometimes fail to follow up on the challenge after the procedures are brought to their attention.

Several librarians feel they have no choice but to comply when their materials are challenged, either because of job security or for fear of further harassment by the security staff. As one- person managers, they feel their energies are better spent in trying to provide service to the underserved inmates, than in fighting battles with the security staff. The uniqueness of their jobs is such that it is unlikely prison librarians will seek outside support to fight against these challenges. Occasionally, however, on the Prison Library Listserv (prison-l@ala.org), a librarian poses a question and receives answers from those on the listserv. The Prisoners Forum at ALA's Midwinter Meetings or Annual Conferences is another way for prison librarians to share their challenges and responses.

From the prison literature I have read recently, a few prisoners in different states are filing lawsuits against the infringements on their right to read certain kinds of material. Good for them. Prisoners shall not live by faith-based programs alone.

*Note: The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies. Library Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions 1992. Chicago: American Library Association, 1992.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


Prison Libraries Help Inmates Get Over The Fence: Reducing Barriers to Reentry

By Glennor Shirley, Library Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries, Maryland State Department of Education.

Over 2 million prisoners are housed in U.S. state prisons, federal prisons, and detention centers.  At some point, 95% of state prisoners will return to the community, becoming part of approximately 5 million adult men and women who come from the criminal justice system, either as parolees or probationers.  Prisoners are parents to approximately 1.5 million children under age 18.

A Three State Recidivism Study on the impact of education while incarcerated concluded that the drop in recidivism among prisoners participating in educational programs resulted in “returns at least $2 for every $1 spent in terms of saving in cell space on those who do not return to the system.”

In view of the importance of education for a successful reentry, how do prison libraries proactively contribute to the education of the inmates as they prepare to return to society?

Prison libraries can develop collections that include a broad range of materials for self-help, self-education, community resources, housing and job availability, and vocational training opportunities. Content should include information on:

  • Obtaining or restoring credit
  • Writing resumes and  cover letters
  • Explaining the gap in employment status
  • Interviewing for jobs
  • Federal Bonding, a program by the U.S. Deptartment of Labor that serves as incentive for employers to hire ex-offenders and others with risk factors in their background
  • Getting  licensing information
  • Sources and requirements for obtaining funds to start up businesses
  • Substance abuse and health centers
  • Agencies and  shelters for the homeless
  • Trade skills, such as construction,  motor mechanics, or cosmetology
  • Communication and interpersonal relationships
  • Family relationships and parenting

In Maryland, our Correctional Educational Libraries work collaboratively with the Transition Coordinator, setting up a career center in a section of the library in our medium- and minimum-security prisons.  Although the materials and equipment in the career center are the responsibility of the Transition Coordinator, the librarian oversees the day-to-day operations.  Another example of how libraries work alongside the Transition program is the library’s contribution at the annual career fair for inmates who are on the verge of leaving prison: Prison administrators do not normally allow inmates access to the Internet, but for the career fair, the librarian gets special permission to use a laptop with Internet access and can then demonstrate how the Internet is used to find information about jobs, housing, GED, and other community resources.  In several cases, this demonstration was the first time inmates saw how the Internet works.

Because many inmates will return to their communities without any financial means and are unlikely to have computers in their homes, librarians remind inmates that they can visit their local public library to use computers and find required information.  To reinforce the public library’s importance, we have invited public librarians to talk with prison librarians about their resources for ex-offenders, and to participate in one of our career fairs.

In our Libraries we designate a section as "Library Resources for Life on the Outside," which has information on the topics that are relevant for reentry.  We also produced a bookmark listing some of the materials on the shelves. Below are the titles on our bookmarks:

Library Resources for Life on the Outside
Finding a Job. . .
Bermont, Todd.  10 Insider Secrets to a Winning Job Search.
Block, Jay.  101 Best Cover Letters.
Farr, Michael.  America's Top Jobs for People without a Four-Year Degree.
Farr, Michael.  Best Jobs for the 21st Century.
Figler, Howard.  The Complete Job Search Handbook.
Fry, Ronald.  101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions.
Gale, Linda.  Discover What You’re Best At.
Kennedy, Joyce.  Job Interviews for Dummies.
Messmer, Max.  Job Hunting for Dummies.
Nadler, Burton Jay.  The Everything Resume Book.
Parker, Yana.  Damn Good Resume Guide.
Pincus, Marilyn.  Interview Strategies that Lead to Job Offers.
Prasad, Chandra.  Outwitting the Job Market.
Veruki, Peter.  250 Job Interview Questions You’ll Most Likely Be Asked.
Washington, Tom. Interview Power:  Selling Yourself Face to Face.
Yate, Martin.  Resumes that Knock ‘em Dead.

Your Money. . .
Bierman, Todd. The Fix Your Credit Workbook.
Chatzky, Jean.  Pay It Down! From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day.
Tucker, Sheryl. The New Money Book of Personal Finance.
Tyson, Eric.  Personal Finance for Dummies.

Personal Change. . .
Anderson, Walter.  The Confidence Course.
Ball, Carolyn.  Claiming Your Self-Esteem.
Beattie, Melody.  Co-Dependent No More.
Brounstein, Marty.  Communicating Effectively for Dummies.
Davidson, Jeffrey.  Complete Idiot’s Guide to Assertiveness.
Glickman, Rosalene.  Optimal Thinking.
Greenberger, Dennis. Mind over Mood.
Kuriansky, Judy.  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to a Healthy Relationship.
Niven, David.  The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People.
Robbins, Anthony.  Unlimited Power: A Black Choice.
Toropov, Brandon.  Complete Idiot’s Guide to Getting along with Difficut People.
Prochaska, James O.  Changing for Good.

The Maryland Correctional Libraries website includes a section devoted to reentry.  This helps the librarian identify sites as well as act as guide to anyone with access to the Internet.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


Lonely, Lost Librarian: Battling Professional Isolation

By Joseph Bouchard,  Librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility, Michigan Department of Corrections.

As corrections-librarians, we spend our careers fulfilling the information requests of others. We provide inmates tools to ease their journey into the ranks of the free. We nourish intellectual growth, complement the education program, and facilitate access to the courts. In the absence of a facility library, staff would be left with fewer information options.

Whatever our personal motivations, we remain resource people with the needs of others in mind. But what about our own needs? Do we, as a profession, always operate in our own best interests? Assessing how we treat ourselves is not a case of vocational selfishness. It is necessary maintenance. We should act as moral support agents to all corrections-librarians.
Consider the challenge of professional isolation. As a rule of thumb, we have little daily contact with others corrections-librarians. To combat seclusion, most of us form vocational bonds with administrative, custody and programs staff. The positive benefits of this are empathy, exchange of facility knowledge, inclusion, and a greater awareness of custody issues.

Unfortunately, some corrections-librarians never seek the company and knowledge of colleagues from different classifications within the institution. Often times, they are overwhelmed by their tasks and unable make collegial connections. This results in what is known as the lonely, lost librarian.

Those outside the loop to feel unappreciated and bitter. Therefore, solo artists typically become the target of prisoner manipulation, staff ridicule, sabotage, unwarranted suspicion and a lower perceived credibility. With those burdens, loneliness will naturally intensify.

Exiled staff are always on the outside looking in. Isolation forces staff to become prisoners to their office, oblivious to the business of the rest of the facility. Therefore, the librarian’s full potential is lost to the facility.

There are ways to invite the secluded into the profession. Essentially, corrections-librarians have the same sort of problems. That is a common theme in all of the following unity tactics.

If your agency has not done so yet, form a librarian email group. This is a useful forum that poses questions among peers. Some query topics could include the mandatory law book list, interlibrary loans between facilities, policy directive interpretations, and discussion of posted rules. This is a mechanism that demonstrates that no matter the circumstances, corrections-librarians have common challenges.

Discussion lists
Electronic forums cast a large net than departmental emails. And many of the same problems are tackled, but on a larger scale. Also, National and international news is discussed. Conferences are announced.

Both corrections and librarian conferences offer topics that build larger perspectives. This starts isolated librarians down the road of common goals and outreach.

Field trips
With support from administration, more seasoned peers could welcome newer library staff to their facility to show them operations. This should be done for all new hires as an extension of new employee school.

Departmental training
At least once a year, there should be a regional or State-wide conference that addresses common challenges and triumphs. This is a way to connect email names to real faces. Like the national conferences, these are useful at building larger perspectives and promoting the mission statement.

Word of mouth
Accentuate our many roles. Support the concept of working both sides of the hyphen of corrections-librarian. Staff unity is a two pronged concept. There is unity between all corrections-librarians and camaraderie among corrections professions. In your contacts, support the very necessary concept of custody/programs rapport and realism. Combat niche elitism whenever possible.

The benefits of including all library staff into Team Corrections are many. Lonely, lost librarians gain respect from custody staff who, in turn, support library services. Burn out, rapid turn over, and manipulation lowers. Corrections-librarianship strengthens and can lend even greater support to isolated colleagues. Common efforts lead to successful completion of common goals.

Naturally, this is not without caveats. Tact is important in helping others. Care must be taken to avoid becoming an unwanted mentor. Too much coaching can be construed as harassment by some. Remember that is should be a peer relationship. Above all, it is about balance.

Also, realism is very important. Sometimes our colleagues place themselves in seclusion as a conscious choice. It is important for a would-be mentor to recognize this.

We have a right to be proud of our sub-profession. However, we should never forget that we are really a small part of the corrections profession. But, our actions and level of unity will ultimately determine how significant a part of the profession we will become.

--Joseph Bouchard is a Librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for The Corrections Professional, Author, Lecturer and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College. You can reach him at (906) 353-7070 ext 1321.  These are the opinions of Joseph Bouchard, a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections. These are not necessarily the opinions of the Department. The MDOC is not responsible for the content or accuracy.


Has Your Public Librarian Been to Prison? (Part 2)

By Jeanette Larson, Youth Services Manager, Austin Public Library.

Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center
Second Chance Books: Bringing Literature to Incarcerated Kids

A report from The Youth Services Department of the Austin Public Library in Texas.

Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center (GBJJC) is a short-term residential facility with approximately 50-120 youths ages ten - seventeen years. Detainees stay for approx. 10-12 days, although some are detained up to six months while they await adjudication.

In Fall 2003, Austin Public Library initiated Second Chance, a project to provide detainees with the opportunity to read and to learn about library resources. The library’s collection would get a “second chance” to be read before being withdrawn. The project entailed: establishing an on-site deposit collection of high interest popular books from the Library’s collection, promoting reading through book talks, registering incarcerated kids for free library cards, and providing programs.

Twice monthly, three library staff visit GBJJC, taking a selection of books that they discuss with 4 groups groups of 10-20 juveniles. The project enabled library staff to improve services to a difficult- to- reach segment of the community. Many students said that prior to this, they did not read at all. Now they read 6 or more books during their stay, and said they plan to use the public library upon release.

In 2004, over 200 incarcerated students received new library cards. Programs have included authors, illustrators, martial arts experts, and a storyteller.

Letters from some of the youths at GBJJC best demonstrate the achievements of this project. (Grammar and spelling are as written by the kids with clarification in brackets, if necessary.)

  • I had never read a book until I came in to detention. … I read Monster by Walter Dean Myers and I couldn’t put it down. So it was that I found myself doing it all the time and I couldn’t put it down. … I would not have things on my mind all the time, instead I was reading so I also thinck I made me find me and who I relly am you know.
  • I was very depressed and [the librarian] smiled and then she put the book that she was going to tell us about and picked up another one and from that moment on I knew that if a librarian saw pintual [potential] in me that read[ing] was good.
  • I never read books while at the house. I was always outside hanging with friends getting into trouble. Since being in Gardner Betts, I now read everyday and I also have received a library card. … Now I read books and don’t get into trouble.
  • How the library has helped me is by me reading and not being able to stop. The first time I came here is when it became my first time to read a book. It’s been a tragedy to me coming back to juvenile but the only thing that is good is that now I love reading more than ever.
  • The library has helped me a lot. And the reason why I say that is because when I was going to school out their in the free [world] you know I would never pay attention to none of my reading books. … And now that I started reading my level has picked up … whenever I used to read out loud I would always be coming to a point where I did not know a word and now that I know how to read better its like I never had that problem.

Costs are minimal, approximately ten hours a month preparing for the book talks, programs and events, and sorting and selecting books for the collection. An initial grant of $500 from the Tocker Foundation was used to purchase shelving and some books. Program costs ranged from $50 to $200 per program, some, for example, Walter Dean Myers, were free.

What began, as a small pilot project to reach kids who needed library services, has grown. rapidly and, after 18 months, has moved from pilot project to an institutionalized service within both Gardner Betts Juvenile Center and Austin Public Library.

--Jeanette Larson is Youth Services Manager, Austin Public Library www.cityofaustin.org/library.


Paroled! A Librarian Leaves Jail

By Glennor Shirley, MSDE, Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries.

Going through my files recently, I came upon my written reflections on my last work day in a detention center in 1995. I reproduce it here exactly as I wrote it then.

Paroled! A Librarian Leaves Jail.
"You know John," the prisoner said to the public defender, who came into the library to bid me farewell. "I'm only a prisoner, and don't know much, but if you ask me, they should get Ms Shirley to go to all the prisons to teach them about rehabilitation." He removed his glasses, folded his arms, continued to talk to John as if I were not there. "Most of us inmates come in here angry, resentful and hostile. We don't want to listen to or obey anyone, we don't want to hear about rehabilitation. Look at what Ms Shirley provided for us! Books about everything to help us improve ourselves." His hands swept the perimeter of the library finally focused on a display called "Positive Vibrations."

"Look at me." he continued in a passionate voice, "I'm 59 years old, I dropped out of school and had no interest in finishing, now for the 1st time she has me thinking about getting GED."

"And you know what John?” He lowered his voice, "She doesn't even preach to us. All of us guys talk about it in our cells, Is none of my business why she is leaving, I guess she really has to go for a promotion where she gets more money. We truly are going to miss her."

Moved, but somewhat embarrassed by this tribute, I quickly intervened as he paused. "Thank you. No one could say a nicer thing to me on my last day."

They left the library. I went to pack the remaining personal items, removed my posters from the wall, closing a chapter on 7 years of being a librarian in penal institutions.

Did I say close? That will never be. Stories, incidents, challenges, laughs, inspiration, accomplishments, will be vibrant and colorful parts of my memories as a prison librarian. I sat in the quiet of the now empty library and reflected on how I came to work in a prison.

My advent into prison librarianship was income related. I needed to supplement my public library associate's pay, and the correctional facility had a part-time position that accommodated my public library schedule. Two evenings each week I placed books on a cart and took them to the cells of prisoners who were waiting relocation to a longer term prison facility.

One year later, I accepted a full time position to work in the penitentiary library, next door. The increased salary quelled my apprehension about giving up my full time public library job to work in a prison.

On my first day in the maximum security prison, nothing prepared me for the jarring sound of the iron gate which clanged shut as I entered one area, stood in a confined spot waiting for a correctional officer to check my credentials and destination. Three iron gates later, another staff patted me down and searched my belongings to ensure that I had no contraband.

Inside the dismal library that had been closed for 18 months, I looked at the room full of boxes, the empty shelves, the inmate clerks standing around, thought of the prison administration anxious to have the library opened, and I felt like retracing my steps. The reality of my monthly bills kept my feet rooted.

Thus began prison education. I encountered well dressed inmates who spoke with such authority I thought they were staff, sycophantic inmates who hoped to get in my good graces, and inmates whose eyes followed me everywhere -appraising. It was all new and I had no clue how to begin but instinctively realized I must immediately establish that I was in charge.

I set up teams of inmate workers, artists, sign makers, technical, information, and circulation clerks, learned to modify, readjust, change schedules, and clerks as I became aware of the prison culture - the tensions between European Americans and those of African heritage, the dynamics of the strong and weak inmates, and that of the prisoner versus staff.

Since prison culture prohibits inmates “snitching” on one another, when information came my way, I handled it with the utmost discretion to protect the informant. I was often the final arbiter in potential disputes, to reduce those actions that defined toughness in a prison. As the one person manager, I constantly interacted with the same inmates who come to the library seeking solution to variety information needs. When they came seeking directory information, medical information, and information pertaining to their incarceration, I learned about their children, custody and divorce issues, family situations, and the difficulties they encountered in their daily life as prisoners.

I learned to be frank, firm, fair, but compassionate. The prison inmate grapevine reported that my willingness to go the extra mile to find the information they needed, earned me their respect.

I learned that inmates had the same information needs as citizens outside. Their distrust of the medical services and prescriptions they received, made Physicians Desk Reference and other medical information in high demand, as was the legal reference materials. Some of the inmates also used our reference materials to help children and family members with school and college assignments. Materials on self-help and self improvement, on relationships, and on psychology, drawing, business plans were sought constantly. The high demand materials were the ones likely to be stolen, so I learned to take extra measures to secure these materials.

While popular reading interests were the same as in public libraries, there was more interest in non fiction titles that focused on self improvement.

I stayed four years in the maximum security prison, then went back to my former public library as an outreach librarian, to set up a library in the local detention center.

I conducted a needs assessment that showed a significant difference between the prison and detention center environments. In the latter, residents stayed from 1 day to 18 months and had higher educational accomplishments - most completing high and some with college degrees or some college courses. Many of the residents were probation violators, interstate detainees, substance abusers. They wanted self esteem materials, dealing with relationships, career options, resume writing, job hunting techniques, continuing education, and skills, overcoming substance abuse.

They read voraciously and definitely challenged my readers advisory skills. Because they were younger inmates, they were more inquisitive and they tried to test my mettle. I provided books to settle such cell disputes as, Can an alligator run faster than a man?, or remained calm when they asked questions that they think would rattle the librarian.

For example, an inmate loudly asked, to the laughter of those listening, if I had books on devil worship or witchcraft. Calmly I did the reference interview, said the library had nothing in the collection, but I would try to get it on loan from the public library. The next week he was clearly surprised but pleased when I lent him two related books. Two visits later, when no one was around, he quietly asked me for something positive and uplifting, because he said, all his life he was surrounded by negative situations. I gave him Makes Me Wanna holler, and Second Chance. He said he appreciated the books, because the situations described his life. Then he asked for GED books.

Inmates who were satisfied with the library service, talked about it in their cells and brought others to the library. When they returned books, I would question them about what they read. They willingly told me plots and what they liked about the book. I would use their comments to recommend those titles to others. They felt good about this.

The sound of voices indicating a shift change broke from my reverie. I gathered my bags, closed the library door, waited at each gate as the officer who opened it, wished me good luck. At the final gate, I waved to the officer in the control room as the door slowly grinded shut behind me.

Post Script. Fast forward to 2005. I am back in the prison system, as Library Coordinator.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.


Has Your Public Librarian Been to Prison? (part 1)

By Glennor Shirley, MSDE, Coordinator, Correctional Education Libraries.

This was the title of the workshops sponsored by the Prisoners Forum, at the last annual Conference of the American Library Association, in Orlando. The workshop highlighted programs and collaborative efforts between public and prison libraries.

Most prison librarians operate as one person managers responsible for readers advisory, reference interviews, collection development – weeding, orders, processing, programming, internet searches, computer troubleshooting, sorting and answering mail, providing answers to in- person and written requests, initiating documentation to enable equipment maintenance staff to enter the institution, preparing the required paperwork to enable inmate daily access to the library, listening to, and offering solutions for the any problems that the inmates pose.

With limited budgets and very little time to do innovative programs, prison librarians derive great benefits from Collaborative efforts with public or other libraries in the community.

In response to my email enquiring about collaborative work with prisons, I received good feedback. There was only one negative comment where the librarian stated, “The local library has made it clear that they want nothing to do with the prison… Not to sound like I do not get any support from the community. The library does receive donations from two local used bookstores and a high school in a neighboring town. They can use the donation for tax purposes. I have never had any contact with other public libraries in neighboring towns.”

Below are excerpts of the positive responses from some of the libraries.

* All of the Minnesota facilities participate in an interlibrary loan program using the county libraries nearest to them. They establish an institutional card for the facility and have one or more users on record - usually the librarian and a teacher or other educational staff member. This allows the prison to provide many materials that would otherwise be inaccessible to the inmate. This does not cost the facility or the outside library any extra funding (except when materials are lost or stolen). Most of the MCF-librarians have good working relations with their public library and there are benefits for both programs.

* The Read-To-Me Program. The Indiana State Library provides picture books and readers for children ages 10 and under to adult prisons. We work with the library staff (who often work with the education staff) to select and encourage men and women to select a title, learn to read it well then they produce an audio tape of the book for their child, grandchild, sibling, niece, nephew, steps, or other relatives. The library personnel return the book and tape to me with a forwarding address to send it on to the child. I include a letter from the State Library that indicates our collaboration on the project and the State Library mails them out.

* The Texas State Library and Archives Commission manages a grant-funded program, TexNet Interlibrary Loan Centers that provides interlibrary loan services throughout the state of Texas. In addition, several of the TexNet Centers provide interlibrary loan services to prison libraries. This has been a successful program with only a few minor problems when occasionally books are not returned.

* All of our facilities participate in the RIF (Reading is Fundamental) program whereby eligible inmates can register their children, stepchildren, nieces, nephews, etc. to receive 3 free books sent out over a 3-month time-period. This program is funded 3/4 by the government and 1/4 by the Department of Correction. I think there were over 3000 children served this last year.

* In Fall 2003, Austin Public Library began to work with Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. The idea of the Second Chance Books project is to provide young people who are in trouble—who need a second chance—with the opportunity to read for pleasure and to learn about library resources. At the same time we could give books from the library’s collection a “second chance” to be read before being withdrawn.

* Maryland Correctional Education Libraries (MCEL) has implemented a Family Literacy@ Your prison Library program where the children’s librarian from the Enoch Pratt Free Library (EPFL) taught prisoners how to select children’s books, and read to children. Periodically the public librarian conducts children’s story hours with the inmates, children, and caregivers. The program takes place once per month in the prison’s visiting room.

MCEL also works with the State Library Resource Center (SLRC) located at the EPFL. Part of the orientation of any new librarian to our prison system, is to spend approximately 2 days working in various departments of the EPFL. Because some of our new hires come from Media specialist or special library background, working in the public library gives them an orientation to public library service. SLRC has been very receptive to our request to be part of our orientation for new recruits. SLRC periodically conducts their own training workshops and tours, and our librarians have participated in these workshops for free. Maryland prisons libraries also participates in the interlibrary loan system which comes under SLRC.

Our next issue will feature a detailed report from the Austin Public Library and its second Chance Books.

--Glennor Shirley is the Library Coordinator for the Maryland State Department of Education, Correctional Education Libraries.  Prior to that she has served as the Former Manager, Randallstown Branch of Baltimore County Library and East Columbia Branch, Howard County Library; as the Bookmobile Librarian, Jamaica Library Service; and as a Special Librarian for Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation. She blogs at http://prisonlibrarian.blogspot.com/.