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


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.


10 Ways to Spice Up Bookmobile Life

By Jan Meadows, bookmobile supervisor at Pikes Peak (Colo.) Library District.

Some days I just want to bust out of the mold and do something different! We get so caught up in the day-to-day processes, schedules and routes and in doing the same circulation functions, shelving books, reserving the newest best seller, etc., etc. Yes, these things are vital and we do love doing them or we wouldn’t be here. But, today I was thinking that we should make our day fun too! In just a few minutes of “day dreaming” I came up with ten ways to spice things up.

Surprise the patrons with a celebration. You don’t need a holiday; celebrate “Just because it is today” or “Hooray, it’s March 23rd!” Put up some balloons and streamers or put bouquets of artificial (or real!) flowers on the desks and single flowers between the books on the shelves. Wear party hats or a flower behind your ear and brightly colored clothes. Hand out candy or bookmarks or those left over prizes from the last three years of Summer Reading Club. Toss some confetti on every 10th patron as they enter the door. Laugh and have fun!!

  1. Keep a selection of hand or finger puppets in the drawer. Whip one out to greet a child or even a grown-up when they come in the door. Carry on a conversation through the puppet, thanking the person for coming, recommending a book, complaining about the weather, whatever! Laugh and have fun!
  2. Highlight a city, a country or a planet of the week. Put up a map and pictures of a city, country or planet. Have a selection of books, videos, etc. for all ages about the chosen place. Invite each patron to “take a trip” via the bookmobile to the place. This could go on for a month or more. Children could color pictures to hang about something they learned or how they would dress for the trip. Adults could bring pictures, postcards or souvenirs from “real” trips they took there. Invite patrons of all ages to write an imaginary short story about their trip to Mars or the Moon. Post the pictures and stories for all patrons to see and enjoy. Laugh and have fun!
  3. Play music! Is there a patron at your stop who plays the guitar, violin, harmonica, etc? Invite them to serenade the patrons while they browse. Do they play the tuba, trombone or trumpet? Put them outside to be the pied piper of the bookmobile and draw people in to visit. Display books about music and musicians. If you can’t round up a live performer play CDs on a boom box or the bookmobile sound system. Dance with the children and elderly ladies and gents. Laugh and have fun!
  4. Be your own parade for the day. If you are on a town route where you won’t be driving very fast, attach some long colorful cloth or plastic strips to the outside of the vehicle that will blow in the wind as you drive. Attach windsocks, balloons, and sparkly decorations that will catch the sunlight. Play Cajun music over the PA as you drive. Wave to everyone. Laugh and have fun!
  5. The patrons often consider the bookmobile staff to be just like family. So have the staff bring in family pictures to put on the bulletin boards. Parents, kids, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, etc. Label who they belong to so patrons can meet your real family; we talk about them all the time, now the patrons can see them! Laugh and have fun!
  6. Host a staff baby picture contest. Have the staff bring in their own baby pictures. Put a number by each one and give patrons a numbered paper to write who they think each picture is. Have a simple prize for the patron that gets the most right. If you only have a few people on staff, have them bring in several pictures of themselves at different ages so the patron still gets to vote on six or eight pictures. Laugh and have fun!
  7. At Easter transform the bookmobile into a bunnymobile, Halloween, transform into the Booooomobile, 4th of July the flag mobile. You get the idea, decorate with lots of bunny pictures, stuffed animals, ghosts and bats, and flags. You can do it for any holiday. Laugh and have fun!
  8. Stop for five minutes when you have several children on board, grab a short story picture book off the shelf, sit on the floor with the kids and read to them. Look at the pictures with them. The returned books can be checked in later, seize the moment to laugh and have fun!
  9. Okay, I lied just a bit. I was going to do ten ideas, but then I decided I should leave one blank for you to fill in for yourself. Most of these ideas take very little preparation time. All you need to do is stop your regular routine for just a little while and use your imagination.

The goal is to spice up your life and the patron’s life for just a few minutes. Life is short . . . let go. . .  Laugh and have fun!

I would love to hear about any creative ideas you come up with! You can reach me, as always, at jmeadows@ppld.org. Happy Spring!

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