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


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/.


Bookmobiles Abound: Report on New Zealand and Washington, DC

By Jan Meadows, Bookmobile Supervisor, Pikes Peak (CO) Library District.

Somebody please tell me how time gets away so quickly! I am sure part of the reason is that there is so much going on in the bookmobile and library outreach fields these days that it is hard to keep on top of it all. But that is a good thing, right? It means you all are making a difference in the library world while making a difference in the world of so many patrons.

In January 2007 I attended the awesome New Zealand Mobile Libraries Conference. I have been trying to think of words to describe what a great conference it was and how beautiful New Zealand and its people are, but I keep coming up woefully short.

The conference was held in the middle of the gorgeous, green North Island at the Wairakei Resort in Taupo. Cathie Richards, Mobile Librarian, North Shore Libraries, and conference organizer, did not miss a single detail in preparing a well-rounded, informative and fun conference. There were speakers from Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand. There were also two attendees from Singapore.

Topics covered all aspects of outreach services including:

* Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Mobile Services,
* How a Library-wide Floating Collection can work for Mobile Services,
* Services to the Aged and Housebound,
* Mobile Libraries Online,
* 101 Things You Need to Know about Mobile Library Service and
* Keeping Bookmobiles Alive.

There were two very interesting and entertaining sessions: Mobile Libraries Around the World and the History of Mobile Libraries In New Zealand. Lastly, there were two sessions regarding the Australian Innovations in Public Library Mobile Services and a report on a Study of Mobile Librarians and the issues of their employment. Every session was excellent.

There is no way I can impart here, in this space, all the knowledge that the conference goers were able to gather. I can say that I was so very impressed with the Australian and New Zealand bookmobiles (or "mobiles," as the say). They are so innovative in their designs! Some of the Australian mobile units have “pods” (what we would call pull-outs on RVs) which make them as big as a building when they are all set up. The NZ Mobiles on display at the conference were so open and airy, eventhough they were the same width and length as our U.S. bookmobiles. I couldn’t figure out how they did that. Truly inspiring! I also found it very interesting that they had done the study of mobile services and developed the OHS guidelines specific to mobile library service. I learned something new from every speaker; now that is a good conference when you can say that! Find more on the conference web site--take a peek!

The conference was not only informative and educational, it was fun. Cathie arranged a Jet Boat ride down a beautiful river as one of the activities. You haven’t lived until you have taken a 50 mph ride down a river and then have the driver do a 360-degree spin! A hike through a thermal field followed that.

Another evening we had a wonderful dinner at a vineyard with actors portraying the “Fawlty Towers” cast (John Cleese was in the original show). If you aren’t familiar with that TV show don’t feel alone, I had no clue what was going on for the first twenty minutes, but it was a zany evening that I will never forget. I can’t remember when I have laughed so long and so much. It was a hoot and the dinner was fabulous.

Another smart thing Cathie arranged was for each session to be recorded on CD. What a great service this was. You were able to take the entire presentation home with you instead of hastily scribbled notes. In fact, I told Cathie she should make a career out of conference organizing, she is a natural at it! Thank you, Cathie, for inviting me to take part in this excellent conference and thanks to all the NZ folks for their generous hospitality. I made some wonderful friends as a bonus!

ABOS October Conference
Lastly, the really good news is that the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS) Conference in St. Louis, MO, October 3–5, 2007 will have three of the speakers from the New Zealand conference presenting programs. How terrific is that?

Annual 2007: Year of the Bookmobile
Mobile Outreach: Access at its Best is an exciting program put together by OLOS and the Bookmobile Subcommittee on Sunday, June 24, 2007 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. You really don’t want to miss this! The general session is comprised of four dynamic library administrators sharing their experience with and commitment to mobile service, which is followed by a free lunch generously sponsored by Matthews Specialty Vehicles of Greensboro, N.C. Four practical workshops presented by topic experts follow lunch. Topics include: marketing, collection management, risk management and vehicle purchasing.

And as if that isn’t enough, there will be a Bookmobile Rally on Tuesday, June 26, showcasing mobile outreach to members of Congress! And the OLOS Diversity & Outreach Fair is focused on bookmobile service this year, so register and promote your mobile service.

Yes, people, it is the Year of the Bookmobile at ALA. Join in and shine with your counterparts from across the nation!

See what I mean? There is so much going on in our outreach world! Isn’t it marvelous? I am just in awe of all that you do out there and I love to hear your individual stories. Also, in my next column I would like to talk about Mobile Library Service vs. Bookmobiles. How do you feel about the movement to change the service name? Please feel free to contact me at jmeadows@ppld.org.

Filed under: Bookmobiles No Comments