Sunday, September 16, 2007

Prison library work

When I mention that I work as a prison librarian, everyone wants the sensational details. They act like I am Mother Theresa, and praise me for working "under those conditions". I tell them that I worked more years as a public librarian, and feel safer working in prison.

I have far more lurid details from working as a public librarian, and also had many more challenging situations than I had as a prison librarian.

Prisoners have the same information needs as the rest of society. In a prison, the library is the only place they have learned to trust to come and get their information.

The biggest challenge in working in a library is dealing with the correctional staff, who focus on security, who use power and force to maintain authority, and who for the most part would prefer if librarians concentrate on just providing the legally mandated law information. Many of them feel inmates should not have materials for recreation of self learning because they are there for "punishment." Fortunately the society is having to deal with the high cost of incarceration, and there is more talk of "transition and reentry". If this is followed through, then I hope the prison organization culture will be more benevelont about libraries providing for the information needs of inmates.


WmEarl said...

Corrections Officers only come to my library to help control movement and keep the patrons/worker count down to forty-five for the period, then they leave. There are many shades of CO conduct, most don't cause any problems ever and when things sometimes get out of hand it is always good to see them coming.

Karen said...

I am so happy to see that you have a blog! I have been interested in prison librarianship since I did a presentation on it in library school. I was so impressed by the variety of programs you implemented in Maryland. Keep up the good work :D