The last few months I have been reading the emails posted on the ALA Libary Service to Prisoners Forum, and I have been very interested in the different ways the libraries handle the material and what they are able to do in each library. There seems to be a wide range of what the libraries offer, as well as how they are managed.
Here in Washington State we run the prison libraries similar to a public library, but we really don’t have any programs that we offer through the library. This has a lot to do with staffing and funding, as we lack quantity in both of these areas. However, we do have it better then some libraries who do not have any funding at all and rely on donations from other sources. Then I look at libraries like the correctional libraries that are run by Hennepin County Library in Minnesota. This library manages to find time and funding to print out a newsletter, “Freedom Ticket“, publish inmate poetry books, host author events, writer’s workshops, and more. Does this make us less of a prison library?
I don’t think it does. We provide an essential service to the inmates with books and CDs covering a wide range of interests. Re-entry and education are also priorities for our library and we do our best to provide the best possible service. Truthfully that is what it all comes down to at a prison library or any library for that matter; providing the best possible service. Libraries that “only” have donated material, have dedicated library staff who take the time to solicit those donations, to process those donations for check out, and to keep them coming to the inmates. Their efforts are appreciated by the inmates and truthfully their patrons are the ones who count in the grand scheme of libraries, even prison libraries.
Not all prison libraries are the same, but all do the best they can with what they have; money and staffing are always nice, but are not always available.