Port Townsend woman fills the shelves of Peninsula prison libraries

Port Townsend woman fills the shelves of Peninsula prison libraries

Virtually every public library in the world wants more funds for buying books. For the Institutional Library Services (ILS) program of the Washington State Library, a division of the Office of Secretary of State, that gap between wish and reality is lessened by Amazon Wish Lists.

Through these lists, the ILS staff invites donors to purchase specific new books and materials sought by each library. For the library at Washington Corrections Center for Women, one superstar donor shines brightly: Robin Stemen, resident of Port Townsend, avid reader, basketball player, and dedicated collector and buyer of books for prison libraries.

Robin Stemen, loading books
Robin Stemen

For the past couple of years, Robin has purchased hundreds of books from the library’s wish list, and enlisted her circle of friends to do the same. Aside from these purchases of new books, Robin regularly rounds up boxes of used books from collections that need a new home, visiting public library book sales, garage sales, and bookworms far and wide. She drops off about 20 boxes each month at the prison warehouse.

Not content to supply just one library, Robin has also sent large amounts of books to Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women and to Clallam Bay Corrections Center. She also regularly checks the ILS Wish List for book discussion sets we’re attempting to accumulate, and has singlehandedly purchased full sets of books to expand book discussion options for all of our institutional libraries.

When she’s not busy finding more books, Robin might be found on the basketball court ripping down rebounds. Her over-50 women’s basketball team, the Port Townsend Drizzle, has been a regular competitor at the Washington State Senior Games.

Robin first became interested in donating books when she read about Chicago Books to Women in Prison, which delivers books directly to prisoners who request them. She wondered if Washington’s prison libraries might need book donations to keep their shelves stocked. The rest is history.

“It’s fun to search out good books and get them into the hands of readers,” Robin said. “I’m lucky that the librarians at our facilities make it super easy to donate. My hope is that others who hear about this opportunity might have as much fun as I’ve had donating to libraries.”

What’s fun for Robin certainly brings joy to the ILS patrons. There’s not a lot to look forward to during a day in prison, but finding out what new books have come into the library can make anyone’s day. Prisoners all over the Olympic Peninsula have access to more books thanks to Robin’s singular energy and drive.

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2 thoughts on “Port Townsend woman fills the shelves of Peninsula prison libraries

  1. Robin has inspired a lot of us with this project. I just folded and bagged six bags of clothing to send to the prison closet for women being released. Now I’m ready to go through my bookshelves again….So many books I love but I know I won’t read them twice.

  2. You are right robin is an inspiration for us. These stories in real stun the world when it comes to seeming reality upfront. lovely one.

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