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Town Librarians Make Good Friends

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Town Librarians Make Good Friends

I remember the Librarian in my home town was my best friend’s Mom, so I knew her pretty well. Of course there was a limit on the number of books you could get, and I would get the maximum but some for my little brother too. I sort of remember reading to him, and then counting them up when it was time to go back to make sure we had all of them. We carried them in brown grocery bags. I remember books on cassette that came in plastic bags with handles. And later I discovered Nancy Drew and EM Kerr and the Oz books. I have a clear memory of reading a library book in the summer, under a tree in the front yard, lying on an inflatable rubber tube covered with a blanket. That Librarian’s name is Diane, and her daughter is still my best friend, and she is still the Librarian in that town. In fact her son grew up to be a Librarian too; he is a teen librarian in the next town over.

Donation from Mr. Jamie Ford to Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Library

Thursday, June 7th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Donation from Mr. Jamie Ford to Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Library

Coyote Ridge received a generous, and special, donation of new books from author Jamie Ford today. Mr. Ford visited the prison last March as part of a Community Read program hosted by Washington State Library. Shortly after his reading, Mr. Ford decided to donate the remainder of his speaking fee, after travel fees were paid, back to the library in the form of a book donation. He asked the library staff at Coyote Ridge to submit a wish list, which was (of course) completed almost immediately. Everything on the list, plus extra dictionaries, was sent. Thank you so much, Mr. Ford! 

Program Manager honored by national organization

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Program Manager honored by national organization


Laura Sherbo

The American Library Association (ALA) has just released the news that Laura Sherbo, Program Manager for Washington State Library’s Institutional Library Services, will receive the 2012 ASCLA Leadership and Professional Achievement Award. After more than thirty years of library service to incarcerated patrons, no doubt Laura has some interesting tales to tell……perhaps in future blog posts! In the meantime, we’ll let her bask in the glory of the Anaheim sunshine as she travels to the ALA Conference this summer to accept her award.

Check out my letter of recommendation here.  Kathleen Benoun’s letter of recommendation and Neal Van Der Voorn’s letter of recommendation here.

CRCC Community Read 2012

Friday, March 30th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | 1 Comment »

Jamie Ford

The “community read movement” started in 1998 in Seattle and has gained popularity across the United States. I’ve been intrigued by them for many years. And while I hear about them all the time, I’ve never heard of one taking place inside a prison. So, last summer, I decided to organize one for Coyote Ridge. And it wasn’t easy, but I did it.

The book I decided to use was Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It has been translated into over 30 different languages. The setting is Seattle, and the book was recently selected for a community read in Pierce County, Washington, which is where I managed to get 45 used copies of the book.

Now, for those who don’t know, a community read is different from a regular book group in three ways, 1) it is open to an entire community, 2) it includes supplementary social events related to themes in the book of choice, and 3) it usually includes a guest appearance by the author. At first, I was unsure about how I would achieve that third piece. Without any programming funds available, I wasn’t sure how to entice this successful author, who lives in Montana, to come all the way to Connell, which is miles from any major airport and not exactly a late-night excitement kind of town. Upon contacting his agent, however, I found that they were eager to work with me if we could figure out a way to cover Mr. Ford’s travel expenses. In the end, I was only able to bring Jamie Ford in as a guest speaker by teaming up with a Humanities group at Washington State University’s Tri-City campus, and by a donation from the Friends of the Washington State Library. Finally, after months of planning and negotiating, Mr. Ford spent the evening of Wednesday, March 22, talking to inmates, reading from his book, and answering an endless stream of questions.

In addition to the guest author event, the library at Coyote Ridge hosted a jazz music appreciation event and a historical slide show about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, featuring images from Densho and Library of Congress digital archives.

My favorite memory from 2011 is all the running on the boulevard.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on My favorite memory from 2011 is all the running on the boulevard.

The idea that men around here will run to a library never fails to amaze me. They arrive, wheezing our names while holding up a hand, signaling us to wait a moment while they catch their breath in order to ask some burning question. The sound of books being dumped into the drop box outside the library initiates a vague sense of anxiety in my chest, as those who did not run fast enough are turned away. The officer’s voice on the radio: J323 to base, library at capacity. I’m never sure if my anxiety is for those who didn’t make it to the library this time, or for the next hour of madness I am almost surely about to endure. Time passes quickly while I am here. Many things happen that you probably would not see anywhere else. All the conversations, jokes, interesting questions, and situations that make me feel crazy all seem to fade over time. But this picture, this moment, when over a hundred men are running to a library, will stay with me forever


Author of Sisters Brothers visits Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Author of Sisters Brothers visits Coyote Ridge Corrections Center

Patrick deWitt

Sisters Brothers is a book about two brothers from gold-rush era Oregon and California who are employed as henchmen. They ride horses, camp out on the trail, try to gather clues about their target, and eventually uncover a lot more than they probably wanted to know about him. What starts out as a simple job becomes something more fantastic, and the two become entangled in the life of a man they set out to eliminate.

As I was reading this book last summer, I noticed the author, Patrick deWitt, was local to the Pacific Northwest, and I immediately thought to ask if he would visit Coyote Ridge for a reading. I wanted this particular author to read from this particular book. Sisters Brothers is modern, funny, and easy to read, but also thought-provoking. I felt that inmates might relate to all the characters in the book on some level, not just the hired killers but also the side characters who display a variety of weaknesses that make them human.

To my surprise, Patrick was immediately agreeable and enthusiastic about the idea. He told me he had been wanting to do some sort of work with inmates related to books and writing. He arrived on November 30, 2011, and read from Sisters Brothers for about thirty minutes to an audience of forty inmates. Many of those who attended said they had never been to a live author reading before. There was a seemingly endless supply of questions about the book, writing, publishing. Some had read the book prior to the event and had complex questions about the themes and characters. Others were interested in learning how to improve their own writing, or the process of getting a book published. Patrick patiently answered all the questions, never departing from his kind and gracious demeanor, until the time ran out. He even volunteered to take the unanswered questions, written on slips of paper, and answer them by email after he returned home.

Patrick has written two books and is working on a third.

Virtual Reference in Prison

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Virtual Reference in Prison

Librarians at Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, Washington Corrections Center Shelton, and Washington State Penitentiary, have started using kiosks at their local institutions to send overdue notices and hold pickup notices to offenders. We are also answering questions submitted by offenders.  The result has been even better than expected!  At Coyote Ridge, we have drastically reduced our paper usage by sending the notices over the kiosk.  The new system is a win-win for staff and offenders alike; correctional officers don’t have to distribute the paper notices to individual offenders, and offenders get their notices instantly. Quicker delivery of notices may even shorten the time that high demand items will sit on the hold shelf, waiting to be retrieved.

 I have also noticed a growing volume of “electronic mail” (kiosk version) that we are receiving from offenders, now that they realize they can send messages to the library’s electronic mailbox.  I’ve received countless messages that simply thank us for our services, and some that make suggestions for improvement or ask us to purchase their favorite books and music.  They also ask questions about library policies and ask us to check their accounts for overdue items, and attempt to resolve item return issues over the kiosk. 

The beauty of this new system is, to me, three-fold: 1) offenders are learning how to communicate effectively in an electronic world, a skill that is critical for successful re-entry, 2) conflict resolution is handled in writing, rather than face-to-face, which may encourage both parties to think about what they say before they say it, and 3) both offenders and staff are able to communicate in a much more efficient and organized way.  I can send messages to multiple offenders at once, and I can send them instantly rather than waiting 1-4 days for mail delivery and response time.  I can also answer questions in batches, rather than responding immediately every time someone has a question the library clerks can’t answer, and without asking offenders to wait in line at the counter to talk to a staff person. I can’t help but think this is the prison equivalent of virtual reference, and that is exciting!

“Go to Prison” in Colorado

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on “Go to Prison” in Colorado

For anyone interested in the Institutional Library Services category, I’ll share a link to the Colorado Libraries blog, which has some similar content. You will also see accounts written by people from outside the field who were allowed to go inside some of the prisons and get a sense of what this work environment is like and how offenders use the libraries. It’s inspiring to see how the Colorado Correctional Librarians are networking by communicating their day-to-day experiences in the form of a live tour.

If you type “prison” in the search box, you will get a narrower list of posts that is more specific to the topic.


Coyote Ridge Is a Little Bit Different

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | 2 Comments »

coyote ridge correctionsIf you read this blog regularly, you may already know the Washington State Library provides outreach library services to all the public prisons in the state (except for the minimum centers.) The benefit of this cooperative agreement between agencies is that incarcerated populations in Washington State have access to fantastic libraries and are served by the certified Librarians and library technicians who manage them.

At Coyote Ridge Corrections Center, general and legal services are combined in one library. It is the only prison library in Washington State, so far, that is working with this service model.

The CRCC library is divided by a wall with large windows and one door, and library staff are trained and prepared to assist patrons with both general and legal research questions. In the legal services area of the library, patrons are provided computer (thin client) access to an electronic (external hard drive version) of LexisNexis. This is how the patrons research case law, state statutes, and other legal research publications. The library’s computer network is isolated. Offenders do not have access to any part of the DOC network, nor do they have the ability to access the internet. The LexisNexis product is updated quarterly in order to keep it current. Offenders also have computer access to the Department of Corrections operating policies (view only) and a variety of legal forms. They also have access to MS Word for the purpose of composing briefs and other original legal work. Patrons can print their work, but they are not allowed to save anything. Typewriters are also available in this section of the library.

The general library is much like any other small public library. The operating software for the library’s computers is Destiny, by Follett, and offenders use it to locate materials in the library and place holds on items. Offender library clerks use the computers behind the circulation counter to check books in and out.

That’s the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center Branch Library, in a nutshell. So far, things seem to be going pretty well, although it’s difficult for me to judge when I’m always right in the middle of everything. In the future, we would like to provide more structured information literacy training, especially in the legal services area.

Rural Landscapes

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | 2 Comments »

At first glance, this post may seem to have nothing to do with prison librarianship. The rural, conservative, and isolated location of most prisons is something people outside the profession may not always think about.  Most jails, and a few of the smaller or minimum security prisons are located in or near bigger cities, but most of the bigger, higher security facilities are logically placed away from large communities.

For anyone who imagines living close to public transit, giving up their car, walking to the grocery store, spending their evenings at a local music venue or hip little bar…know that these are just daydreams for most prison librarians! My current life is based in Connell, WA. The population is approximately 3190, and the primary industries are food processing, agricultural chemicals, and incarceration of convicted felons.

As I drove in to work this morning, I saw a coyote running through the grass along the outer perimeter of the property. This is summer, and the sun has already been up for three hours before I arrive at 8:00 am. It’s hot and it’s going to get hotter. It’s dusty and nothing breaks the wind up here on the hill. There is another coyote painted on a sign at the main entrance (I work at the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center), where large sign is also posted to inform visitors that this is a prison, and certain items are not allowed on grounds (weapons, etc.). If the surrounding landscape seems dull, wait until you go inside the prison. Sometimes I’m astounded by the idea of a vibrant intellectual center located inside a place that seems so cold and hostile from the outside. Fences and barbed wire surround the buildings, and once you go inside, the only green you see are small weeds that have sprouted up in the rock, which is raked into neat, flat circles on a regular basis by the inmates who live here. Everywhere you look, there is only gray. The walls, sidewalks, and lawns of rock are all gray, and there is only a gray reflection on tiny windows in the housing units. One of the inmates here tells me there was a fire drill one night, and he got to go outside. “It was so cool because I got to see the stars,” he said.

I think the institution is even more striking in darkness. From the highway, all you see are the stars above, and the yard lights on tall poles and a set of buildings set in a rough circular formation. It is like a miniature metropolis plopped down in the middle of eastern Washington’s agricultural landscape. For miles and miles, there is nothing but fields and tractors and windmills. And then you see this prison, and it kind of makes you think. About what, I’m not sure. But it definitely makes you think.