WA Secretary of State Blogs

Our Prison Libraries help inmates to re-enter society

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Our Prison Libraries help inmates to re-enter society

8702897202_7ca303552d_z On February 24, 2015 Library Associate Jean Baker participated in a “Help and Program Fair” at The Washington State Penitentiary.   This is an annual event with the intent of reinforcing positive changes in the prison environment and is held in response to the establishment of the Group Violence Reduction Strategy.   The purpose of this event is to present all of the programs available to inmates and to help them choose different and more productive paths while serving their sentences.   This year about forty inmates attended the Fair.  Facility officials gave opening remarks and the various guests and programs were introduced.    Those included education classes in basic skills, life skills, bookkeeping, and trade education.  Other programs centered on helping inmates establish a pathway for success included Redemption, Inside Dads, Toastmasters, Dog Training, and the Sustainable Practices Lab.  After introductions the inmates were free to visit the presenter tables to ask questions and get printed information.

Representing the library, Jean attended this program and presented information about how the inmates can utilize the library’s resources.   Prison libraries provide access for inmates to books, magazines and newspapers, a service that is highly appreciated by the inmates.    The goal of the librarians is to help inmates find  resources to help their re-entry into society.   The library maintains an extensive collection of re-entry materials on Housing, Education, Health and Benefits, Veterans issues, and Directories.   The Prison Libraries consider this an essential service, to provide inmates with learning options and information to assist them with transitioning to their lives outside the institution.

In our recent “Essential Needs Survey” the staff and the inmates of our prison libraries were very vocal in their support for their libraries here are a few comments we received:

 “The State Library is essential for prison safety.  Offenders who spend time reading are less likely to be behavioral problems.  The need for services for our disabled prisoners is essential as are the resources needed to for offenders to engage in self-help through literature.”

“Many young women have never been in an environment safe enough to read openly about anything they wish with no condemnation or ridicule. This alone should justify our library.”

“I am an inmate at a Washington correction center and the library has always been my favorite place to spend time looking up information on ancient civilizations, and as an inmate it provides a very special distraction for the inmate. I believe in libraries so strong I work in the library. It also provides a calming effect to those who seek a quiet place to study.”

“I’d like it to be known that I’ve acquired an AA degree, 52 credits from Peninsula College and several credits from Centralia College – all while incarcerated. However, I’ve learned more from the books I get in the library (often ILL as well) that all of my college education combined.”

“I am a patron in correctional facility and I can personally say without the library we would not be able to improve ourselves. We have access to countless educational tools to improve ourselves and become upstanding community members. They also help reduce the violence because many people use the library to be better people.”

Clearly our Prison Libraries are highly prized by both the staff and the inmates they serve.






Why Do We Need a State Library?

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Institutional Library Services, Library 21 Initiative, News, Public Services, State Library Collections, Washington Talking Book and Braille Library | Comments Off on Why Do We Need a State Library?

Slice of Advocate headerTo quote a prominent library administrator: “Every library is designed to serve a specific community:

  • Public libraries serve the people of a specific city or county.
  • Academic libraries serve the faculty, staff, and students of a specific college or university.
  • School libraries serve the students and teachers of a specific school.
  • Medical libraries serve doctors, nurses, and patients at a specific hospital.
  • Law libraries serve the attorneys and staff of a specific law firm.

Each library is designed to add value to the specific community that it serves.”

The Washington State Library (WSL) is none of the above. Its broad mission is to collect and preserve materials of value for the entire State of Washington.

This theme is developed in the current issue of the WLFFTA newsletter, the Advocate. WLFFTA stands for Washington Library Friends, Foundations, Trustees & Advocates, and is an interest group of the Washington Library Association.

The current issue of the Advocate focuses on the Washington State Library and some of its key services and programs. It also highlights the precarious budget situation in which the State Library currently finds itself. Read the entire newsletter at http://sos.wa.gov/q/AF2014.


A Long Wait

Monday, July 29th, 2013 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | 1 Comment »

I was told on 12/3/12 that the WCCW State Library branch and the WCCW law library were going to trade spaces. On 12/10/12 we closed the branch library and began to pack up and move 542 boxes of books to storage in a warehouse on the grounds. We were told the transition would take 30 to 60 days. I relocated to a dismal cubicle in another building.

As it turned out the original estimate of 60 days turned into 90 days which turned into over 7 months.

On 7/1/13 we moved into the former home of the law library and began the process of unpacking. The new space was painted and new carpet was installed. From 7/1/13 until 7/23/13 many small projects were completed such as having the security gate installed and new smoke detectors were added.

On 7/24/13 we opened the library in our new area, much to the delight of the inmate population. The sight of a line of women leaving the library with their arms loaded with the 15 books they are allowed was (almost) worth the seven month wait.

WCCW Library

Reflections from WSP Library, July 2013

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | 2 Comments »

West Complex Library

West Complex Library

My job in the Washington State Library Branch at the Washington State Penitentiary has exposed me to an area of librarianship I never would have thought I was suited for.   When I started at the penitentiary library I was green as they say but over the last five years I’ve learned a lot about how to provide library resources to a unique population of individuals.  The inmates are from many situations in their lives and those who take advantage of coming to the library will tell you some of their situation in words, attitudes, and how they present themselves away from the confines of life in a prison cell.

The younger ones, teenagers some of them, who have only experienced street life or lack of parent involvement come in to see other inmates but also are learning that what they can get from reading a magazine or newspaper, even a book, can help them see another way to go in their life choices.

Older men who come know the value of having something to entertain and motivate them to get out of the cell environment for a while.  They look for novels, westerns, books in history, philosophy, religion.  One inmate has asked for books on mindfulness and awareness of spirituality which he said might help him find meaning to his life.

A lot of patrons thank me in various ways for helping them find a book or providing information from the internet that answers a question or fulfills an interest on a subject they want to know more about.  One request for an explanation of the longitude and latitude of the world found in the encyclopedia was just what he wanted to know.  Another request for speeches by famous people resulted in the inmate confiding that he was spending his time learning to recite the important words written by Americans throughout history.

By far the most surprising encounter I have had is with a small Korean man who comes to find instruction books in learning English.  When I talk to him, he understands a lot, but speaking is hard for him.    But, the best communication we have each time he comes in is silent but effective. If I catch sight of him coming in the door I might acknowledge him with a wave or nod my head.  But every time, he stops, and bows to me.   I suppose that is a common action in his culture on the other side of the world, but to experience it in a small library in Eastern Washington placed in a prison says more than any words of appreciation that could be spoken.

More importantly what I learn and appreciate from talking and helping has opened a new world view to me.

Laura Sherbo honored at ALA

Friday, July 13th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Laura Sherbo honored at ALA

Laura Sherbo with her mom at ALA

One of the first sessions I attended was the Unconference (wonderful, by the way).  At the Unconference I was talking with one of the other attendees about this being our first ALA and she said, “Oh wait! Someone forwarded this to me this morning.  There is free food on Saturday! Give me your phone number and I’ll send you the information.” Lo and behold it was the ASCLA Awards Ceremony.  Initially I was a little indignant.  How could these moochers attend the awards ceremony for anything besides honoring Laura?!?!?!  Maybe they are serving champagne, I thought, to console myself (turns out it was pretzels shaped like Mickey Mouse).  Or maybe ALA just knows that the best way to spread a message is with free food.

On Saturday I dressed in my conference best and went to meet Laura and all the other conference goers enjoying mini quesadillas and cake pops.  I also got to see Jeff Martin again and meet Laura’s Mother, who is twice as nice as she is charming. As an aside, I now look forward to my own mother’s presence at all future awards ceremonies in my honor.  The awards honored librarians, students, partnerships, and programs in specialized libraries with five different awards.  When the presenter read all the wonderful reasons why Laura won her award, Laura received the loudest round of applause of all the recipients. I can only imagine the myriad of emotions and admirations running through the minds of every person in the crowd.

Laura has been my supervisor for three years now, and more than anyone I have ever worked for, she is able to motivate her staff to greatness.  In the beginning, I was astounded by the loyalty everyone felt toward her and the Institutional Library Services, but now I understand.  Through budget cuts and layoffs, it becomes more abundantly clear with each hurdle she has encountered, that Laura is dedicated not only to serving the underserved, but also her staff.  She has the strength and high standards of a Titan, while still somehow making her staff feel comfortable giving input, starting new programs, and questioning her decisions, sometimes incessantly, probably much to her chagrin.  In short, Laura is the embodiment of leadership and all of us at ILS are lucky to work for her.

Also, she said the reason she won the award is because of her staff, which I’m not going to argue, because we’re pretty great.

Laura Sherbo receives ASCLA Leadership and Professional Achievement Award

Monday, July 9th, 2012 Posted in Articles, For Libraries, For the Public, Institutional Library Services, News | Comments Off on Laura Sherbo receives ASCLA Leadership and Professional Achievement Award


This prestigious award is presented to one or more ASCLA members (personal or organizational) exemplifying leadership and achievement in one or more of the following areas: consulting, library cooperation, networking, statewide services and programs and state library development.

Congratulations Laura!

Read more at http://ascla.ala.org/blog/2012/04/2012-asclaleadershipaward/.

Emcee at Poetry Reading at Washington Corrections Center for Women

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Emcee at Poetry Reading at Washington Corrections Center for Women

On May 10th, 2012 the WCCW Library hosted a poetry reading. Laura Sherbo and Doug Gelis planned the event and invited 3 poets to come and read their and other poet’s poems.

70 inmates signed up to attend and 35 showed up to listen to poetry read. This was held in the WCCW Visit Room.  

The first poet to read was Kathleen Flenniken. Kathleen is the current Poet Laureate of Washington State. The second poet to read was Merna Ann Hecht. Merna is a social justice educator, storyteller, and poet. The third poet to read was Storme Webber. Storme is a spoken word, vocal, and visual artist.

This was not only my first time to host and serve as the emcee at a poetry reading, it was also my first time attending a poetry reading.  The reaction among the inmates was interesting because every single comment was positive. When the poets, who by the way, had 3 powerful and very different voices, asked if there were any questions, the only questions were when can you 3 come back.

Library Snapshot Day 2012 Numbers Are In

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Library Snapshot Day 2012 Numbers Are In

We're here to help

The prison and psychiatric hospital libraries were happy to participate in the Library Snapshot Day again this year.  With the libraries open an average of 4.75 hrs for the day there were 1,033 visitors across the state.  Check out the rest of the numbers here.   Also checkout the pictures on our Facebook Page.


High Hopes for 2012

Monday, April 23rd, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on High Hopes for 2012


AHCC Library

2011 saw many changes at the Airway Heights Corrections Center (AHCC). The institution changed to a closed movement facility and this has had a dramatic impact on library attendance. From what was a full library most movements has changed to about half our normal capacity.  

We started the year out with a Library Snapshot Day. Everyone had a blast and the atmosphere here was full of excitement. In February DOC started to make changes to increase security and for the next 6 months we were open and then closed due to lack of inmate clerks. Our budgets had been slashed so we started to feel the impact of that. Even with all the changes within DOC, the AHCC library has remained the center of activity. I still see all my regular patrons and reading remains high on the list of positive activities within the prison environment. 

In October, the AHCC branch library distributing the first book for our “AHCC Library Reads Together” program. We had our first session at the end of November and discussed Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. Since then the program has tripled in size and we have read The Skyfisherman by Craig Lesley and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. We are just starting our newest selection, Little Bee by Chris Cleave. This program is really having a positive impact. The inmates are talking about these books in their day rooms and the discussions in our group are amazing.  

I have high hopes for the AHCC library in 2012.

Village Voice

Wednesday, April 11th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Institutional Library Services | Comments Off on Village Voice

A newsletter at Washington Corrections Center for Women covers several topics including community, health, and historical figures.  The February 2012 issue of the Village Voice included an article on Leroy Eldridge Cleaver: “By his example we learn that though we have spent our years struggling with the law or addiction, it does not mean that we aren’t someone of importance. WE ARE SOMEBODY!!!”  This article is inspiring and offers the women in WCCW the inspiration they need to know that they can be somebody and move on with their lives after prison.

The author of this piece was able to find everything she needed for the article in the WCCW library. The library has always offered material in demand by patrons, and today the focus seems to be on growth and potential.