Blog

Voices for Information Equity

The Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island is inaugurating its new Equity, Diverse Communities, and Critical Librarianship track with a lecture series that is open to the public. I’m very pleased to present alongside so many brilliant, talented scholars! Please see the full series in the flier below –

Open Access: Article with Books to Prisoners

I’ve recently worked with Books to Prisoners volunteers to explore how prison censorship practices shape the information requests made by people who are incarcerated, the value of Books to Prisoners programs, and how Books to Prisoners’ efforts can guide LIS in advocating for information access for people who are incarcerated. Our article, Systemic Oppression and the Contested Ground of Information Access for Incarcerated People, is now available through the open access publisher Open Information Science. It is part of a special issue on race and racism in information studies, edited by Dr. Villa-Nicholas and Dr. LaTesha Velez.

The article is available at https://www.degruyter.tools/document/doi/10.1515/opis-2020-0013/html.

While many Books to Prisoners groups have curtailed or limited their operations during the pandemic, dedicated volunteers continue to send books, process donations, and host webinars. Please visit this list to locate a Books to Prisoners group near you.

Jeanie Austin & Melissa Villa-Nicholas Win Eighth Annual Library Juice Paper Contest

My article with Dr. Villa-Nicholas on by-mail reference services for incarcerated people and their role in teaching anti-racism to MLIS students has been recognized as the winner of the Eighth Annual Library Juice Paper Contest. Dr. Villa-Nicholas and I are honored to receive this award. We’re very grateful to the selection committee for valuing our work and for recognizing the humanity of incarcerated people.

Here is an excerpt of the press release —

Jeanie Austin & Melissa Villa-Nicholas’ paper, titled, “Information Provision and the Carceral State: Race and Reference beyond the Idea of the ‘Underserved,’” published in the journal The Reference Librarian, was judged by the award jury to be the best paper submitted in this year’s contest. The award jury said about their paper:

“Austin & Villa-Nicholas provide a timely, insightful exploration of the liberatory possibilities in providing high quality reference services to incarcerated people through projects like Reference by Mail. Both the text of their paper and the design of the Reference by Mail program aim to humanize incarcerated people, working to undo some of the harms and dehumanization performed by the U.S. carceral system. They highlight the tie of whiteness and racial oppression as an organizing factor in carceral systems, and problematize LIS’s normalization of the prison industrial system and library services as an extension of that system. The paper encourages the application of critical race theory and an explicitly anti-racist approach to LIS education; lenses that encourage LIS students and other participants to challenge white normativity and see the full social potential of people incarcerated in a system disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, POC, and/or LGBTQ+ communities.”

The full press release is available here.

ALA Report on Libraries and Reentry

The American Library Association has published a report on how libraries support people who have been incarcerated after they are released from jails and prisons. The report features library services provided across the United States. It highlights innovative and needed programs that provide models for library systems considering how they can better support people impacted by policing and incarceration. From the press release:

“For incarcerated persons, books are windows into different worlds. For those formerly incarcerated, libraries are doors of opportunity,” said ALA Senior Director of Public Policy and Government Relations Alan Inouye. “Libraries not only provide books and internet connected devices, they offer staff to help reentering patrons use the technology and navigate the network of resources and information to help them get their bearing in a world vastly different than the one they came from.”

The full press release is available here.

For the full report, please see

Monica Cosby’s Essay on Reading in Prison

Monica Cosby has graciously given permission to share her powerful essay on the necessity of having access to books and other reading materials while incarcerated, which she describes as “a life-saving and life-giving gift.” Monica’s essay was published in the November 2017 issue of Bound Struggles, a publication through Chicago Books to Women in Prison.

Bound Struggles publishes content created by women who are incarcerated in the United States. Issues contain art, essays, poetry, and other media. Bound Struggles is available for purchase through the Chicago Books to Women in Prison online store.