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.

Essay on Information Access

My essay on information access in carceral institutions is now available online through Feminist Media Studies. Here’s the abstract:

Policing and incarceration are feminist issues that stand to be interrogated through examinations of carceral practices. This essay positions the management and withholding of information and the observation of communications as instances of carceral specific practices that shape possibilities for incarcerated people and their communities. The author draws from their experience as a librarian in carceral facilities to outline how State-enacted violence occurs through the regulation and management of information access. As carceral facilities utilize third-party ICT providers, it is difficult to ascertain what information is or is not available. The introduction of new and evolving ICTs has led to increased opportunities for the State to monitor people who are incarcerated and their communities, positioning incarcerated people and their networks not only as sources of information but as data to train technologies of policing and surveillance. Instances of resistance to these practices reveal some ways that people who are not incarcerated can act in solidarity with people who are incarcerated and people who are subject to State surveillance.

You can access the full essay at

Austin, J. (2020). Information access within carceral institutions. Feminist Media Studies. DOI: 10.1080/14680777.2020.1786933

Interview with LitTV

I’m honored that my interview with youth in San Francisco has been posted on LitTV.

LitTV is a series of video documents in collaboration with San Francisco Bay Area teens, exploring connections between fire and knowledge, showcasing some of the unique features and personalities that make up the San Francisco Public Library, and the vital role that librarians play in their communities. It is produced by the artist Minerva Cuevas for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Public Knowledge initiative.

LitTV with Jeanie Austin

Thank you to Minerva Cuevas and the amazing SF youth!

Access and Making Meaning

John Oliver, on Last Week Tonight, recently highlighted an often unaddressed aspect of library services to incarcerated people.  In an example that pales many mentions of what access to materials can mean for people who are imprisoned or maintained, Oliver highlights an individual formerly detained in Guantánamo discussing his experiences there.

Oliver is correct in mentioning that libraries in prison and detainment centers are considered ‘luxuries’ by many people (hinting that they are often used as a gesture toward reform), the words of this former detainee reflect the true value of library services to incarcerated and detained people.  He describes Guantánamo as equivalent to Azkaban, the prison in Harry Potter – a place where there is no possibility of feeling.

Watching this clip, I was struck by how access to materials can potentially assist people in understanding the worlds they inhabit (or have been forced to inhabit).  The full clip is available on-line at