The 1982 Library Services in Federal Prisons survey is a treasure trove! (This survey was conducted by the Federal Prisons Committee of the Library Services to Prisoners Section of the American Library Association.) In addition to an analysis of contemporaneous library services in federal prisons, it includes a comprehensive history of library services in federal prisons. That history led me to these 1933 passages–
Excerpted from Jones, E. K. (1933). Institution Libraries Round Table. Bulletin of the American Library Association, 27(13), 706–715.
These types of discoveries help me to position my own work within the larger, often difficult to locate, scope of library services for people who are incarcerated. They also attest to the great need for more services. The new millennium imagined in 1933 has not yet arrived.
Despite this, there is a renewed energy within the profession and among LIS students for attention to library services for people who have been incarcerated. Change may still be on the horizon.
I’ve spent most of this week in the American Library Association Archives, sifting through information about library services and incarceration. I started around 1950 and am moving my way forward to the present (sorry for the deep history buffs! Maybe I’ll return; or maybe that is a project for someone else!).
I’ve found some events that aren’t recorded in the timeline that will be published with my book. Here is a preliminary summary of a few, for the record:
A 1976 ALA Resolution on Service to Detention Facilities and Jails, which likely led to the formation of the National Institute on Improving Jail Library Services. The Resolution is available here.
A survey of library services to local institutions that took place through the late 1970s and was published by ALA in 1980.
A 1980 replication of a 1938 survey of library services in the federal Bureau of Prisons. Among other highlights, the survey report, which was made available in 1982, was condemned by the BOP for the “negative, belligerent” tone of recommendations.
As I continue to review the materials I’ve digitized on this trip, I’m hoping to find more information about the tensions between the American Correctional Association (ACA) and the American Library Association (ALA) regarding the inclusion of a Prisoners’ Right to Read statement in the 1980s version of the Library Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions. So far I’ve only located passing references to a “current controversy over accreditation standards of libraries in prisons.”
Update 1/9/22: Richard Miller’s 1982 article on institutional library standards briefly discusses the coordinated work of ACA and ALA on the 1975 Library Standards for Juvenile Correctional Institutions as “nothing short of a major coup, because a nonlibrary organization joined with ALA to issue library standards.” There is mention of the effort for a joint revision of the adult standards as, “bogged down when ACA decided to make changes in its accreditation process.” Miller expand on this–
Miller, R. T. (1982). Standards for library services to people in institutions. Library Trends, 31, 109–124.
Chelsea Jordan-Makely and I have been collaborating to locate information about academic, public, and special library services for people who are incarcerated or in reentry. Today, our article summarizing these services–Outside and In: Services for People Impacted by Incarceration–went live through the Library Journal website. It will also be available in print later this month.
We doubt that we’ve located everything, and can’t wait to find out about other libraries providing books, programs, or other library services for people who are incarcerated or in reentry. That’s why we’ve teamed up with the Library Research Service at Colorado State Library to create a survey about this type of service!
Academic, special, and public librarians and staff are encouraged to respond.
While many public libraries in the United States likely offer some type of service to people in jails, prisons, detention centers, or in the process of reentry, it is surprisingly difficult to locate information about these programs. A new project is seeking information on public library initiatives that are intentionally providing services to people impacted by incarceration.
To view what they have already gathered, please click here.
To add information to the document, please contact me.
For more context on the information gathering project, please visit Renewed Libraries.
I believe that a detailed list of public libraries providing these programs will allow librarians to find one another, consider innovative ideas, and present supporting evidence that it is the role of the public library to provide information and services to people impacted by incarceration. I’m very excited to see this list grow!
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.