Timeline Additions

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 and the American Library Association 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.”

As a reminder, much of my interest in surveys aligns with the open survey on Library Services and Incarceration.

New Article and Survey Launch

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.

You can access the survey at Library Services and Incarceration.

Public Library Services to Incarcerated People

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!

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.

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