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 –
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.
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.
I have been quietly working on a book about library services to people who are incarcerated, to be published by ALA in 2021. I am glad to stand with librarians who are doing the work to critically interrogate librarianship and the profession’s complicity with systems of policing, incarceration, and white supremacy. Thanks to my editor and to ALA, I have the opportunity to offer a prepublication chapter of the book to the world.
You can access the chapter titled Carceral Histories in the United States at the link below. This chapter covers some of the early practices that led to present day carceral systems in the United States. It specifically focuses on how librarians conceptualized providing information to incarcerated people in the period between the late 1800s until the early 1990s. This is the second chapter from my forthcoming book, Library Services and Incarceration: Recognizing Barriers, Strengthening Access (working title).
If you’ve viewed the timeline of services I previously posted on my blog, you’ll hopefully benefit from the expanded and revised timeline located at the end of this chapter.
Thank you for your interest in library services to people who are incarcerated. I welcome any feedback and perspective that might improve the published edition of this chapter.
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