Timeline of Library Services to Incarcerated People

Note: Please see the revised timeline in my chapter on Carceral Histories in the United States.

Timeline image

I’ve created a timeline of library services to incarcerated people beginning with the first library committee on the topic that I could locate (1911) through the creation of ALA’s most recent version of the standards for service to correctional institutions (1992).  You can access the work in progress at

Library Services to Incarcerated People_ 1911-1992

Dream Revisions – Section 6

As mentioned in this post, here is a revised version of Section 6 of the Standards.

6. Library Collection

6.1       The materials in the juvenile correctional library shall be selected to meet the educational, informational, recreational, career/vocational, entertainment, legal, technological and personal needs of its users.

6.1.1   To ensure that the materials meet these needs, the library shall have a printed collection development policy that defines the principles, purposes, and criteria to be considered in the selection and maintenance of library materials. These criteria should clearly advocate for youth access to library materials, including technology; In recognition of the statistics of populations held in juvenile detention centers, collection development policies should include representation of racial diversity and LGBTQ identities. The Library Bill of Rights, “Free Access to Libraries for Minors” shall be incorporated into this policy. This policy shall apply to gifts as well as to purchased items. The collection development policy statement shall include a clear procedure that details the process of objection to materials. This procedure will include information on issuing formal (written) objections, where materials under review will be held, and a timeline for meeting with a named committee to review materials as needed. The policy shall also include guidelines for the regular discarding and replacement of outdated, unused, and worn materials. The policy concerning items not allowed in the library will be outlined by a combination of library and juvenile correctional staff.

6.1.2   An array of materials selections publications (including standard library materials selection publications, awards, blogs, on-line communities, and publisher and self-publishing websites) shall be used to ensure that the collection meets the needs and desires of youth held in the center. Award-winning and otherwise notable materials will be included in the collection.

6.1.3   The library collection shall reflect and expand upon the needs, abilities, experiences, and current interests of youth held in the center. The library collection will contain information relevant to social and political occurrences, especially as they pertain to youth. Print materials will reflect the broad range of reading levels of youth held in the center. Technologies will be made available to youth. Technologies will be equipped with assistive hardware in order to meet the needs of youth who have reading, hearing, or other assistive needs. Collections will include materials that reflect the cultural, racial, and other identities of youth held in the center (including sexuality). Collections will include non-English materials to reflect the languages spoken and read by youth in the center. Librarians will have access to youth input regarding the library collection. This input may be provided through face-to-face interactions, requests for materials or types of materials, or surveys of the youth regarding their interests. Items in heavy demand shall be provided in multiple copies.

6.1.4    The library collection shall include but not be limited to materials that support school curriculum. Faculty and staff recommendations shall be considered when selecting library materials that support the curriculum.

6.1.5   The collection shall include legal reference materials which satisfy user needs and court mandates.

6.1.6    The collection shall include materials that address issues related to transition from the juvenile correctional facility to the larger community.

6.1.7   The collection shall include titles popular among youth, including high-interest low-vocabulary materials.

6.2   The library will include a variety of technologies, ephemera, and media related equipment in the library.

6.2.1   The library collection will, in negotiation with the juvenile correctional staff, reflect current developments in technologies (e.g. audiobooks and players, access to computers, a variety of software etc.).

6.2.2   Ephemera includes games, puzzles, kits, art objects, realia, comic books, magazines, etc.

6.2.3    Equipment: The library will have sufficient equipment to meet the needs of its users to utilize the media collection.

6.3       Reference collection: Each library shall have a reference collection of sufficient size and scope to meet the reference needs and desires of residents and staff and to support curriculum-related research.

6.3.1    The minimum reference collection shall include materials published within the last five years in the following categories:

  • One set of encyclopedias;
  • Two general almanacs;
  • Twelve dictionaries (including dictionaries in languages other than English, quotations, biographical dictionaries, thesauri, and other dictionaries related to the needs and desires of youth and juvenile correctional staff);
  • Two world atlases and one road atlas;
  • Five books related to the juvenile correctional system and navigating this system;
  • One medical encyclopedia;
  • One world record book;
  • Three GED study guides;
  • Three current college directories and three current vocational/technical school directory);
  • Information on services provided by community organizations.
  • Information related to media, music, and art, including their production.

Dream Revisions – Section 2

As mentioned in the last post, here is a dream revision of Section 2 of the Library Standards for Juvenile Correctional Facilities.




2.1     The library in the juvenile correctional facility shall support, broaden and strengthen the stated goals of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) for youth and young adults. This shall be done in accord with the stated vision of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which states “The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) envisions a nation where our children are healthy, educated, and free from violence. If they come into contact with the juvenile justice system, the contact should be rare, fair, and beneficial to them.” The library in the juvenile detention center shall offer a variety of services, materials, and programs similar to libraries serving the general public, as well as curricula support materials, services specifically related to the experiences and desires of youth and young adults held in detention, and legal resources. The library shall:

2.1.1   Serve all youth and young adults within the juvenile detention center or other residential center; Provide services to youth and young adult residents who are restricted to their living units (e.g. infirmary, lock-up, maximum security units), including access to technology;

2.1.2   Provide to facility staff program-related services which contribute to their professional development (e.g. reference and research assistance, professional collections, etc. These may include newsletters, journals, books, manuals, curriculum frameworks, and DVDs as well as other applicable technologies); The library will provide materials and services that supplement and support other programs held at the juvenile detention center, including college preparation and GED programs, and programs administered by outside organizations (writing programs, drawing programs, etc.);

2.1.3   Cooperate with other libraries and community organizations to supplement local collections and services. Cooperation may include interlibrary loan, membership in a regional cooperative, sharing of staff experience, connecting youth with community organizations and public libraries to support youth as they are released from the juvenile detention center, participation in organizations specifically focused on youth, juvenile detention, or adult incarceration, and youth access to technology.

2.1.4    Create collection development policies that actively advocate for the representation of incarcerated youth and their experiences and interests

2.1.5   Endorse and uphold the principles espoused by the following American Library Association documents (which may be obtained from the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom): Library Bill of Rights (1939; amended 1944, 1948,1961, 1967, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 23, 1996); Free Access to Libraries for Minors: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights (1972,; amended 1981; 1991, 2004); Resolution on Prisoners’ Right to Read (1982) Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records (1971; revised 1975, 1986) Freedom to Read Statement (1953; amended 1972, 1991, 2000, 2004)

Dream Revisions -Library Standards for Juvenile Correctional Facilities

The Library Standards for Juvenile Correctional Facilities were last published by the Association of Specialized & Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) in 1999.  Inspired by advances made in other library standards for incarcerated adults (such as the 2010 statement on Prisoners’ Right to Read), I reworked a few sections of the existing Library Standards to better reflect the current moment in librarianship.  As librarians respond to and engage with shifts in personal technologies, calls for social change within and outside of the field, and the reality of institutionalized oppression within libraries, libraries working with youth who are held in juvenile detention will need standards that give them firm ground and backing in their myriad efforts.

I borrow much of the language from the 1999 Library Standards for Juvenile Correctional Facilities in these dream revisions in order to recognize the work of librarians before me.  I also draw from campaigns such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks and Libraries 4 Black Lives  as current, inspirational sources of information and support.

In my next few posts  you will find a dream revision of three sections of the existing Standards –

Section 2. The Role of the Library in A Correctional Setting

Section 3. Library Administration

Section 6. Library Collection

I post these for educational purposes only – not as a necessarily possible revision or as an answer to the many joys and frustrations that arise while providing library services to incarcerated youth.


If you are interested, the 1999 Standards are available through the ALA store at http://www.alastore.ala.org/detail.aspx?ID=2273