Thursday, July 17, 2014

Prison library tips for getting hired- Part II

Greetings, future prison librarians!

I wanted to talk a little bit more on tips for getting hired because that seems to be a popular topic and as I am now a "hiring supervisor" and no longer a "new professional" I think I have good things to add to the conversation.

When I was in library school, the question, "Why do you want to be a librarian?" came up quite often.  The vast majority of the new little MLIS candidates responded "Because I like books!"  Now, if this describes you, don't feel bad.  When I was first contemplating librarianship, that was one of the things that drew me to the profession.  My grandma was a prolific reader who didn't like to read used books, so I grew up going to her house all the time and being surrounded by books.  I'm talking thousands of books on every topic under the sun AND I could borrow whatever I wanted!  It was a bibliophile's heaven.  I liked books.  However, as you will find out if you are still new to the profession-being a librarian is about SO MUCH MORE than liking books.

When contemplating a career in prison libraries, you will be asked "Why on earth would you want to work in prison??" by your friends and family and "So, what makes you interested in prison librarianship?" by me when I am interviewing you.  Now, don't parrot these words back to me just because you really want the job, but if your feelings align with what I am saying and you just didn't have the words yet, that's ok.  I was nervous during my interview so I don't even remember what I said when asked why I wanted to work there.  Maybe they didn't even ask, I can't remember haha.  But here goes:

1. "I want to serve an underserved population."  To me, this is the prison library equivalent of "Because I like books."  It has promise, and is the right idea, but could be developed into so much more.

2. "I want to bring knowledge and information to people who oftentimes don't know how to use valuable, free resources."  A huge part of prison librarianship is library instruction, although usually it is not done in a formal, classroom setting like you would find in an academic library, but rather on the fly during a crazy busy library hour.

3. "Serving people is my passion, and I think the patrons would benefit from my desire and ability to share my knowledge."  Librarianship is a service profession which is why, in my opinion, people who have backgrounds in food service do very well in prison libraries.  If helping people does not make you feel a warm, fuzzy joyful feeling inside, then maybe you want to consider a different career path.

4. "Difficult people don't scare me and I enjoy a challenge." Patrons in prison can be extremely challenging.  They can be self-absorbed, narcissistic, rude, and downright mean.  Nobody enjoys being treated like crap so don't say "I enjoy working with difficult people" but if you can show me that you understand it's going to be a hard environment to work in and you are not one to run from a challenge, you will definitely score points with me.  Also, you need to understand that, as a prison librarian, not everyone is going to love you automatically just because you are the librarian.  You have to work hard and establish yourself as someone who is firm, fair, and consistent before you can enjoy the peace of the respect you have earned.

What other reasons do you have, dear readers, for wanting to work in prison?  


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

You know you've been in prison a long time when...Part III

And now, the stunning conclusion to my trilogy.......

10. You are no longer attached to your smart phone since you can't bring it into work and it has fried its little phone brain in your car one too many times, so you just leave it at home.

Comment:  There are no cell phones allowed in prison because they are contraband.  I have fried three smart phones by leaving them in the car during the hot summer months, so now I no longer bring my phone to work, unless I have to go somewhere afterwards and I need it to communicate or for navigation assistance.  That being said, I am no longer as attached to my phone as I used to be and I can go DAYS at a time without checking my Facebook.  It's actually nice, because by not being engrossed in my phone I can actually interact with the world and instead of 495 Facebook friends, I have real live friends that I talk to face to face.  It's quite nice actually, I highly recommend everyone go on a smart phone detox every once in a while.

11.  You have enough uniform shirts to not have to do laundry for 3 weeks.

Comment:  In my prison, we wear uniforms, and you get 5 shirts when you start and 1-3 shirts (depending on if you also order pants.  Note about prison pants--sometimes the zipper stops working and will just fall down at inopportune moments.  There's nothing more embarrassing than having an offender let you know your fly is down.  I have stopped purchasing DOC pants.) every year thereafter.  You can also go to the Old Shirt Closet and get more shirts if you need them.  Right now in my closet I have at least 15 shirts, and that's because I gave some of them to Minion #2 because her initial issue took forever to get to her.

12.  You tell people how to behave in public and they actually comply because you sound so authoritative.  

Comment:  This has happened to me at least twice that I can remember and they still make me laugh.  The first one was when I saw a kid stealing candy at the airport and I made him pay for it.  The second time was at a major retail store and I overheard someone complaining at customer service that there were kids panhandling outside the store.  As I was leaving, they asked me for money and I told them no and they needed to leave because this was not the appropriate venue for their actions.  I guess my librarian voice has a lot of power haha.

13.  You have to hold yourself back from telling people no touching and they need to be 6" apart at all times.

Comment:  This is similar to when you feel weird when people touch you-you also feel weird when people touch each other.  It's ok, people are not in prison and if they want to hold hands at the grocery store it is not your responsibility to stop them.

14.  You avoid dress-down days because your jeans don't have enough pockets.

Comment:  I also avoid dress-down days because my belt doesn't fit around my jeans because my work pants are high-waisted.  But even if I had a belt that would work, my jeans pockets can't comfortably hold my keys, and I don't want people to look at my bottom half in tight pants, which are the only kinds of jeans I own haha.

And that concludes my list of observations I have made about myself over these past 5 years.  I am sure I will think of more, which will just lead to more blog posts.  If any of you loyal readers have some funny stories about how you know you've been in prison too long I'd love to hear them!

Until next time!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

You know you've been in prison a long time when...Part II

Welcome back!  And now, some more ways you know you've been in prison too long:

5.  Everyone with a neck tattoo is automatically a gangster.

Comment:  My Gangster Radar is pretty spot on, because in prison there are a high number of gang members, because they frequently break the law.  (Consequences, and all that....)  This means that part of our job is learning to identify gang members with signs other than style of dress, because in prison everyone is dressed the same.  I highly recommend befriending intel staff because they will not only help you out when you have questions, they also have the best stories.

6. You see your old library clerk doing community service at an event and she tells you that you are not allowed to bring your beer into the event hall, then she realizes who you are and makes a joke about how SHE'S telling YOU what to do now.

Comment:  This actually happened to me last year.  Luckily for me, it was one of my old clerks who was an excellent worker and with whom I had good rapport.  While it was nice to see her doing well and staying out of prison, I am always a little wary when I run into ex-offenders on the street because if they ever come back, now they know more about my personal life than I am comfortable with.  It's also a good reminder to always be polite to everyone in prison because if someone has a leftover grudge against you, what better place to get back at you than on the street where there's not officers within a 30 second response window.

7.  You have memorized all the popular Dewey numbers, with the most popular being 364.1, or True Crime.  

Comment: True Crime and Urban Fiction were the first books I memorized when I was turned loose in the library.  I highly recommend you follow the same route.  Spend a lot of time out in the stacks, rather than behind your computer because you will have more of a presence for security measures, you will be more available to help with patron questions, and you will learn what books you actually have in your library.

8.  You automatically assume everything that comes out of anyone's mouth is a lie.

Comment: "That book was like that when I got it!"  "I know I turned that book in to the book drop!"  "I don't know how all those pages got ripped out of the magazine."  Many times people in prison say things that are not completely truthful.  It is recommended that you always check an offender's story with the staff member who allegedly told them to do something, because oftentimes the staff member told them no such thing.  Instances like that are good security and hold offenders accountable for their actions.  Where you run into trouble is when that skepticism and doubt creep into your real life and you start doubting things that your spouse or friends are saying.  Again, like in the post yesterday, corrections is hard work and the things that are necessary for survival in prison can lead to difficulties in your real life.  Thinking everyone is always lying to you is an extremely tough way to live, and leads to more pain than anything else.  If you see this happening in your life, make sure you take steps to fix it, because no job is worth damaging your relationship with your loved ones and there is help available.

9.  You are very paranoid about losing your keys and have enacted key control at home so you always know where your keys are at all times. 

Comment:  The worst feeling in the world is realizing you've lost your keys in prison.  (I've never lost my keys because I attach them to my belt with a lanyard, but I have misplaced plenty of click pens which causes almost as much drama since offenders are not allowed to have click pens.)  If you ever do lose your keys, or anything else offenders should not have, first, lock down and search your area.  Nobody in or out until a thorough search has been completed.  Then, if the item has not been found, follow your facility's policy which will most likely include locking down the facility and not letting anyone leave until the missing item is located.  Don't be that guy that causes everyone to stay late because you can't control your keys.

Tomorrow, the amazing and riveting conclusion..................

Monday, July 14, 2014

You know you've been in prison a long time when...Part I

This post idea came to me while I was driving home the other day, and I envisioned it as a "Liberry Lady's Top 10 Reasons You Know You Have Been in Prison Too Long" but I initially dismissed the idea because I thought, no way I could come up with 10.  Well, I started thinking about it and writing them down and I actually came up with 14 haha.  My colleagues who are in prison currently or recently will know what I'm talking about and for my future prison librarians-here's what you have to look forward to. :-)

Signs You've Been in Prison For a REALLY Long Time:

1. The last ten books you've read cover-to-cover all feature prominent nudity and/or gratuitous sexual material because you are checking for policy violations.  Then you really think about it and realize you haven't read a book for fun in months.

Comment: The policy against sexually explicit material to protect staff from having to work in an environment where they might be "uncomfortable" really just means that a few select staff will have to look at much more sexually explicit material.  I guess it's ok- I'll take one for the team to protect the freedom to read, and it really doesn't bother me anymore because I can see the humor in it.  My favorite one lately was a photograph someone sent in (to a male offender haha) and all the Mail Room put on the rejection form was "Naked Man Penis."  Well, I flipped the picture over and yes, that was a very accurate description because all that was in the picture was a dude passed out on a motel bed with his dong hanging all over.  If you are someone who is sensitive to nudity, or easily embarrassed, possibly prison is not for you, and that is completely ok because that is completely normal!  A lot of people do not like to look at pictures of random naked people, and I only do it because I get paid a ridiculous amount of money.

2. You have reached the point where you can not only think in the jargon of the administration, you are now able to make winning arguments about why certain changes are beneficial for your library.

Comment: I highly recommend learning everything you can about what makes the administration tick before you enter prison like a bull in a china shop trying to change everything.  If you can craft your arguments in terms that your chain of command can understand, you will be so much more likely to get what you want.  In fact, that is good practice for any job you have, be it in prison or not.  First, seek to understand the culture, and then try to make changes.  Change is hard for people, and if you don't do it right you will meet with nothing but resistance.  It is also a great idea in prison to learn the rules and policies front and back so you can make sure your changes and ideas are within policy.  If your changes are more along rogue lines, it will be harder to gain allies and you might end up alienating your library when it is extremely beneficial in prison to be seen as a team-player, while still protecting intellectual freedom and library privacy.

3. You have lost the art of conversation because you have had it drilled into your head that you must always maintain a "Culture of Silence" when interacting with people in prison.

Comment:  I definitely noticed this change in my personality during the middle years of my career.  Prison changes people.  When I started, I was so worried about establishing my boundaries and not befriending anyone on the advice of Basic Training staff that I stopped talking to anyone anywhere.  I didn't want to be viewed as someone who was too friendly with offenders so I was not friendly to anyone.  Thankfully, I have finally righted my pendulum and now have a happy medium where I can have good rapport with offenders while still maintaining my boundaries as their supervisor.  I definitely suggest being mindful of this in your home life as well.  Corrections is a career with higher than normal divorce rates (interesting article from Corrections.com here) and a lot of that is because spouses don't know what it's like to be in corrections, and the staff member doesn't know how to talk about it in a constructive way.  Corrections is tough and stressful, even if you are "just a librarian" and not an officer.  Frequently, we are the librarian AND the officer in the library because we work alone with no back-up and are mainly surrounded by offenders the majority of our day.  If you feel like you are losing your sense of self, please, please don't let it get so bad to where it causes friction in your relationship and home life.  There is help out there, and many DOC's offer some sort of employee assistance program.  There's no shame in seeking help redirecting your perspective, and things will get better eventually if you just ask for help.

4. You feel weird when people touch you, even if it's just the cashier handing you your change and receipt.

Comment: In my prison, there is a strict "no-touching" rule.  You are trained to hand people stuff so your fingers don't touch, because some offenders could take that as an invitation to start compromising you.  It seems extreme, but when you are new in prison it is very important, as mentioned earlier, to set your boundaries.  Nowadays if someone accidentally touches me as I am handing them stuff it doesn't cause me as much stress as it used to, but I am definitely still mindful of that contact because I don't want it to be interpreted as more than it is.  Now, there are some staff who regularly shake offenders' hands, or clasp them on the shoulder, and that is not necessarily a sign that any shenanigans are happening but for me personally I just prefer no touching at all.

Stay tuned for Part II, coming to a prison library blog near you!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Honesty is the best policy

Remember, if you will, the previous post titled "Liberry Lady and the Case of the Bloody Book."  In it, I counseled a library patron about how I would prefer that if he damaged a book, he just be honest about it rather than lying and telling me it was like that when he got it.

Well, fast forward to the other day where this patron came up to me and said, "There's something I need to tell you."
"Yes?" I responded, intrigued about what he was going to say.
"I wanted to let you know, I had a flood in my cell the other day and while I was able to rescue the other books, this one got stuck to the floor and I am very sorry."

Upon examining the book, it wasn't that bad except for the back cover had peeled away where it had been stuck to the floor.  He did, however, bring me all the pieces of the cover. :-)

"I really appreciate your honesty, and the fact that you brought me all the pieces of the book.  Because of that, I will not charge you for this book this time."

The patron was very happy, and I was happy too because he actually listened to me the last time and he made the right decision to be honest about it rather than just putting it in the book drop and hoping we didn't notice.  We followed up with a conversation about proper book storage (not on the floor) and he left with the promise that it wouldn't happen again.

I call that a Library Victory.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Some days you just KNOW it's going to be a good day

Greetings, and Happy Finally Friday loyal readers!  Today's blog post is actually about yesterday where all of the following things happened to me before 8:30 am:

1. I had an excellent conversation with the new Mail Room staff about intellectual freedom and how it doesn't make sense to let in the local news magazine that is chock full of ads for drugs and phone sex hotlines (aside about phone sex hotlines: if you transpose the numbers of our ILS help desk hotline, it will actually take you to a phone sex hotline.  I have no idea what I mis-dialed but you can imagine my surprise as I heard a sultry-sounding recording start talking to me about "having some fun" when I was expecting an IT professional haha.) but the latest issue of Cosmopolitan is being challenged due to "sexually explicit material" which I am sure is some gratuitous side-boob and possibly some drawings of people to illustrate the "24 latest blow-your-mind-sex-tips" which are recycled in some form or another every other month.  The mail room staff agreed with me that if a child can buy a magazine at the grocery store, we do not need to be censoring it, which is a definite change from past staff.

2. I finally figured out how to add the new logo to my email signature.  On Wednesday this was causing me great consternation because the instructions simply said "Open the file, and copy and paste it into your email signature."  Now, I am an official, real-life librarian, and I COULD NOT figure it out which was causing me great stress.  Well, the next day they sent better instructions, which included about 5 more steps to get the permissions to copy the image and have it actually show up when pasted.  Now I am "compliant" with that part of the organizational change and I must admit, it is much better than what I had.

3. While going through my mail I had two offender kites that were inquiring about their library accounts in a polite tone AND used the word "Please."  Amazing.  Perhaps my Campaign for Courtesy is working muahahahahaha.

4. The newspaper came before I arrived at work, which is always cause for celebration.

5. Also while going through my mail I discovered someone donated a book to us titled White Trash Zombie Apocalypse.  Words can not even describe the level of glee Min-tern and I had at this discovery.  Ah, good times.

Yesterday was also good because I had a lovely site visit from one of my colleagues from another facility.  It is always nice to be able to spend time with fellow prison librarians, so I highly recommend that if your prison libraries or potential prison libraries do not have mandatory visits with other facilities you draft a proposal about all its benefits post haste.  If you want me to review the wording, I will be happy to assist.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Prison Trivia Laugh o' the Day

My minions and I like to have trivia contests periodically where we give out fun and inexpensive prizes like bookmarks.  Today the trivia question was "In what year was the Declaration of Independence signed?"  Now, for most anyone who attended 8th grade history, this is a relative no-brainer.  However, I received all of the following answers today:

"1848!"

"I don't know how to use the library."  (This patron was promptly given a quick library instruction lesson, and ended up giving the correct answer at the end of the hour.)

"1912"

"1776 BC!" (So close, yet so far...)

"1774"

And this exchange:
Patron: "I want a bookmark!"
Me: "You have to tell me the answer to the trivia question."
Patron: "Ok, what is it!"
Me: "Umm, YOU have to tell ME."
Patron: "Oh...."

To be fair (and rescue my faith in humanity and public education) we have had approximately 30 correct answers so far.  But, future prison librarians, this is a good lesson in remembering that something that is common knowledge to you may not be known to everyone else, and people love answering trivia questions for bookmarks.  Until next time!