Wednesday, December 31, 2014

And now let me present....

Hello dear readers, and happy New Year's Eve!  As we wind down 2014, I have some excellent news to report:  WE GOT MINTERN BACK HAPPY YAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!  AND she has agreed to be a guest blogger, so that you all can get a sense of what prison librarianship is like from Day 1.  So, without further adieu, I will turn the floor over to Mintern.

Hello, there, readers!

I am really excited to start working as a full-time minion at the prison library instead of an unpaid mintern! I just received my Masters in Library and Information Science this month, and I’m ready to put my new skills to use in a real library. But, before I get to do librarian stuff, I’ll spend the next five weeks participating in basic training for the Department of Corrections alongside about 100 correctional officers, 10 parole officers, and 4 medical staff. I’m sure the training process is different for every state, but I hope I can give you a little peak at what kind of training you’ll go through as a correctional employee before you can even start training in your library. If I make it through all five weeks, I’ll have passed three written tests and one physical test.

Now, when I first heard the term “basic training” my heart rate picked up a bit because I imagined a lot of sweaty, eight-hour shifts filled with running laps and repetitive push-ups. In reality, the most grueling physical activity I’ve done so far is lifting a giant three-ring binder filled with copies of PowerPoint presentations. (The State loves three-ring binders. The only thing it loves more than three-ring binders is the PowerPoint copies that get put into those binders.) By the end of week one, we had talked about everything from professionalism to games criminals play to fire safety and communicable diseases. 

However, regardless of the content of the lesson, at the crux of every single discussion was the overarching theme of “offender success.” Successful reintegration is a high priority for the department. In training we’ve been learning some really progressive criminological theories and effective management practices. Every staff member can promote offender success through motivational interviewing and positive professional communication. The entire department has shifted its focus from merely warehousing criminals to actively trying to change the thought process of the offender. We spent a lot of time discussing how the state is addressing the 8 criminogenic factors according to each offender’s individual needs as well as how each staff member can be a constructive role model.

Promoting offender success has been a pretty controversial topic in my training class. Some people don’t believe that offenders deserve our compassion or empathy. The idea of encouraging offender success makes quite a few people uncomfortable. As a librarian, I think these concepts come naturally. After all, our profession is all about doing good in the community and helping the public. That being said, I think it might be worthwhile to contemplate how helping an offender achieve his or her personal goals would make you feel before you commit to a career in corrections. Most offenders are incarcerated because they did really bad things; and, as a prison librarian, it would be your job to treat the ‘bad guys’ with the same respect and professionalism as any other patron in a more conventional library setting regardless of the crime that was committed. Just something to think about while you are considering a job in prison!

Until next time! Mintern, over and out.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Why do you hate democracy?"

Is what I wanted to ask at the meeting today where we decided if people can have their mail. One of the hallmarks of a democratic society is the free exchange of ideas and one of the missions of prison is to get these people in our care ready to return to said democratic society. Unfortunately, some people let their own feelings get in the way of the free exchange of ideas, but because they do it in the name of security, they get their way.
It's a lot like this whole fiasco with the movie The Interview that has been censored because of "threats to national security."  Throw out some magic words and all of a sudden people are willing to subvert the first amendment.
I don't even know what to do anymore. Ethically, libraries are supposed to fight for the freedom of expression, the freedom of information and against censorship. The Prisoner's Right to Read even says "That material contains unpopular views or even repugnant content does not provide justification for censorship." Yes, the Nazis did terrible things, but just because it makes you think there is only one reason for having materials about their history doesn't mean that everyone else thinks that. But when I voice my opinion, nobody else is with me and I am consistently overruled. What can I do? Is intellectual freedom worth my job?
Sometimes, future prison librarians, you have to make decisions like that. Can you be a librarian who is an intellectual freedom fighter in an environment that does everything it can to quash free expression? Can you stand for professional best practices when people personally attack you? Can you censor an item when your direct supervisor says to do it or lose your job?
Being a prison librarian is a very romantic notion: you get to serve all these underserved people and you will make a difference every day. Oftentimes that is true, but there's also another frustrating and stressful side to it that you should consider before you enter into this branch of librarianship.
Until next time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Prison tattoos-Library style!

If you have spent any time watching Lockup, or any of the other various behind-prison-walls shows, you know that tattoos are huge in prison.  I bet 1 out of 5 tattoo artists in your neighborhood tattoo parlor learned everything he needed to know about tattooing in prison.  Just kidding, professional tattoo artists go through a lot of training and apprenticeship hours, and I have lots of respect for their artistry.  But there are many tattoo artists in prison so when your gel ink pen goes missing, just know that it is probably finding new life as tattoo ink.

So today the clerks were talking about tattoos while we were getting the book drop and they were joking that they should have library clerk tattoos.  I told them that would be a great idea if it weren't illegal and thought that would be then end of it.

When I was coming back from signing in at the office, the clerks were laughing hysterically.  Because sometimes I just don't want to know, I told them "Let's go!" and we went to the next unit.  Lo and behold, in the next unit book drop was a book that someone had sworn up and down that they turned in two days previously.  (Note: usually that happens, so if someone swears they turned a book in, tell them "OK, We will look everywhere here and you go back and look everywhere in your room and if it hasn't turned up by the time you come back, THEN we will freak out.")

That made the clerks howl with laughter and in response to my quizzical look, one let me in on the joke:

Clerk: "You know that tattoo that some of the women have that says 'Trust no b****'?  Well we are going to have our library clerk tattoo be 'Trust no b**** who says she put her books in the book drop!'"

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Party like it's 1981!!!!

Greetings, readers!

Tonight's blog will give you a small insight into what it's like to weed books in prison............

So the other day we had a GED teacher retire after a long and illustrious career.  She left us many books and her boss graciously passed the usable ones along to us and discarded the old ones including a set of encyclopedias from 1981.  I thanked her, and went along on my merry way.

Fast forward to 5 minutes from then, and I got my first phone call:

Me: "Library, how may I help you?"
Officer: "Yes, is this the library?"
Me: "Yes it is, how may I help you?"
Officer: "Um, I have some offenders who are wondering why you threw all these books away."
Me: "Well, it was actually the teacher, but it's ok, they are supposed to be in the trash because they are encyclopedias from 1981."
Officer: "They want to know if they can get them out of the trash."
Me: "No, they are from 1981.  They need to stay in the trash."
Officer: "Ok, bye."

Now, dear readers, nobody EVER throws anything away in prison.  They are the KINGS AND QUEENS of repurposing items.  They were repurposing things before repurposing became trendy.  My patrons simply cannot accept the idea of library weeding because "Someone will want to read those!!!!"  When I respond that nobody has wanted to read them in 3 years, or nobody wants to read a book that is only pages 25-167, they look at me as if I am speaking gibberish.  And if nobody wants to read the items, they want to cut them up and decorate their bulletin boards.  Nobody cares that it's still state property and our rules state that we can not give state property to offenders for personal use.  "Ha, rules?  I care not a fig for your RULES!" is what they would say if they had a good vocabulary.

About 30 minutes after my first phone call I was out getting the book drop and the officer in the office (different officer) where I was signing in asked me why we threw away a set of perfectly good encyclopedias.  After a *facepalm* I explained again why it was ok that they were in the trash.

Me: "Do you know how many things have happened since 1981??  Like THE INTERNET?!?!?"
Officer: "Oh, I guess you're right."
Me: "We would actually be doing them a disservice by letting them keep those hopelessly out-of-date encyclopedias.  I have some current ones in the library they can look at any time they like."

The next day took the cake though.  I was out getting the book drop again and I stopped in yet another block office to sign in and I was greeted by a very happy-sounding officer:

Officer: "The offenders in that pod are SO HAPPY! They rescued a perfectly good set of encyclopedias from the trash that someone just THREW AWAY!"

So now I think that these encyclopedias are somewhere floating around in one of the units.  I can't bring myself to go find them and confiscate them, because right now I have way too many other things on my plate than fighting the Battle of the 1981 Encyclopedias.

Until next time!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Interesting prison article

Just came across this on Buzzfeed. Not my prison but the cement blocks are the same no matter where you go.

A Heartbreaking Look Into The Battered Women Of Rikers Island

Funny prison one-liners

I was getting the book drops today and eavesdropping on the clerks. They are hilarious!

Clerk 1: "Did you hear she got a jury summons in the mail? I mean, it was sent to her house but she's in PRISON!"
Clerk 2: "Maybe they thought she would be extra qualified?"

Clerk 1: "Yeah I got a notice saying I was approved for an American Express card!"
Clerk 2: "But can you buy tokens with it? Hahaha!"
Clerk 3: "Only if it's the black one!"

Monday, November 17, 2014

Well the good news is: nobody hates you!

We used to have a clerk who, every time something bad happened, would always explain it was because "They hate you." It was kind of hilarious because she was this soft-spoken young clerk whom you would never expect to say anything like that. I actually bought a book called Somebody Up There Hates You just because it made me think of that and I laugh every time.
Anyway, a couple weeks ago one of our clerks had the book Doctor Sleep on hold but she didn't want to check it out yet. Three days later (which was still within her allotted time frame) she went to check it out and the book had mysteriously disappeared. Such occurrences are not unknown in the prison library as sometimes no matter how much you hammer into them at the clerk meetings that ethics are important, they will still use the library as a way to get back at their enemies. I chalked it up to the latest clerk vendetta and told her she would stay #1 on the hold list until it reappeared.
Well fast-forward to Friday when I finally had time to do some cataloging and lo and behold what did I find on the cataloging cart? Doctor Sleep! Huh. Imagine that! We were adding another copy and I didn't get a chance to print labels right away but someone probably wanted to check out the first copy so we had to approve it in the system which triggered the hold even though the book was not yet ready.
When I broke the good news to this clerk today ("Hey good news! Nobody hates you because your book is right here!") She swore up and down that she had seen that book actually on the hold shelf so she didn't understand how it could have gotten in the office. Now, loyal readers, there is always an explanation for anything that happens in the library and it is one of three things:
A. The clerk or patron has had their brain addled by drugs and their memory is not that great. (Side note A1- they could also be remembering something from a parallel universe as explained in this Buzzfeed article.)
B. Another clerk has it out for them and is pulling shenanigans.
C. The Library Ghost
Until next time!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Notes from Training

Good evening, dear readers and Happy Friday! Tonight's prison librarian story comes to you from the training room. One facet of work as a prison librarian is mandatory training. This usually looks like a bunch of people in a room and you may have a vague idea of who they are but you're not really sure because you are not used to seeing people in civilian clothes. Another benefit of training is usually you get out of work early, although try and avoid taking training classes from newbie instructors because they haven't grasped this concept and you will be stuck in training 1.5 hours after you expected to be there when you made important plans contingent on leaving early. But I digress...

I was going to blog about my awesome picture I drew in Motivational Interviewing that showed the library was like the auto parts and repair store because we give people the tools to make their cars/lives awesome until there was some major drama that completely changed my plan.

We were in a part of the class where we were talking about stress and the staff person sitting next to me told a story about how they were dealing with stress that included telling jokes "about black people." Not many people heard it and that wasn't even the point of the story, just a segue to the important part about how she was dealing with stress. Well, another staff person took it upon themselves to make sure an African-American person in the class knew what she said and that particular staff member BLEW UP and confronted the other staff person right in front of EVERYONE. The first one apologized for causing offence but the second one refused to let it go and kept yelling at her until the teacher interjected with "Ok let's move on."

This was something I've never experienced, but I think it should be addressed because you never know when you will run into a similar situation in your tenure as a prison librarian. Yes, the first staff could have been more sensitive to the racial makeup of the class but if the second staff was really offended, a better way to handle it would have been to confront that other staff member in private. Instead, she just looked like a rookie who lost her professionalism in response to unprofessional comments. And the unknown staff member who passed it along would have been smarter to keep their mouths shut and not cause drama.

So, future prison librarians, the morals of this story today are:
1. Don't say racist things at work.
2. If people offend you, it makes more of an impact to confront them in private and helps you maintain your professionalism.
3. Don't schedule training on a Friday expecting to get out early.

Until next time!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Crazy Prison Dreams- Patron Edition

Hello readers and happy November! As you know, I am now a solo librarian and I think the situation is stressing my clerks out a little bit as evidenced by this conversation I had with one of them while getting the book drop the other day:

Clerk: "I had a nightmare about you last night!"
Me: "Hmm that's weird. What happened?"
Clerk: "I dreamed that you got a part time job at the grocery store and you stopped showing up for library all the time. Then you made US go work at the grocery store too! I've never even worked at the grocery store!"
Me: "That sounds like it was pretty stressful! But you know, the library is kind of like a grocery store for the mind!"

The clerks crack me up.

And now here's your Prison Laugh o' the Day:
*Overhead at the book drop*
Clerk #1: "Ugh, someone must've peed in her cheerios..."
Clerk #2: "Well it wasn't me!"
Clerk #3: "I like cheerios!"

Until next time!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Library Ghost stories, Episode 7

Happy Halloweenie!!!!!!

Our final ghost story of this Halloween season points to poltergeist activity in the library, in addition to apparitions....

Back when I was working swing shifts, I was waiting for the evening library session to start and getting a little work done on my computer.  I heard a huge commotion in the library proper, which was weird because no movement had been called yet and my door was locked anyway...

I went out to investigate and noticed the Open/Closed sign that we have suction-cupped to the door had flown TEN FEET from the front door.  Now, sometimes it falls off when the suction cup loses it's suction but it has NEVER fallen more than inches from the door.  AND the suction cup and sign were not connected like they usually are when it just falls off.


It seems like the library ghost has been calm lately, which my conspiracy theorist clerk attributes to the giant picture she drew of an ogre that she says scared it away.  Be that as it may, just be advised, future prison librarians, that prisons are places where people live AND die, so you may or may not have to help some of the confused spirits along to the light, or be the brunt of their pranks when they just want to hang out and cause shenanigans. :-)

Until next time!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Library Ghost stories, Episode 6

Are you getting scared yet, dear readers?

This story is a throwback from when we used to let the male patrons from the facility across the way actually visit the library in person.

One night when the men were coming to the library I was standing at the door counting everyone with the clicker because I don't trust the clerks to get everyone accurately.  I counted and clicked 6 patrons and thought nothing of it...until it came time to leave.

As we were checking the patrons at the end of the hour, I noticed that there were only 5 patrons in the library.

"Where is your extra person?  I think you are missing one," I alerted the escorting officer.

"Ummm, we just brought 5 over today," he responded.

Now, I KNOW I counted 6 because I am so anal about counting the correct number of people and when you have that small of an amount of patrons, it is not hard to get an accurate count of people coming in the door.

Library Ghost strikes again......

Monday, October 27, 2014

Library Ghost stories, Episode 5

This one is not a ghost story per se, but definitely makes you go "Hmmmmmmmm."

One day Minion #1 was working and he got an offender's ID for a writing utensil.  When the offender gave the pencil back, he forgot to give her ID back and even forgot that it was in his pocket until he got home that evening.

Thinking nothing of it (he was planning to take it back to the unit when he retrieved book drop) Minion #1 got the work the next day and was shocked to discover that THE PATRON HAD DIED THE NIGHT BEFORE.

Now, she was older, but was still in good health and was not expected to kick the bucket.  Housing staff even put her roommate in segregation and was investigating her for murder!  Ultimately, the roommate was cleared, but now Minion #1 is extra mindful about never taking anyone elses' ID home and for good reason in my opinion!

Until next time!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Library Ghost stories, Episode 4

One Thursday, a few months ago, Minion #1 and I were standing at the circulation desk monitoring library happenings when the library fan fell over.  When he went over to pick it back up, Minion #1 noticed that the base of the fan was mangled and he could not make it stand up.  We were dismayed because it was hot in the library and we needed the fan for air circulation but it was clearly out of commission.  Thinking someone had bumped into it and then just propped it up hoping we wouldn't notice, I checked the cameras...

NOBODY HAD WALKED BY THE FAN FOR 30 MINUTES.  I watched the clip over and over as the fan was sitting there, fanning away quite happily and then randomly fell over.  There was no explanation for how the metal fan base became so mangled that it would no longer stand...except the LIBRARY GHOST.  


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Library Ghost stories, Episode 3

This one didn't actually happen to me, but it happened to Minion #1 in the library, so hence it is a Library Ghost.

Minion #1 was covering at another facility and he was happily entering the interlibrary loan requests in the database when a patron asked for his assistance in the library.  He left the office in the middle of his project to help the patron and when he returned minutes later, he noticed a very strange sight.  His formerly neat piles of "done" and "not done" interlibrary loan requests were messed up and in the database was a DOC number that he did not enter.

Minion #1 was intrigued, so he checked the DOC number in our offender database and he was shocked to find that it was someone WHO HAD DIED AT THAT FACILITY FIVE YEARS AGO.  Unfortunately, he must have used all his spectral energy entering his number because he didn't get to the part where he said what he wanted to request.  Alas, we will never know what this patron's final ILL request was.  Hopefully he got it from the afterlife library.

Until next time!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Library Ghost stories, Episode 2

In our library, the door is really squeaky, which helps us to know when people are coming in or going out.  This is a great feature, when people are actually coming in or going out.  Frequently, I will hear the door open (and oftentimes hear keys jingling, meaning staff is there) but when I peek around the column that blocks my direct view of the door to say hi and see who's there, NOBODY IS THERE.

One day I had just arrived at work for a swing shift when some Rec staff came to see if they could borrow my library cart.  I let them, because it's a good way to build good rapport for the library and they went on their merry way to run their errands.

About 20 minutes later I remembered I needed to sign for my controlled items so I stepped into the supply closet to sign the log.  While I was in there, I heard the door open and a female voice call "Hello?"

"Oh, hi!" I yelled from the closet, "You can just go ahead and leave the cart there, I'll get it!"  Obviously, it was the Rec staff returning my cart.  EXCEPT WHEN I LEFT THE CLOSET TO GET THE CART IT WASN'T THERE!

Thinking I may have scared someone off with my out-of-context greeting, I checked the cameras to see who it was so I could follow up with them and see what they wanted.  Imagine my chagrin when I discovered that NOBODY HAD OPENED OR CLOSED THE LIBRARY DOOR SINCE THE REC STAFF LEFT WITH MY CART.

When they finally did bring it back an hour later, we laughed it off, but I knew that the Library Ghost was at it again...

Until next time...doodedoodoo doodedoodoo doodedoodoo

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Library Ghost stories, Episode 1

Happy almost Halloween everyone!

Ever since I have been writing this blog I have always meant to do a special Library Ghost issue for Halloween.  However, the more I work in prison, the more ghost stories I have, so I am going to spread them out into MANY blogs!  Enjoy!

This one happened when I first started working in prison:

We used to check the patrons' books as they were walking out the door to make sure they had the right date due stamps.  One night as I was checking everyone, I noticed a girl in the back corner of the library by the Romance section.  I called out to her "Ok, it's time to go, would you please bring your books over here so I can check them?"  She looked at me and then ducked down behind the shelves.  Thinking she dropped something, I went over to check on her and make sure everything was ok.  However, when I got over there, THERE WAS NOBODY THERE.


Side note, whenever I check the cameras I always see flashing lights in that corner of the library in the camera that faces that way.  And no, there is NO WAY it can be headlights because the library windows face a greenbelt.

Until next time...sleep tight!  Muahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Prison Laugh o' the Day

Offender #1: "Hello, Library Girl!"
Offender #2: "Don't call her that! She's the Library Deputy!"
Offender #1: "Hello, Library Deputy!"

Sunday, October 19, 2014

So you want to be a prison librarian-more tips for getting hired

Happy Sunday readers!

Today's blog stems from a note I wrote to my future blogging self and then just rediscovered as I was cleaning my room today. It is a timely discovery as there are lots of prison librarian jobs open at the moment. Here are a few ideas to get your application materials to stand out above the crowd and hopefully get you the coveted interview:

1. Address your cover letter to the right person. Generally this is going to be the hiring manager. If you don't know who it will be, a general "Greetings!" is much better than a salutation to the wrong person. You can always call the person listed on the job announcement to make sure and if you can't get them on the phone then just leave it generic.

2. Taking #1 to the next level- make sure you are submitting a cover letter for the correct position. Nothing impresses hiring managers less than having to read all about how you would be perfect for a job that is not even theirs. If you accidentally attach and submit the wrong one, immediately apologize and send the correct one. I need someone who has attention to detail in addition to the desire to work for my open position and if you can't even get me the right cover letter then you are definitely not the right person for the position.

3. Get a professional email address. "" might give you fond memories of your college days but save that one for your friends and/or Tinder account. Use some sort of combination of your first and last name for maximum professional impact.

4. Explain exactly how your previous experience will apply to the duties of the new position. Even if you are light on library experience, you can still sell me on your server/bartending experience by highlighting your ability to work in a fast-paced environment with people who are sometimes difficult. If you have lots of other library experience tell me how you think that will transfer to prison. If you just say "I'm an awesome medical/children's/corporate librarian" without telling me how that translates to prison, you will probably not be selected.

5. It is ok to contact the person listed on the application with questions. Some good questions to ask are "What kind of personality type would fit best in this environment?" And "What strengths would you like to see in your ideal candidate?" You could also ask me to describe my typical day or ask what I like best about working there. (Note, if you don't call the person listed, these would also be good questions to ask at the end of the interview when the panel asks if you have any questions for them. But it's best to do your homework first so you can tailor your application materials and make me really interested to meet you for an interview.)

I hope this helps all of you in your job search. Please let me know if you have any other questions about how to make your application the best.

Until next time!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Prison Librarians: helping people without all that pesky "technology"

Greetings readers! Today I was at a conference and we were listening to a presentation that featured digital initiatives and my colleague leaned over and asked me, "Are you sad that you are missing out on all that?"
I thought about it for a little bit because she was asking in all seriousness and then I replied, "No, because still I get to help people and that's what I really love to do." As a prison librarian, you will never be on the cutting-edge of technology. You will be lucky if you have Microsoft Office 2010. But this job is so much more about helping the people in-house that you really don't have time to wish for technology because you are too busy finding information so they can create a plan to be successful when they do get out, since 97% of them will one day.
Now don't get me wrong, I think digital initiatives and technology in the library are wonderful and I think prison really does people a disservice by locking them up for decades and then expecting them to do well in a fast-paced world that relies heavily on technology. I can't even tell you how many of my patrons avoid the OPAC because they have never used a computer mouse before. None of our patrons have legal* access to the internet. And don't even THINK of getting a 3D printer. I had to fight administration because they wanted to ban an article in Popular Science that said "Yes, people can make guns with 3D printers." It didn't have the code or anything. They just didn't want them to even THINK about it. (Side note- that's like the local school district trying to ban the teaching of history that includes stories of civil disobedience. Because if you don't tell kids about it they will never even think to do it? O_o)
Anyway, I'm happy to be at the conference for the next two days. I love being able to get together with like-minded people who are awesome and remind myself why I chose this field.
Until next time!
*The only way people get on the internet in prison is by having a cell phone smuggled in with internet service. One of my old clerks got into huge trouble one time because he had taken a selfie outside the prison gym wearing his prison greens and made it his MySpace profile pic but didn't think to make his account private. Yeah, the Intel officers saw that quickly and sent him down to the supermax before you could say "hashtag."

Friday, October 10, 2014


Whew this past month has been rough. We finally got the approval to hire our vacant-for-over-a-year position, only to have it wrenched away at the last minute. Now, I am down another staff member because Minion #2 got a new job doing ILL at an academic library. Same pay and much less stress...can I get one too? Haha. Mintern also got a fabulous new position at a public library so it's just me and Minion #1 who has been reassigned full time to another facility so really it's just me. Allllllll byyyyyy myyyyyyseeeeellllfffffff! Again.
So, sorry for the long dry spell. I haven't been able to frame it in a funny way since I am too frustrated. But, I am realigning my outlook to be more positive so next week I will have some funny stories for sure. Happy Friday!

Friday, September 12, 2014

My Sentiments Exactly

A sign (tooth)pasted to one of the Unit book shelves the other day:
"Please don't be a scumbag
punk by tearing up
all the books...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I Can't Make This Stuff Up

Today the Mail Room messaged me and asked if I was expecting an offender's mom to be sending us one of our books back called Will I Ever be Good Enough?  Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers. I remembered charging the offender for it a while back so I said I would take it and went down to get it, expecting some sort of apology on behalf of the offender when the mother realized that her daughter had stolen the book.
When I got the package back to the library, I noticed the mailing label was weird, and was actually an envelope addressed to her daughter rather than the library.  I cut it off the package and inside was a whole long letter yelling at the daughter about how she needs to get her s*** together and she (the mom) is not going to buy her $50 worth of food because her daughter is not going to be in prison that long, and then it ended with: "And here's the book you probably owe the library for...stop blaming everyone else for your problems. Love, Mom."
It's ironic on so many levels, and always interesting to get a glimpse into the outside lives of our patrons. 
Until next time!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Liberry Lady and the Case of the Missing Chit

Good evening, dear readers!

Have you ever felt that everyone around you at work has lost their everloving minds?  No?  Well then you my friend are either unemployed or very lucky haha.  For the rest of us, here is a story that will make you *facepalm* all the way through your head.

On Thursday I was leaving work and turning in all of my equipment, happy to be on my merry way on a fine Friday Eve, but little did I know that was not to be.  Now, a little background before we get into the meat of this story for those of you who have not yet worked in a prison.  When one becomes a prison employee, one is issued a variety of casino-chip like metal circles called "chits."  These chits are made of metal but are sometimes rectangle-shaped, so maybe not everyone feels like they have won the slot machine when they turn in their equipment at the end of the day, I don't know, I guess it just depends on who makes them for you.

Anyway, I have pretty good attention to detail being a librarian, and I also had it ground into my brain in BT that you NEVER EVER EVER UNDER THE PENALTY OF SERIOUS BODILY INJURY forget or lose your chits.  We were made to believe that, should one forget to bring their chits to work one day, or misplace a chit, tons of terrible things would happen, not the least of which would be the inability to get your necessary equipment that day.  Needless to say, I am very protective of my two golden and one red chit and I was proud of the fact that I worked in prison for 5 years and 4 months and still had my original issue chits.

When I opened up the trap door to receive my chits that I had exchanged for my keys, radio, and OC, I was dismayed to see that the red one just looked...different.  It was much shinier than I was used to, and when I turned it over to examine the engraved name on the front I was shocked to see a name that wasn't mine.

"Excuse me," I said to Master Control staff, "but this is not my chit."  They came to the window and I gave it back to them because sometimes it happens where they just accidentally grab the wrong one.  However, upon further examination of the OC holder bin, it was discovered that my chit WAS NOT THERE AT ALL.  After a terse exchange with the Sergeant, it was determined that I should hold the incorrect chit "hostage" because some staff member (Day Shift, according to Swing Shift, naturally, because they all hate each other) gave this person my chit and the person with my chit clearly does not have as good of attention to detail as me so they didn't wonder why their formerly shiny red OC chit was suddenly beat up and not nearly as gleaming.  Of course, this person had Friday/Saturday as their weekend so there was going to be no solution to this problem until Monday.

Well fast-forward to today and whadoyaknow but my chit was still MIA.  I headed up to the library with a radio and keys and a fervent hope that today would not be the day where shenanigans went down in the library and I would need to issue my first burst of OC to a misbehaving offender.  I opened my email to find a response to my request that the person with my chit please bring it to the library on Monday that said they had given it to Master Control yesterday.  Ok, fine, I thought, I will call them back and let them know that it should be there.  Unfortunately, Master Control staff still had no idea where my wayward chit had gone, (because Swing Shift re-lost it, according to Day Shift, naturally, because they all hate each other) so I was still out of luck.  AND, not only did I not have MY chit, this staff member was "unable to leave the kitchen due to his responsibility of monitoring offenders" so I had to go out of MY way to give him back HIS chit.  *sigh*  People...

Now, future prison librarians, when equipment is lost or broken, a report must be written before anything can be fixed or replaced.  So I wrote my report and made sure to make it clear that this was everyone's fault but mine, and got a response from the locksmith that I was, as always, perfect and would have a new chit by tomorrow.  As I was leaving today and grumbling to the lobby officer that people really need to pay attention to things when they work in prison, he made an optimistic guess that it would turn up as soon as I got my new one.  This gave me pause and shifted my perspective because as soon as he said that I realized that this seeming inconvenience might actually turn into a windfall of OC chits which would mean that instead of just one can of OC, I could potentially have TWO--ONE ON EACH HIP!  Ha, take THAT, potential shenanigizers!

Until next time!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

On the Issue of Personal Hygiene

Greetings, loyal readers! It's your friendly neighborhood prison librarian back with an important PSA about personal hygiene in prison and where it is and is not ok to take care of your personal needs with regard to your cleanliness.
Yesterday I was looking something up in the office on my computer and one of the clerks came to the door and said, "Um. I don't want to be a tattle tale but there is a girl listening to music and clipping her nails out there and it is grossing me out." Since I am the Voice of Reason, I immediately went out and tapped on the table to get the attention of the perpetrator. Apparently she was very engrossed in what she was doing because I had to rap my knuckles not once or twice but THRICE before she acknowledged I was there.
With a heavy sigh she looked up at me and removed one headphone from her ear to her forehead and said annoyedly, "Yes?"
"I need to talk to you in the hallway please," I told her because if you remember from previous posts, one of the cardinal rules of prison librarianship is Don't Confront People About Things When They Have an Audience.
She spent a good 30 seconds wiping the nail clippings from her pants into her hand (at least it wasn't to the floor) and then she followed me out to the hallway where I informed her that nail clippers are not allowed in the library and doing personal hygiene is frowned upon in that setting and then I gave her the option to stay and I would send the nails clippers to Property or she could go back to her unit and lose the rest of her library time. Due to the fact that one has to work at least 3 days on prison pay to afford nail clippers, she elected to do the latter and returned to her unit, surprisingly with no attitude. Because she was compliant, I just gave her a verbal warning which should be enough to keep her from doing it again.
Now, on the positive side, I am glad that patrons feel so comfortable in the library, but whether you are clipping nails, threading eyebrows, or popping zits, there are just some places you don't do certain things and the library is one of them.
Until next time!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Changes in Prison

In an environment that thrives on consistency and repetition, anything out of the ordinary is bound to send shock waves throughout the entire system. A few years ago I dyed my hair brown and you would have thought I did something way more terrible from the reactions I got. EVERYONE hated it and felt like it was their job to tell me so, but I just laughed it off because a.) I didn't do it for them, b.) I liked it and that's all that matters and c.) I'm not there to impress anyone. But what was really hilarious is that my boss at the time also had brown hair and people used to say "Oh, the blonde librarian told us that/said we could do that" and after neither of us was the blonde one they became very consternated.
So, fast forward to the present day and a little background: every day at work I wear my work outfit. It is the same every day, down to my items on my belt (radio, keys, pepper spray) and my car key that I hang from my belt loop with a carabeaner (spelling?) so I never lose it because if you read this blog you know how stressful it is to even THINK about losing keys in prison. So, I thought for sure the first day I had my brand new key of my shiny new car on my belt loop, SURELY I would have to fend off multiple comments about my new key. But so far, nothing. Not one single comment or sideways glance while they try and estimate if they will get in trouble for asking. Veritable. Crickets.
So what does this mean? Well my theories are that because I have some other minor keys on the ring, everyone just looks at those and assumes it's key business as usual. It could also be that they are so busy with their own other life drama that they have no time for changes in the library at the moment. My final idea, and this is the one I would like it to be, is that I have finally, after five long years, gotten to the point where they know my answer will be "I don't talk about my personal life at work" and they respect me enough to not even try and bring it up. It's unlikely that that's the reason, but one can always hope.
Until next time!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When death happens in prison

Hello, dear readers.

Tonight's post is not going to be the happiest, because the topic of death is usually a sad one.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of the environment, it is a topic that you as the prison librarian will most likely be confronted with at some point in your career, at least once if not multiple times.

During my tenure, we have lost an extremely important figure in our administration as well as one of our colleagues to murder at the hands of offenders.  We have also lost many offenders at the hands of other offenders, and also at the hands of themselves.  Suicide is prevalent in prison (especially around year five we are taught in training, because that is when the feelings of helplessness can manifest and someone who seemingly was adapting can suddenly have a U-turn) and affects not only the families of the person, but the staff who discover the situation and everyone who knew the person.  In our system we have a specially trained team of people who go in and are available whenever there is a crisis so that staff can have someone to talk to when they have been traumatized by such an event.

When a death happens in prison, the usual protocol is to lock down for an undetermined period of time so that the investigation can take place.  If it is a case of someone passing away due to old age, their roommate will initially be removed from population, but the rest of the facility usually won't be affected.  One time, Minion #1 accidentally took someone's ID home in his pocket and that patron DIED THAT EVENING.  (We have made sure that he is absolutely not ever allowed to take anyone's ID home ever again even though she was extremely elderly and it probably had nothing to do with it, justincase........)

As prison librarians, we are constantly surrounded by people who have done things that are terrible.  It is extremely important to always remember that when you are in among the patrons and to never put yourself in a situation where you could potentially be the next prison casualty.  In our library, this means never being alone around offenders (even though that is the library rule, and not the prison rule), never letting anyone in the library unauthorized, and always thinking about "If this happened then what would I do?"  If someone came at me with a shank, what door could I run out of?  If someone tackled me, how would I fight back and alert people that I needed help?  If someone stabbed me while I was bending down to get a book for them on the bottom shelf, well then at least I will die doing what I love, but to avoid that, tell the patron where the book is located on the bottom shelf and make them get it.

I don't know if all DOC's across the nation require some sort of self-defense training, but I hope they do.  If you ever find yourself with a prison librarian job where that is NOT required, please seriously consider pursuing that training on your own.  At my facility, we have to re-qualify in that every year, and in addition to that training I carry a radio and pepper spray.  In my five years on the inside, I have never been in a situation where my life has been threatened, but I still have an escape plan, because you never know.

Now, I didn't post this to scare you.  On the contrary, if you read this and you are still feeling called to help this population, then you are a brave and amazing individual.  And if you read this and think, "I didn't realize that about prison.  Maybe it's not the place for me..." that's ok too, because prison is a dangerous place.  I use my sense of humor as a coping mechanism, because if you can't laugh about it sometimes all you will do is cry, and to paraphrase Min-tern, nobody wants to hire someone who is crying all over the offenders.  But, in the cycle of life there is death, and the microcosm of the prison society definitely magnifies it more than you would find in other types of libraries.

Until next time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Prison Laugh o' the Day: Inappropriate Album Titles

I was going to do a long post about more hiring tips tonight but I'm tired so here's a short funny story to tide you over:
Patron: "Do you have black panties in the back?"
Me: O_o
*remembers it's the album for a CD we have on Inter-Library Loan*
Me: "Oh yes, I believe we still do have that R. Kelly CD. I'll be right back..."

Friday, August 8, 2014

Prison Laugh o' the Day

A clerk asked me if she could go get her canteen after work. Because I don't like to just send people places without verifying that it's ok, I tried to get a hold of Canteen staff on the phone. When they didn't answer I tried the radio and it went like this:
Me: "Any Canteen staff. Library."
*No answer*
Me: "Any Canteen staff. Library."
Staff: "Go for Unit 2."
Me: *thinking maybe Canteen staff are in Unit 2* "Is Canteen there?"
Staff: "Please call 3725."
Me: *calls*
Staff: "Unit 2."
Me: "Hi! It's me in the Library! Is Canteen there?"
Staff: "No...."
Me: "Um, ok. Bye then."
Surely they were pranking me? Who knows haha.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tips on how to make polite conversation about prison

November must have been a busy month because I have many friends with birthdays in July and August.  At these birthday parties lately, I have been meeting a lot of people I don't know, and the number one polite conversation starter is "So. What do you do?" I used to answer this query with "I'm a librarian" hoping that my companion would then fall for my topic change when I asked them what they did, but EVERYONE loves librarians so naturally they will want to know where you work. That, or one of your friends who is already in the know will gleefully cajole you to "Tell them WHERE!"
So tonight I present to you some helpful tips to make small talk with people you don't know about a topic that can be as controversial as religion and politics. Enjoy:
1. Just lead with the fact that you are a prison librarian. Even if the person you are talking to could have been or probably will be your patron at some point in time, like I said, everyone loves the Librarian so you most likely won't get punched in the face.
2. Have some witty anecdotes about prison life that are not too hardcore because after people hear what you do for a living the next question-statement will be "I bet you have some crazy stories!" And then they will want to hear some of them. This used to give me anxiety because it's like when you go to the bookstore knowing exactly what titles you want but the moment you get in there you completely forget all of them, but now I have some good go-tos like "I have to pass through 7 doors I can't control to get to work!" And "One time a dog peed on a whole row of books but it was ok because we had to weed them anyway."
3. Realize that if you are telling a hardcore prison anecdote, not everyone is going to want to hear it. At a conference some of my colleagues and I were talking about slock (weapon made from inserting a lock in a sock and smacking someone with it) assaults and some other non-prison librarians made a disgusted comment about how prison librarians are so hard to be around as they removed themselves from our table. So just be advised that what is a normal day for you might be too much for someone else to hear about.
4. Know what your patrons like to read. People who have no idea what goes on inside prison are always intrigued by what offenders are reading and they are surprised to hear their reading interests are the same as public library patrons.
5. Remember to tell them that 97% of your patrons will be getting out sometime, and impart that the prison library helps them to be better neighbors to everyone. It really helps bring the point home that not everyone in prison is locked up with the key thrown away. It helps to have some feel-good stories here as well.
6. Have a business card. I have found that in 98% of my conversations about what I do, people want to help by donating books. It is way more professional to say "Let me give you my card" than "Um, I guess I can write the address down on this bar napkin/airline ticket holder/your hand." My supervisor approved my business cards to be purchased using my library budget, but if yours is not as accommodating you can get some from the internet for very cheap.
7. Read Orange is the New Black, or watch a couple episodes on Netflix. I have noticed since that show appeared, many people have seen it and want to know how close it is to real life. You should watch or read it to have an educated opinion whether or not you agree with it. I am saving my thoughts on that topic for another blog.
Well, future prison librarians, I hope this list helps you as you become the hit of the cocktail party circuit with your Interesting job and witty conversation skills! Until next time!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Musings on the idea of time

Time is a funny thing in prison.  Today I was coming back from doing deliveries with Minion #2 and I saw a patron who had come into prison with pink hair that had blond roots. Since pink hair dye is not allowed in prison, I knew when I saw her that her hair growth would be a good indicator of how much time has passed since she got there. When I first met her, I thought her natural hair was blond but today I noticed that it's actually dark brown, creating a nice neapolitan effect.

Another way I measure time in prison is the handwriting on the forms we have to keep for a year. Once my old supervisor's handwriting disappeared from the pile, I knew it had been a long time since she worked there.

I have a great southern view from my library windows so the color of the leaves is another good reminder that time marches on. Fall is really pretty with all the colors in the trees. Winter is a frosty wonderland when it snows, and a brown wasteland in between the "winter surprises." Spring's renewal reminds us that nothing bleak is permanent and summer where we are now makes me long to be outside playing.

When you get your first job in prison, future prison librarians, you will frequently hear patrons say, "Wellllll it's been about a minute..." when you ask them how long it's been since they've put in their interlibrary loan request. A minute in prison can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few years. We always have to clarify if they are talking in terms of prison time.

Until next time! (I will try and make it less than a minute haha.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Funny Anecdote About Being in Prison too Long

Greetings, loyal readers!  You may remember my last month's series of posts about ways you know you have been in prison too long.  This story actually happened way before I thought up that list, but it is a good illustration of becoming institutionalized, but on the staff side.

The other day I was getting ready to go to work when I just happened to glance out my apartment window and what did I see but two men dressed in camo with big guns.  Now, most people would see that sight and think, "HOLY $*#&! WTF IS THAT?!?!?!?"  But not me.  Having been in prison for five years, I have become accustomed to the sight of men in camo with big guns because whenever the Emergency Response Team shows up to help out with shakedowns, that is what they wear.

When I saw them, my first thought was actually, "I bet they are going down by the creek to play paintball."  Now, with hindsight I know this is completely ridiculous because paintball guns DO NOT look like that.  But, my mind was rationalizing the uncommon-outside-of-prison scene that was playing out in front of it, so that's what it went with.  I picked up my phone because I had just set it down to walk out the door but as I was looking at it I thought "Who am I really going to call?  HB and tell him...what?  911 and tell them there are guys with guns outside?  Ha!  Yeah right."  So I set my phone back down, looked back out the window, didn't see anyone and proceeded to walk out to my garage.

As I was walking out to my car, I heard some squirrels making quite a racket for squirrels on the roof of my garage.  When I looked up to investigate, I saw the two guys with guns on the roof all commando style POINTING THEIR GUNS RIGHT AT MY APARTMENT BUILDING.  The thoughts that went through my head happened in this exact order:
2. Do NOT ask them what they are doing, in case the answer is "We're shooting YOU!"
3. Don't turn around to go back inside, because then you will make yourself a perfect target
4. Just get in the car and drive away as erratically as you can so they will have a harder time aiming at you.

So that's exactly what I did, and luckily I did not have to dodge any bullets whizzing by my head as I made my frantic escape.

After safely getting out of the parking lot, I plotted my next move.  I had seen a sheriff's office up the road a bit so I decided to stop by there and let them know that there were snipers at my house.  When I got there, there were no officers, but there was one employee from the country club across the street who was annoyed because all the sheriffs had parked their cars in the way of his maintenance equipment.  I asked him if he knew if anyone worked there, and he said no, it was just where they parked their cars, but that he had seen a bunch of people in camo leave a little bit ago.  I felt a little better after hearing that, and then he gave me the non-emergency phone number so I could call when I got to work.

Once I arrived at work, I immediately called the dispatcher and asked what the heck was going on and did they know there were GUYS WITH BIG GUNS ON MY ROOF.  She calmly confirmed that she did, and when I asked "WELL WHAT ARE THEY DOING THERE??" she replied that they were serving a warrant.

Dumbfounded, I hung up the phone without asking the million dollar question: "WHAT THE HECK KIND OF WARRANT ARE YOU SERVING AT MY APARTMENT COMPLEX THAT NEEDS SNIPER COVERAGE?!?!?!?!?"

Needless to say, when I got home I saw the aftermath of the whatever the heck it was.  The neighbor one floor down and two apartments over had his windows shot out and boarded up, and from what I could see through the windows it looked like someone had tried to barricade the window with a mattress.  I was extremely glad that I decided to go to work and not stick around and see the shoot out.  I never did find out what happened with that neighbor, but the next day the family members came to move all the furniture out of the apartment and I was very surprised my gangster radar hadn't gone off previously, because they were all definitely gangster-looking with copious amounts of neck tattoos.

Anyway, the moral of this story, future prison librarians, is that when you see people with big guns outside of prison, that is definitely NOT normal, so don't try to rationalize it away and do call some sort of authorities, justincase the guys with guns are not authorities.

Until next time!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

#tbt or Throwback Thursday

Greetings loyal readers! In honor of Throwback Thursday (which is every Thursday if you are hip to the social media thing) I'm going to tell you a story of the much younger prison librarian me.......
The best advice I ever got was from my first Programs Captain: "People are going to get stuff over on you. They just are. The key is calling them out when you catch it." This advice really resonated with me because when I first came to prison it really bothered me that people would steal things and I wouldn't catch them doing it, like the day someone stole one of our pencils which had been attached to a long piece of string on a clipboard.
The next time that happened (and it happened again not long after the first time) I was lucky enough to catch it before the group that was in the library left. At first I was shocked at their audacity to steal a pencil right in front of me but then I had an idea...
I flicked the lights in the library and made an announcement: "Ladies! It seems my pencil has disappeared. I know one of you has it so I am going to go to my office and when I come back, it had better be returned, otherwise I will call yard staff and have everyone stripped out*." I proceeded to go to my office and turn my back on the library and by the time I made my way back to the circ desk- lo and behold- there was the missing pencil.
The moral of this story is twofold: first that sometimes they will pull a fast one and you won't catch it but sometimes you will, and second that many people probably had much worse contraband on their persons so nobody was going to get stripped out over a pencil.
Until next time!
*The term "stripped out" refers to the strip search aka the bend, squat, cough search that leaves no stone unturned if you will and is generally successful on finding contraband hidden in even the most intimate of places.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Prison Trivia Laugh o' the Day, Part II

I really need to do more trivia contests.  The joy I get from peoples' answers is enormous, especially when they learn something they didn't know before.  Today's final July trivia question is "For whom is the month of July named??"  This morning, one of my clerks jokingly (hopefully) told me: "I'm going to guess- Mr. July!"  Her answer made me laugh, and then made me think of firemen calendars, which is never a bad thing. ;-)

People are really responsive to small incentives like bookmarks.  Later today, I had a group of four patrons come to the office and all four told me their answer simultaneously: "Julius Caesar!"  I smiled and told them they all had the correct answer and as I was turning to get the bookmark prize list I heard one of them say "Yeah!  We be lookin' stuff UP!"  That made my heart smile.

When Minion #2 and I went to do deliveries across the way, we brought the bookmarks with us to make good on our survey prize receipts, and we decided that we would bring the trivia contest with us, since the male patrons never get to play because they don't have the reference shelf.  Today, we met a new patron who had just arrived and really wanted one of our sports car bookmarks.  Since he just got there, he didn't have a chance to take the survey so we offered him the trivia question.  When he heard the question, the smile on his face faltered, and he said, "Oh.  I didn't do too well in history."  Another male patron history buff happened to be standing there and he tried to help him out with hints, but the younger guy still had no clue.  Then, Minion #2 gave him a brilliant hint- "There is a salad named after him."

"CAESAR!" the patron triumphantly declared, to which I replied, "Yes, but which one?"

"Uh, the Fifth?" he guessed.  That made everyone laugh, and then I prompted him "Think about what name the month sounds like."

"Oh!  Julius Casear!"  And he won his bookmark.

This interaction, in addition to being a heartwarming story, is also a good reminder that we model the behavior we want to see in our patrons every day.  Yes, we had to give him some major hints in order to get the correct answer, but Minion #2 and I showed him that, while we are not going to automatically give him the answer because he wants something, we do care about his success and we will give him all the tools he needs to come up with the correct answer himself.  So, future prison librarians, every time you are interacting with a patron just remember, it might be easier to just give someone the answer they are looking for, but you will be doing them a greater service if you help them come to the answer themselves.

Until next time!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Wacky Prison Weather Part 2

So after a lengthy discussion today, Min-tern and I have decided that she has brought the wrath of the weather upon us because yesterday was the second tornado I have seen in my life ALL IN THE SAME SUMMER.
As I was leaving work yesterday, I looked to the north and saw some completely normal looking rain clouds and the a very weird brown line of rain raining down. I also noticed that the rain was raining so hard it was kicking dirt up around it. "Hm. That's weird. It must be raining really hard over there," I thought and hurried on my way to master control to avoid the rain.  As I was leaving the lobby I jokingly told the lobby officer "Have a good night! Stay dry and watch for tornadoes!" to which he laughed and said ok.
Well little did I know, that weird brown rain was ACTUALLY A TORNADO. The person whose job it is to sound the tornado alarm had an epic fail yesterday because I could CLEARLY see the storm, but was not alarmed because there was no alarm.  I only discovered how close I was to an untimely demise when I got home and turned on the news while I was eating dinner.
So now in my life I have seen two tornadoes from prison. What are the odds? Until next time, stay safe and watch the skies!

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 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:


"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.)


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


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!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Prison Library FAQs

A huge thank you to Andreas, Prospective Prison Librarian who brought up some very good questions in a previous comment.  I will endeavor to answer them to the best of my ability without revealing any things that would be frowned upon by the Administration, should anyone really know who it is writing this blog.  I guess I should also say the standard disclaimer of "This blog represents my own views and opinions and does not represent or speak for the Establishment for which I work."  There, now on to the fun stuff.

Question: How did you acquire your position?
Answer: I came to prison completely by accident.  My MLIS concentration was Archives/Records Management, which, while intensely interesting, does not have very many job openings because once someone gets a job as an archivist, they die in that position.  I completely get that, if I were to ever get a non-grant funded archivist position, I would die there too.  Anyway, after graduation I was offered a grant-position in a state archives in the Midwest.  Unfortunately, the grant was almost over and the project was almost done, but the five months I spent working there were some of the best months in my life.  I had THE BEST boss and the work was fascinating.  Coincidentally, the grant ended right as the economy was crashing and even though my boss is one of the best-connected archivists this side of the Mississippi, I was unable to secure a position in the state so my HB and I decided to move back to our home state after I spent 4 months collecting unemployment and unsuccessfully searching for positions in my field.  When we got back home, I was immediately re-hired at my old bartending gig and then a couple months after that I got a sub position at a local public library.  When we moved home (November) I applied for the prison library job just so I could feel like I was trying and didn't hear anything back until February when they called me for an interview.  After the interview, I was offered the position and finally started basic training in May.  So if you don't hear back from prison right away, or even for a few months, that doesn't mean you were not selected, it just means that bureaucracy is VEERRRRYYYYY SLLLLLOOOOWWWWW.

Question: What are the educational requirements for working in a prison library?
Answer: This varies widely depending upon the system to which you are applying.  Having only worked in one prison system and never having applied anywhere else, I can only speak to our hiring requirements.  In my position of "Librarian II" the successful applicant usually has a MLIS, MLS, MSLS, or any other variation of a master's degree in libraries.  This is in addition to two years of "professional level" experience.  For the entry-level library tech position, the only requirement is a GED or High School Diploma and two years of general library experience.  There is also an elevated tech position that has a little more supervisory responsibilities and requires four years of library experience.  Now, I am lucky to be in the geographic location I am, because I have two techs who have master's degrees.  I like to look at my library as being in a  leadership position for the other libraries because we have so much book learning.  From what I have seen with regard to other prisons though, is that master's degrees are not as much required, possibly because they don't want to have to pay the library staff as much.  While I don't make as much as a branch manager at a public library, now that I am the boss I do make enough money to pay my bills each month and have a little bit left over for fun, which is definitely a blessing.

Question: What is the competition like for prison library positions?
Answer: Not being in on the decision for which applicants get an interview (I just get the list from HR) I am unsure of the exact answer to this question.  I think that the last time we had a position open, we had 24 applicants and 12 actually met the qualifications to be considered for an interview.  That's pretty good though, considering the extremely low salary that is offered for our tech positions, especially when most of the applicants have master's degrees.  But if you want to learn EVERY aspect of librarianship (and have a second income either from a partner or another job) it is a great environment to cut your librarian teeth.  Now, I am also in a major metropolitan area, so I am sure that I get WAY more applications than some of our more far-flung facilities.  That might be something to consider--if you are really interested in being a prison librarian and don't mind moving to a small town, the competition for the open positions is much less.  P.S. Yes, the "Why on earth would you want to work in PRISON???" is a response that people give no matter your geographic location haha.

Question: What is the difference between state and federal prison libraries?
Answer: I don't believe I have ever met a federal prison librarian, and my only experience with knowing they have libraries is that one time a library patron gave me a library request from the Supermax.  Aside from being impressed that he carried it all that way, it did him no good because we have our own forms for library services.  (If any federal prison librarians are reading this blog, or any potential prison librarians are successful in getting a federal prison job, I would love to hear about your experiences there.)  Now I am familiar with the differences between a state facility (where I work) and a private prison facility where I met someone who worked there at a conference not too long ago.  In my state, the state libraries are fairly well-supported and regulated.  We receive a lot of support from the State Library and while our budget is not amazing, we have enough money to buy new books three or four times a year and we can usually get a good amount of books.  We also have a phenomenal acquisitions librarian at the State Library who keeps us in donations from all the public libraries, so I think we are doing pretty ok.  There is always room for more money in libraries, but we are not destitute by any means.  I believe the private facilities are mainly supported by donations, and unfortunately this is also the case at some state facilities as well, depending on the state.  Also, private prison salaries are on the whole, much lower because the profit is the bottom line in a private prison.  I do know that in the grand scheme of things, our prison library is fairly unique in the set-up we have and most prison libraries you apply to will have their own rules and quirks.  From what I hear on the Listerv, lots of prison libraries face many censorship challenges on a daily basis, so you have to be a really good advocate for Intellectual Freedom.

My favorite story to tell about what I learned about prison libraries in library school is: "The only time I ever heard anything about prison libraries is when one fellow student said 'If you go visit prison, don't wear orange pants!' and I thought 'Who owns orange pants anyway?'"

One good resource for All Things Prison Libraries is Prison-L.  I highly recommend that all potential prison librarians subscribe to it, because there are many interesting posts, and it is also a good link to current prison librarians if you have questions about anything in the field.  Many of the Big Wigs in the field post to it (including yours truly) and I have found it to be an excellent tool for connecting with like-minded librarians.

Thank you so much Andreas, for your kind words and thoughtful post that brought up some excellent questions for anyone contemplating diving into this oftentimes crazy world of prison libraries.  If you have any more questions, or would like any more tips on cover letters, interviews, etc. please let me know.  Good luck on your prison library job search, and remember, whatever is meant to happen will, and don't be surprised if it takes many moons haha.

Until next time!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The mean ones are my favorites!

Greetings and happy Sunday future prison librarians! This weekend I met a new friend while at outdoor yoga. We were chatting before the class started and it came up that I am a prison librarian and it turns out that during her attorney career she did criminal defense for a year so she is familiar with the types of people who are my patrons: "You either get the really nice and grateful ones or you get the super mean ones."
It is true, and there are an inordinate number of mean ones at my library. But early on in my career I decided that those would be my projects, and my goal was to, if not make them into nice ones, at least make them into tolerable ones so I could deal with them until they parolled or transferred to another facility. Plus, anyone can be nice to the nice ones and I like a good challenge.
My plan began very simply by making sure to smile, make eye contact and say hello to every person I saw in the library and out. Offender or not, most people have had it ingrained into them that the socially appropriate response when someone says hello is to say hello back. By quietly and unforcefully making it apparent that I am a pleasant person, I slowly began to realize my goal of making life in the library a lot easier on myself.
Another tactic I use is to make sure to walk around and make sure everyone is finding everything ok. Even if I had previously had an altercation with an offender, I made a special effort to talk to them in a non-threatening, I'm-here-to-help-you-with-your-information-needs way so that they would know that I didn't hold a grudge against them just because they were grumpy with me one time. This also helps model the behavior that I want to see from them which is a win-win. I believe the Dalai Lama said,  "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." Everyone has a bad day. When you work in prison, you absolutely can not go around burning bridges with everyone who annoys you. If you want to build professional collateral, show that you are the mature one who is willing to enforce good behavior and then move on once the bad behavior has stopped.
Another tool in my tool kit is a sense of humor. I think people respond much better to humor and when you can make them laugh they are more likely to pay attention to you. Now, not every situation is best handled this way (for example, seeing someone getting stabbed in the library would be a good example of where it would be better to not use humor) but if a patron is mad that they can't check out a book they found on the shelf because it's on hold for someone else, that would be a good way to diffuse it and move the conversation to something more positive.
I am pleased to report that some of my most annoying patrons when I first got there have become much more manageable and some even say "HI MS. LIBERRY LADY!" when they see me across the yard. When I tell them no yelling across the yard, they apologize and whisper it instead. It is very important to build good rapport with all patrons because you never know when the proverbial poop will hit the proverbial fan and you have to withdraw some of your professional collateral to save your life.
Until next time!