Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Prison Library--What Does it REALLY Look Like?

Greetings future prison librarians!  At the request of a loyal follower, this blog will be about what it actually looks like inside a prison library, at least, in my experience....

When I was hired as a prison librarian, it was the first job where I was employed for six weeks before I even saw what the library looked like.  My interview was conducted in the admin area, and then I was sent right to basic training, which was not held in the library.  Finally, I got to see the library on the "job shadow" day of basic training.  Unfortunately, my supervisor was on her weekend that day, so I sat in the library doing my best Billy Idol impression and singing "Shadow-ing my-sel-elf!" to the tune of "Dancing with Myself."  It was good times.  But, I digress.

When I finally did get to see the library, I was pretty impressed.  We have a fairly large space with a huge row of south-facing windows that let in a lot of natural light.  That probably explains why our multitude of plants are thriving.  That, and the fact that I am not responsible for their care and maintenance, because if it were up to me they would probably be dead since I am not that good at remembering to feed things that can't ask for it.  I guess doubly lucky for the plants, I have one library clerk who says she can hear them screaming when they are thirsty.  She is the best plant care-taker haha.  Also an interesting note-the plants that live in the 700 and 800 sections are thriving due to their proximity to the art and poetry books.  Conversely, the plants that live by the 300 section are rather thin and scraggly comparatively.  I guess they don't like true crime books.

In our library, we have fiction on one side, a huge horseshoe-shaped circulation desk in the middle and the non-fiction on the other side.  The back wall has our Reference section, as well as phone books, newspapers, and back issues of magazines.  We rely pretty heavily on print reference material and even though I have weeded a lot of it, we still have two full shelves of reference books.

While we do not have much wall space thanks to book shelves and windows, what wall space we do have is filled with offender art and various reading-related posters I have picked up for free at conferences.  My absolute favorite one is a poster with a smiling red fish on a black background that says "Reading Makes Me Happy."  On our magazine spinner one of the clerks made reproductions of the librarians out of construction paper by a sign that says "Ninja Librarians count pages.  Did you??" to help remind patrons to check all pages of magazines to avoid being charged for damages.  This sign cracks me up because the clerks decided that my favorite color is pink (another incorrect guess in the long line of things they try to figure out about me) but I let it go, so now I am a blond-ponytailed pink and black ninja.  Hey, whatever works to make our patrons remember to check for damage.

In our library we also have some audiovisual materials and we have two DVD players and TVs and four CD players for our patrons' use.  We have two stand-alone computers (not hooked up to the internet) so patrons can read prison rules and use CD-ROMs that come with library materials.  Music is hugely popular in our library and it is rare that all the CD players are not being used during a library hour.  We also have two OPACs (Online Public Access Catalogs for those of you who may not be familiar with the lingo) that allow patrons to search our catalog and place books on hold.  Finally, we have three clerk computers at the circulation desk, and sometimes we have patrons hop on the south one, not realizing that it is not for patron use.

There are approximately 8 stand-alone tables with four chairs each for patrons to use while they are there.  I have seen some prison libraries that have couches, but in a women's facility that would promote too much canoodling.  Our library shelves are approximately 1/2-3/4 full on any given day because we don't have enough books for our population size and we did a huge weed and have not yet been able to catalog all the backlog of new books due to being short-staffed.  Some other prison libraries I have seen have shelves that are overflowing.  It just all depends on the library staff and how much time and desire they have to weed their collection.  Mostly time. :-)

Now, in my opinion, I have one of the nicest prison libraries I have ever seen.  We are on the second floor of the programs building so we have a great view.  Not all prison libraries are like this, and if at all possible you should see if you can see the library prior to accepting the position.  Some of the other prison and jail libraries I have seen are in the basement with no windows, in inside areas with no outside view windows, or are so tiny that you can't move around without bumping into an offender which is problematic when there is a no-touching rule in prison.  Most of the libraries in my state are very nice, and the library staff do an awesome job making them warm and inviting spaces in a cold and oftentimes scary place.

I am interested in descriptions of prison libraries in other states, and I am sure the other readers would be interested in hearing them as well.  If you would like to describe your library for our readers, please feel free!  Until next time!

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