Prison Libraries

The Surprising Potential of a Prison Library

Article in the Boston Globe by Avi Steinberg who made a name for himself as a prison librarian.

People tend to see a prison as a monolithic institution, a place solely dedicated to locking criminals up. But many inmates experience prison in a more dynamic way, as a clash between institutions. And what I experienced every day was that, in the collision between the institution of prison and the institution-within-the-institution, the library, something constructive and potentially long-lasting was being formed.

Prison libraries aren’t miracle factories. The day-to-day was often far from inspiring. Glossy magazines and mindless movies were, for many, the main attraction. Pimp memoirs were among the most frequently requested books. And yet, even an inmate motivated by nothing more than a desire to watch “The Incredible Hulk” in the back room of the library was much more likely to come across something educational — a book, a program, a mentor — once he entered the library space. Just as important, this inmate was becoming a loyal patron of the library, something he could carry with him to the outside world, and perhaps pass on to his children.

The Desk Setup: A Look At Librarian Computers

The Desk Setup

Like many technologists, I may have had some vague notion that librarians had something to contribute to discussions about information and metadata and standards and access, but my concept of what librarians did and what they knew probably had more to do with stereotypes and anecdote than on an understanding of reality. Which is a shame. Although in the last few years I think we’ve done a really good job of making clearer connections between libraries and technology, I don’t think anyone is surprised when librarians are omitted from discussions about and between prominent technologists, such as the one facilitated by the Setup. (Note: by “librarians” I mean anyone who works in, with, or for libraries. Hat tip to Eli Neiburger for saying what I’d been thinking, only less clearly, for some time before he said those words out loud.)

'Running The Books' In A Prison Library

'Running The Books' In A Prison Library
When Avi Steinberg graduated from Harvard, he didn't know what to do next — so he took a job as a prison librarian.

An Essay from The Prison-Librarian-Author

A week or so ago, I posted information about a new book coming out, a first-hand account of a prison librarian entitled "Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian".

Last week's NY TImes Magazine has a piece by the author, Avi Steinberg, which you might enjoy here. Here's a portion:

You know you’re not doing well when a prisoner regards you with pity. When a man in an oversize prison uniform — a man who could narrate the gruesome entirety of his life through the scars on his body — gives you the once-over and says: “You O.K., pal? You don’t look too good,” you know you’re in trouble.

Prison was doing me in. Although I’d taken the job as a librarian in a Boston prison largely for health insurance, I hadn’t actually needed medical care until I did. After a year and half in the joint, I was subsisting by the grace of a dream team of health care professionals: allergists, infectious-disease specialists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, orthopedists, off-duty nurses, chiropractors, Internet quacks, back doctors, front doctors, head doctors. I’d even consulted an OB-GYN.

Connecticut Prisons to Review Library Policy

Following up on yesterday's LISNews story that found inmates had unrestricted access to works depicting graphic violence in CT prison libraries, the state Department of Correction is revising its library policy in the wake of an Associated Press investigation.

Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he met with Correction Commissioner Leo Arnone for an hour Friday after learning that books such as Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," a literary classic about a 1959 killing in Kansas, were among the department's library holdings.

Update from MSNBC.

Connecticut Prison Inmates Reading True Crime And Other Violent Books

Connecticut Prison Inmates Reading True Crime And Other Violent Books
Inmates in Connecticut prisons have access to true crime books and works of fiction that depict murder and graphic violence, with no apparent restrictions based on a reader's criminal history, according to a review of the prison library system by The Associated Press.

The First-Person Prison Librarian

New book coming out in mid-October..."Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian" by Avi Steinberg.

Book summary from Edelweiss: Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to Harvard, he has only a senior thesis essay on Bugs Bunny to show for his effort. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing. And his romantic existence as a freelance obituary writer just isn’t cutting it. Seeking direction—and dental insurance—Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison.

E-books in a Correctional Setting: a niche market

Excerpt from article at Corrections.com

I immediately saw the advantage of e-books in the prison setting. If each inmate could have a library of over 1,000 titles in one small e-book reader, it would cut down on hiding contraband among the books (such as sandpaper to erase their uniform logo), remove the unsanitary habit of reading books in the rest-room, cut down on repairing books (averaging 20% or over 1,200 books destroyed each year), free up space by limiting the 3 X 8 foot long bookshelves that only hold 640 books for 100 inmates in each unit, encourage struggling readers to listen to a book while reading the text on the screen, and, finally, allow anyone to increase the size of the font so LARGE PRINT will never be limited to a few titles!

Full article

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian

Avi Steinberg is stumped. After defecting from yeshiva to Harvard, he has only a senior thesis essay on Bugs Bunny to show for his effort. While his friends and classmates advance in the world, he remains stuck at a crossroads, unable to meet the lofty expectations of his Orthodox Jewish upbringing. And his romantic existence as a freelance obituary writer just isn’t cutting it. Seeking direction—and dental insurance—Steinberg takes a job as a librarian in a tough Boston prison.

Inmate on Trial for Attack on Prison Librarian

ROCKLAND, Maine — Although she said she never cried that day, a prison librarian who was tied to her desk for seven hours, threatened, cut and hit by an inmate on June 30, 2008, said Tuesday during court testimony that she was just happy to have survived.

“I’m grateful to be alive, and I appreciate every breath. I was back into the facility in 48 hours,” Jacqueline Weddle said during the second day of the trial against inmate Michael Chasse.

“I thought that I would at some point die,” she told jurors in Knox County Superior Court.

Chasse is charged with several counts of assault, kidnapping and terrorizing for allegedly holding Weddle and fellow inmate Ryan Currier hostage in an office at the Maine State Prison library.

Weddle was the first witness called Tuesday in the trial that is expected to last more than a week.

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