Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Library Observation: Prison Library

I have decided that one of the libraries I will be observing will be at a prison facility.  Prison libraries have a long history, one that is as long as our traditional public library model.  As early as 1825, correctional institutions in the U.S. have had libraries.  Originally the texts were all spiritual in nature but the idea was to help "reform" the inmate.  In the 1840s, Eliza Farnham began to innovate at the Sing Sing prison in New York where she introduced non-spiritual texts for the first time.  This, naturally, created an uproar.  Even though she was eventually forced out of her position due to community and national pressure, her efforts paved the way for prison librarianship.

Steadily, Farnham's ideas caught on and the prison library was seen not only as a tool for spiritual reform but also something to fit the recreational and educational needs of the inmates.

Today, correctionallibrarianship faces difficult issues as the prison system model shifts from rehabilitation to retributative to re-entry.  Tight budgets and behavior compliance are constantly in the background in trying to serve this needy population.

The ALA has published guidelines for prison librarianship with the most recent being the 1992 edition.

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