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Books Behind Bars

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Rikers Island Prison ComplexRikers Island Prison ComplexI spent the first week of March working with the Correctional Services Librarian at the New York Public Library. It was part of an internship through the University of Michigan's School of Information designed to be carried out during our alternative spring break week.

Some of my time was spent answering letters from inmates from Correctional Facilities at various locations throughout New York State. Most of the inmate letters are fascinating. The penmanship is painstakingly neat, and the language formal but completely lacking in grammar skills. From one inmate:

"I am do to be release in the couple of weeks. And I'am in desperate need of the Connection book, because I'am in need of programs that would assist me back into society..."

These letters are hard evidence of the need for a program like the Correctional Services one here. Most of the letters are requesting the Connections 2010 book published by NYPL which is "a guide for formerly incarcerated people to information sources in NYC," and includes information on housing, education, financial assistance, finding employment, and other city services.

My second day was spent at Rikers Island, NYC's main jail complex which at any given time houses 13,000-18,000 inmates. Along with my mentor and two other volunteers we helped organize the school library in the female house, Rose M. Singer Center. Women aged 16-21 use the library in conjunction with the high school within the jail. It was our job to organize the books into subjects including Class Sets, Plays/Classics, General Fiction, Urban Fiction, Biography, Spanish, Nonfiction, and Skills. Shelving space is at a premium, and there is a dire need for new books that will be more relevant to the women.

Tomorrow I will again travel to Rikers (subway to Queens, bus to Rikers, lots of checkpoints and gates, then bus to the individual facility), this time to push the book cart in the men's house. Details to come.

Comments

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Such important work

Great post, and thanks for letting us know about the important work done by NYPL's Correctional Services staff, interns, and volunteers! Brigid Cahalan

Books Behind Bars

Jamie, thank you for the wonderful post. I've volunteered in the past with the non-profit program Books Through Bars, and had a similar experience seeing prisoners' letters. It's great to see the library is committed to meet the educational and informational demands of the incarcerated population! Laura Ruttum

Every prison librarian should

Every prison librarian should go to writeaprisoner and check out their Books Behind Bars page. This is a free online listing service for prison libraries to list what books they need and it is also free for those who wish to send books to see what is needed by a prison. This is a great program which doesn't cost any money.

Libraries Rikers Island

New York State is proposing doing away wth law libraries in New York State counties. What can be done and at present is there a libraruy for incarcerated people onn the island with books of a general nature?

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