What You Missed at the Public Library and Jail Prison Partnership Pre-conference


by Annette Greenway, Abbeville County Public Library

Through the generosity of an LSTA grant administered through the South Carolina State Library, I was able to travel to Anaheim in June to attend the American Library Association (ALA) Conference. I also got to attend a pre-conference called The Nuts and Bolts of Building a Public Library and Jail/Prison Partnership. It was presented by the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA), a division of ALA, and included several speakers who shared information about their experiences working in correctional settings. I'd like to share four main areas of consideration for anyone who could not attend the conference, but may be interested in forming a partnership of this type.

Here's what I took away:

If you're interested in starting a partnership with your local prison, you've got to start by contacting the detention facility and starting a discussion about how the library can best support the mission of the institution. Selling safety to the facility will help get your foot in the door. You may be able to provide them with testimony from other prison officials about how these types of programs have been helpful in providing a safer environment in their facilities.
There are different levels of partnerships. A library can provide information about library services to those who are leaving the facility, offer a one-time program at the facility, or develop more structured, on-going programs at the facility.

There are several essential skills needed to develop such partnerships. Good communication is essential and includes learning the vocabulary of partners. Other essential skills include patience, adaptability, creativity, and endurance. Patience and endurance are often needed as it can take a long time to develop enough trust within the facility in order to get the go-ahead to implement your ideas. Creativity and endurance are valuable when it comes to adapting programs and services in a setting with much less flexibility than a public library.

Librarians who provide services in these types of settings seem to find the work very rewarding. This was truly a passionate group and several of those in attendance funded their trip themselves. Much too quickly, our time together was over.

My first national conference experience was everything I could have expected. During the conference, I was also able to attend several programs on teen services and one on serving adult learners in the public library. I brought back many great ideas. I was also able to hear one of my favorite writers, John Irving, speak. Although I am a very introverted person by nature, I found it easy to strike up conversations with other librarians. Each of them seemed really interested in their work and in mine.

This was my first trip to California and I really wanted to see some of the coast. I went on a short tour one afternoon after the conference. There were three other people on the tour with me and they all happened to be there for the conference. While we were riding in the tour van, we began a discussion about books and libraries and all the things that libraries offer these days. Our tour guide said she had not been to the library in a long time, but planned to make a trip to her local library as soon as possible. Outreach happens even in our down-time!

For more information about the pre-conference on Public Library and Jail/Prison Partnerships and for more ideas on starting a partnership in your areas, feel free to contact me at annette@abbevillecounty.org or check out the ALA's Prison L and YALSA Lockdown listservs.