Prison Librarian Presentation: Seven Months Inside

Michelle De Agostini didn’t go into library school intending to become a prison librarian, but a series of events lead her to this interesting and rewarding position. Her journey began as a volunteer for the GELA Prison Libraries Project, providing library services to the Edmonton Institution for Women, the Edmonton Remand Centre and, where Michelle has been employed for the last 7 months, the Edmonton Institution (the regional federal maximum security prison for men).

Whereas minimum or medium security facilities run their libraries more like public libraries, maximum security institutions greatly restrict the movement of their inmates, so Michelle personally delivers and retrieves materials from her clients after they have made requests from a database, using a computer accessible in their respective units…and no, they do not have internet access! Although there are security concerns, Michelle is treated with respect by the inmates, and if she ever feels she needs it, she always has her panic button.

Michelle had her work cut out for her coming into the position. The previous “librarian” was an army retiree who “liked books”, so she had to create library policies and procedures from scratch. She also had to replace most of the collection with more current materials, including swapping out the 1999 version of the Criminal Code for a more recent one. Michelle also started book clubs to encourage reading (which reduces recidivism, according to studies), and to help build empathy and develop pro-social skills. Having a tiny collections budget, they library is happy to receive donations, but within parameters: paper back novels only. And, as space is very limited, Michelle has to be selective.

Below is a list of requested titles, and they will also take text books or study guides up to 4 years old. Please, no old National Geographic or science magazines!

  • A complete set of Harry Potter books
  • Superhero comic books (Marvel and DC)
  • An up-to-date world atlas (i.e. printed after 1995)
  • The Art of War by Sun Tzu
  • Ulysses by James Joyce
  • Books about rappers
  • The Rose That Grew From Concrete by Tupac Shakur
  • The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

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