LEARN, BABY, LEARN: Or, “Don’t they teach you ANYTHING in Library School?”

[In which your Beleaguered Instructor gets to play ‘Sage on the Stage’ with an MLS candidate, and discovers that there’s hope yet for the Human Family….]

A few weeks ago, A.D. gets a call from Shelley Quezada, who is the Consultant to the Underserved for the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. Shelley is a huge proponent of correctional libraries, and teaches about them in one of her Simmons College courses.

She asks A.D. if she will host Kay, one of her students who is interested in correctional Librarianship. Kay has a library management assignment and needs to learn something of the management concerns of prison librarians. Shelley asks A.D. to take this interview because–apart from being a former student of hers–Shelley knows that A.D. is herself a huge proponent of correctional libraries and the potential they have to fix broken lives.

library alcatraz

So this afternoon, Kay visits the minimum-security prison next door to ask our brand-spanking-new Librarian A.D. some pointed questions about correctional librarianship. Recognizing that she IS brand-spanking new, A.D. has the presence of mind to ask me along for the interview to field any questions of which she might not know the answers.

During the 1.5 hour interview, we discuss the following:

  • Service Philosophy (what Kay calls “management style”)
  • Collection Development Policy
  • Budgeting
  • Working with other prison departments
  • Supervising inmate workers
  • Being supervised by DOC managers
  • Library Programming
  • Acquisitions Sources (including donations)
  • Professional Connection (e.g., librarian’s meetings)
  • Censorship
  • Differences between public/correctional librarianship

Kay seems enthusiastic enough about the assignment and about our responses, at one point saying, “This is one paper I’m looking forward to writing!” As the afternoon continued, it becomes clear that she’s not just fulfilling an assignment; she seems genuinely interested in what prison librarians do. As to whether she’s equally interested in becoming a correctional employee, time will tell.

Kay had some last-minute questions about square footage of the Lending Library and other logistics. A.D. graciously offers her work email so that these questions can be answered later.

And an hour-and-a-half is not a lot of time to talk about what it takes to be a correctional employee. We barely touched upon security concerns of the library and of the Librarian, which is a shame. But we were there to answer question posed to us by a library science student, and LIS students are not trained to ask questions about security aspects of this job.

One aspect of corrections that A.D. emphasized for this student is the loneliness of the work. You’re a one-person, one-professional library. And when you’re brand-spanking new to corrections, being by yourself is at times overwhelming, and not a little intimidating. You have little to rely on but yourself, and any inmate clerks who may have been working in the Library before the hiring of a professional Librarian.

This is why an internship in correctional library management is so important to understanding all that corrections expects and requires of its Librarians. Please heed this advice — If you’re truly interested in working for corrections, an internship in correctional library management cannot be overstressed. Get an internship, or create one.

LIBRARIES WITHOUT WALLS: An Internship at Oshkosh Correctional Facility


A.D. had such an internship, a five-month stint at another nearby prison. As she admitted to Kay, it was that experience that helped her decide that corrections was her cup of tea.

As the interview progressed, something happened for me that I had not anticipated. As I listened to A.D.’s responses, I began to feel proud that I was sitting alongside her fielding these questions. She continually impressed me with her view that a correctional library is meant to help correct anti-social thinking, and is not a library that just happens to be in a prison. A.D. came to her internship in correctional library management with that attitude, was hired by the MA DOC with that attitude, and is now applying that attitude to library services at her prison. Her prisoners — and the public at large — will be the beneficiaries of her desire and efforts to help those who accept help.

In my experience, few library science students — and even fewer transplants from the public library world — ever understand or care to learn about the power of correctional librarianship to correct deviant thinking and be a part of the larger prison effort to re-build lives destroyed by criminal mentality. A.D. gets this, and because she gets this,  she’s earned my respect.