The art of assisting discovery

And so, Library Scientists, once more into the breach.

“We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.” I just quoted a lyric from the theme to Smokey & the Bandit. That’s sad. But it’s true. Usually we have 17 weeks to introduce this stuff. I applaud & admire you guys for cramming 17 weeks worth of Stuff into a paltry 10 weeks. Rather, I applaud your willingness to do so . You haven’t done it yet.




We’ve got 14 management principles to cover. That sounds like a lot, but many of them overlap, as ye shall surely see. But there are subtle nuances. Pay particular attention to the nuances. Not just in this course, but always.






can't_hearWe have but one mandatory Collaborate session, and that’s not going to come until later in the semester. We may, however, get together informally just to hear each others’ voices. Isn’t it strange that, in a university course, we need to go out of our way to hear each others’ voices? I think that’s strange.


The terrible results of online frustration.


Here’s hoping we all get along.  That’s important to me, believing as I do that you have to like each other to learn from each other.  That’s simple enough.  But it doesn’t always happen, as we know.  So many miscommunications happen between these keys and our emotions & brains.  Having pointed that out, I say here & now that when I mean something to be funny, I will use an ASCII smiley     :o) .  I will not do this always, because we’re all adults and, well, that gets tiresome.  But I will do it when necessary.  My sense of humor is decidedly dry; even in F-2-F situations, they can’t be sure.





It happened to me just today, in a bookstore.  The bookseller had spent about five minutes taking us all over the floor plan trying to locate one copy of a brand-new book and, for reasons inexplicable, says to me: “How many copies do you need, sir?”  Since she hadn’t found one yet, what comes out of my mouth was “Fifteen, if you got’em.”  My companion, who is walking behind me, laughs softly.  Says the bookseller: “OH!”  Meaning “What am I gonna do NOW?”  I quickly assure her that only one is required, as the intended recipient of the book has yet to master the technique of reading in stereo.  Relieved, the bookseller says, “OH!  You said that so seriously I thought you really needed 15!”  Says I:  “I’m good at that, huh?”  My companion laughs softly.

Frustration over miscommunication causes more harm than the threat of nuclear disarmament.      :o)

To all you people I haven’t seen, heard, or spoken to yet: welcome to the course.  Well, there is one I met, and recently.  A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of one students’ company.  If you’re interested, the post is here.


This kind of thing COULD get you an “A.”


Before August 7th rolls around, I hope that I’ve sufficiently enlightened & antagonized you to the point that you’re not sure if you just hate me a little or you’re certain you despise me with all of your heart.  I have this effect on people.  Why should you be an exception?  And the thing is, I don’t even have to try!  It’s the DNA.



But I do sincerely want you to learn.  So do your work, share ideas, and discern the difference between fact, opinion, and starry-eyed student idealism, and all may yet be well.  I’m looking forward to meeting you and learning a little about you.  Thank you for the opportunity.  And now I can’t get that Smokey & the Bandit song outta my head.

John Lennon as a prison Librarian: Or, A LUCKY MAN WHO MADE THE GRADE

Yesterday (Thursday the 21st), the student from San Fran stopped by to visit. He was waiting for me in the Lobby.  I recognized him by his Lennonesque spectacles.


He stayed for 4.5 hours, and needed to leave as he was given strict instructions to return his girlfriend’s car before sundown.  She lives in a part of the Commonwealth that until now I’d not heard of. Way Out West. (We eastern seaboard Massachusettsians are snobbish: anything further west than route 495 we don’t wanna hear about). I think he drove about 100 miles one-way.  We spent the time:

  • Answering his questions
  • Dealing with law library patrons
  • Examining books received for the humor-as-therapy course
  • Watching PowerPoint presentations created for the course
  • Discussing the ABLE MINDS consequential thinking seminar
  • Talking with some of my clerks

We ended the day by making a phone video out in front of the MCI-Norfolk sign, (a video that he promised to email me).

mci - norfolk

At one point, we stopped to answer the call, which is located upstairs in the teacher’s lounge. From that room, there are two large windows that give you a beautiful wide-screen prospect of the Norfolk quadrangle. He was enjoying this view when I emerged from the restroom. So we stood there for nearly 10 minutes, watching inmates walk the Quad while discussing the physical layout of the place. Then he asked, “Where’s their cafeteria?” something I wouldn’t have thought to bring up. The answer is–There ain’t one. Each housing unit has their own kitchen area, and enough tables to sit everyone (Units hold about 90 people). They bring the food from the “Mainline Kitchen,” wheeled on carts through a series of tunnels. They bring these carts up into each Unit via a dumbwaiter. This way, you avoid a gigantic cafeteria where inmates can meet with inmates from other Units, and you avoid enormous demonstrations and brawls between rival gangs and small fights that morph into riots. A very clever and forward-thinking design for 1926.


Anyway, we had as much fun as you can have locked inside an adult male medium-security penitentiary. He spent his first half-day in prison and, despite my best efforts to destroy his enthusiasm and altruistic ideals, he STILL wants to be a correctional Librarian.

A funny side note about the phrase ‘correctional library management.’ The distance learning Dean announced my course by that name on her blog, but didn’t define what it meant. When he saw the course title, the student confessed that he thought it meant a library manager’s disciplinary style, like bringing in a subordinate to your office to discuss ways in which his behavior in the library might be ‘corrected.’ I laughed, but agreed that a post with more background information about the course would have helped to clarify and might have enticed more folks to enroll. Never occurred to me that the adjective ‘correctional’ could mean anything other than ‘having to do with the Department of Correction.’

Before we left the school building, he asked me about how I set limits or professional boundaries. I discovered that the question was asked because he met my book binder and “I would have liked to have spent a little more time with him, as I’m a bookbinder, too.” I said I wish I’d known that, but he only had four hours and anyway he was the one who wanted to leave early to get GF’s car returned to her. I mean, he flew 2,200 miles, the least he coulda done was spend the day with us. But nooooooooooo….


There are many correctional Librarian job openings, so if he stays in The Golden Land & really wants the job, they’ll hire him. I do believe he’ll do just fine.  He’s kinda low-key & cautious, but probably I was too when I started. He’s got an active mind, and is keen to do programming, a discovery over which I rejoiced exceedingly, so he will keep himself busy and be an asset to the inmate population.

That’s only the second time I’ve had a student in, and the first time that I had one in BEFORE the course ran, which is a weird-but-enjoyable dynamic.

‘The Terminator’ as a genesis of serendipity

Sometimes, life conspires to surprise & delight us. This is one of those times.

Preparing for the SJSU course, I planned to contact the Principal Librarian for the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR). This person supervises approximately 135 senior librarians, librarians, and library technical assistants for the CDCR.

(Interesting side note: CDCR was referred to as the California Dept. of Corrections until Mr. Schwarzenegger’s election in 2003 as Governor. Shortly thereafter, ‘rehabilitation’ was tacked onto the end of the Department’s name).


For many years, the CA Principal Librarian was Jan Stuter, a nice helpful young lady who helped me coordinate many student tours of CA prisons. Jan has since retired, and in her place is the supremely-talented Brandy Buenafe, who has held the Principal Librarian position for about two years.

When I first discovered this a few months ago, Brandy’s name set off reverberations of recognition in the recesses of my increasingly-irrelevant medial temporal lobe. Since I recall a Brandy in one of my early distance-learning presentations, I suspected that she had been a former student of mine. A check of my previous rosters didn’t help, so I emailed her about it. Sure enough, she participated in the 2007 class.


In her iSchool ‘Community Profiles’ interview, Brandy notes that she had applied for a CDCR Librarian’s position while the course was still running, and disclosed this in her interview. When they decided to hire her, they told her they’d wait until she graduated, essentially holding the position for her until her degree was conferred.

Muy interesante.

It took her but a scant seven years to go from Librarian to Principal. That’s quick.

Congratulations, Brandy. We’ll do what we can to get you some intelligent, enthusiastic, and qualified candidates to fill your current vacancies.



And THANK YOU for posting CDCR openings on the Library Jobs in California blog:

CDCR Job Openings

“You’re cleared to land” Or, Into the Breach

The West Coast student has been cleared to visit, which is an unexpected and welcome surprise. Usually, the Dept. requires & appreciates more than a weeks’ heads-up to get the CJIS check completed. But everyone involved was accommodating, especially my supervisor who is all about transparency and community involvement.

Please understand, and make no mistake–When I started, “transparency” meant Scotch tape; “community involvement” meant attending Town Meeting. The times, they are a’changin’.

OZ  if I were you

I plan to tell his fellow “Correctional Library Management” students that, since he had the gumption to travel 2,200 miles to visit me, he gets an automatic “A.” We plan to make a cell phone video & post it, to prove he was actually here.

The young man will be here tomorrow. The past two weeks we’ve kept in touch via email & phone. He seems like a nice, intelligent sort. He professes and confesses a genuine interest in becoming a correctional Librarian.

I only hope I can talk him out of it.

Like Rain On Your Wedding Day

The San Jose class is a go, with 11 students.  It starts June 1st, ending August 7th.  Actually that statement is high-Larry-us.  The course officially begins months in advance, with all of your pre-course prep. 

San Jose State’s really got their ducks in a row with their distance learning program, they use the best communications technology available to optimize the student learning experience.  And the Learning Management Systems are not nearly as daunting as they used to be, for both student and instructor.

One student who lives on the West Coast emailed saying he’ll be in my neck of the woods in late May & could he come in to see the library?  I thought it would be too close notice, but Norfolk approved it.  I’m just waiting on the result of his background check.

An interesting side note:  If he has a criminal record, he can’t come in.  And isn’t that ironic?  Don’tcha think?  A little TOO ironic.

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.

“Do you ever actually see the inmates?” Or: PRISON MYTHS EXPLODED WHILE-YOU-WAIT

Friday at 2PM–as a favor to their Instructor who’s currently out of state–I’m meeting & greeting a class of 17 library science students from Boston’s Simmons College. They’re taking a class in Special Libraries and we’ve arranged to give them a tour of good ol’ MCI-Norfolk. Based on previous experiences with student tours, here’re some of the questions we’ve received:

“Have you ever been attacked?”

“Don’t you get scared in here?”

“Don’t you find it hard to censor material?”

“Are Massachusetts guards really the highest-paid in the country?”

“I know they can watch DVDs. Are they allowed to have iPods?”

“Why do you teach them to sue you?”

“Wouldn’t you agree that prisons as a concept are immoral?”

“Don’t you think they should lose their rights once they come to prison?”

“Why doesn’t corrections force prisoners to read and write?”


“Can they use the internet?”

“Do you really need a Master’s degree to work in a prison?”

“Why do we have to pay taxes so criminals can have law libraries?”

“How much does a prison librarian make?”

“Does corrections really rehabilitate anybody?”

“How can you take all the negativity?”

“I bet it’s never boring in here!”

“Can’t you find a decent job?”  (This one always stings….)

“Isn’t is weird being around murderers and child molesters all day long?”

“As a culture, aren’t we coddling criminals by giving them these nice libraries??”

“Why should criminals earn college diplomas?”

“They’re not the most honest people. Do they ever return anything?”

“Why should you care about these wackos?”

“How many of these guys can read?”

We’ll give them an hour tour of the place, including showing them the library in the Segregation Unit, and then end up in the School Building, where we’ll set up shop in the lending library (which will be closed for the afternoon).

We’ll finish the day letting them wander around a bit in the Lending Library and poke around in the collection. We’ll remember to remind them that Malcolm Little did lots of reading here, we’ll answer about 200 more questions, and we’ll just have ourselves one knee-slapping, gut-busting, heckuva good time!

MOLLYCODDLING MISCREANTS: Or, “Palm trees? In prison?”

If your own foibles strike you with bemused embarrassment, then the instant you realize that the current one you’ve been nurturing is particularly asinine, you face two rather similar choices:

1     Take your own life; or

2     Batter your bespattered self-esteem further by posting it on your blog

F’rinstance:  The first time I walked inside the courtyard of the California Institute for Men, I saw something I couldn’t believe–palm trees. They had palm trees in the prison. Everywhere you looked, there was another one. I thought (& nearly said out loud, thank God for small favors): “Palm trees? In a prison? I know California’s a permissive, libertarian land, but this is absurd! They really do mollycoddle criminals out here!”

In my cryptic defense, this was 2001, and it was my first time in CA. I’d only been there a week when these thoughts occurred to me. In that week leading up to that moment, I’d spent all my time in a Cal State-Fullerton computer lab learning PowerPoint and constructing a 63-slide presentation that I intended to use in my first-ever correctional library management course. Except for the morning walk to the school, I never saw the light of day–only the inside of that lab. Yes, of a morning I walked from the hotel & across the beautifully-landscaped eastern side of the campus. Yes, there were palm trees there! But these were the grounds of a major California university, and you’d expect to see palm trees in a place like that.

After the 6-day course was over, I had three days to myself before my return flight home. So I drove places. I walked places. And I saw my first palm trees outside of a prison. I began to see them in people’s yards, which I considered a tad extravagant. Until I realized what everyone else with commonsense already knew — they were in everyone’s yard. They were on the grounds of the In-N-Out burger chain. In the parking lots of used bookstores. Framing the front entrances of churches. They were so commonplace it became an odd site not to see them as part of the landscape. Finally, the light went on.

I’d realized that all my life I’d equated palm trees with luxury and leisure. It never occurred to me that palm trees were as ubiquitous here as evergreens & pines were back home. I thought you had to be stinking rich to own a palm tree. Myself, I blame Robin Leach.

That same day, we spent the afternoon at the CA Institute for Women. They had palm trees in their courtyard, too. The Lieutenant giving the tour told us of the time an inmate hid in one of these trees for nearly three full days, and no one but the inmates periodically sneaking food out to her knew where she was. I very much wanted to ask the good Lieutenant why for pity’s sake didn’t they cut the tree down, but dare not embarrass a fellow corrections employee who also happened to outrank me. But soon after the story I saw something that compelled comment — a palm tree right next to their outer-perimeter cyclone fence, a tree which had grown tall enough potentially to tempt some enterprising lady to shimmy up & leap over the razor wire and into freedom. When I took the Lieutenant aside & mentioned this, he sighed. “We’ve all told them again and again about that, but nothing gets done.” He then looked at me and repeated the same observation I’ve heard offered too many times in my career to count: “It’s corrections.’

Understood. “Palm trees in a prison! The very idea!”



Way Back When–before SJSU’s distance learning program took off into the stratosphere–I’d take the students out for a full-day field trip to two prisons. We’d meet administrators, enjoy a tour of the prisons, and end up in the libraries, where the librarians would give informative presentations and field questions. Now that we engage each other through an ethernet cable, those days are sadly over. A pity –prison tours helped make the course content more relevant for the students.

HOWEVER — we still can talk with a working prison librarian to see what it is they do all day, and what they have to say about it all. That’s where this assignment comes in. The purpose of the assignment is to discover how applicable the 14 management principles actually are in the correctional library environment.

Although you don’t need to set up a personal interview at their place of work, that would be ideal. Short of this, you may conduct the interview over the phone or via email. Whatever makes the most sense for you.

The only caveat is that you cannot interview me.

Click the link below & open the Directory of State Prison Libraries. Here you’ll find correctional librarians galore. Choose one. Contact them. Ask them politely to participate. And remember to thank your interview subject profusely for helping you to complete a course assignment.

It’s been our experience in the past that some librarians will have a lot to say. And others have very little to say. Let’s hope you all choose gregarious librarians who have no trouble talking about what it takes to do what they do.