Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Censorship in prison libraries

Corrine Calvert

Bullinger, D., & Scott, K. (2017). Censorship in prison libraries. Retrieved from: https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/96033/2017_MastersShowcasePoster_Bullinger_and_Scott.pdf?sequence=2

Summary: Prison libraries face a variety of censorship and intellectual freedom challenges. Formal collection development policies are lacking, and librarians must instead follow the regulations for each institution. Several topics are censored or banned, including pornography, content about social activism, theories of revolution, books which glamorize crime, and material that is considered a threat to security. Prison librarians don’t have final say on purchase orders and have limited funds for new materials. They often rely on donations, NGOs, and religious groups for new materials. Prisoners may see librarians as untrustworthy, which could be valid, since some prison libraries track borrower data and circulation records. ALA guidelines revised their Prisoner Right to Read Statement in 2010. It defends prisoners’ intellectual freedom, discourages censorship, and focuses on upholding the security of the institution. IFLA Guidelines for Library Services to Prisoners, revised in 2005, focus on improving literacy skills, lifelong learning, education levels, and personal lives, similar to the model of the public library. The authors conclude that firm collection development and censorship policies should be in place; that prison librarians should work with prison staff to ensure an environment that is safe and fosters learning; and that NGO partnerships can help provide current, relevant materials that support these unique patrons’ interests and learning goals.

Evaluation: My takeaway is that prison librarians have an extremely difficult job, and that they may have to fight harder to uphold the values of the library in their institutions. I was appalled although not exactly surprised that many prison libraries keep circulation data. I feel this is something that needs to stop, both in order to maintain the values of intellectual freedom and also to build trust among the patrons of the prison library. Although this is perhaps closer to an infographic than an article, I appreciated the efficient delivery of eye-opening data.

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