The Jails Team had a "great books" moment during yesterday's service. It's when we look up toward the sky (or cement ceiling) and close our eyes, amazed by the lollapalooza in front of us. You might see a simple book cart! It might seem like "slim pickins'" compared to a public library, but there is always something "impressive" about the combination of books that wind up on our shelves or are requested by our readers.
A young man asks for Tom Sawyer. His cellmate reads Russian, and turns in Romeo and Juliet, saying it was too difficult. Can we find some Shakespeare in Russian? Another sweeps up all the Jackie Collins he can find. A person wants some fiction about the street and we find a copy of Black Girl Lost. It takes some convincing that Donald Goines will substitute for Iceberg Slim.
Another man is intrigued by a book on the philosophical backgrounds of Black Identity. A person holds Brave New World and wants to know how it compares to Orwell's 1984. Janet Evanovich has several people exclaiming how fun she is to read. Someone chides us for not bringing Stephen Cannell, and says he's been asking and asking. He has very specific tastes and is always trying out new authors, but can never get enough from the "first-come/first-serve" method which obtains at the book cart.
A bilingual reader kneels at the cart with Burro Genio, by Victor Villasenor, in his hands. Then he comes around to my side and quietly asks asks what the Aeneid is about. The little parrot on my shoulder wants to say, "This is a central text to Western Civilization." Is that any kind of recommendation? What IS the book about? It's a great story of honor and loyalty. It's a character-study like a novel but written in beautiful poetry. It's a fantasy of historical and spiritual conflict. I say some mish-mash of the above, nothing to do justice to this poem. Luckily, he decides to take it and give it a try.
has just made our magazine shelves sizzle with a great donation. It's true, the covers may soon be plastered to jail cell walls, (with the possible exception of the Buddha,) but that beats lying face down in your recycling bin!
Our local 1/2 Price book store also keeps us in the good graces of comic book fans at the jail. Check this out:
In the land of latex, creativity comes in surprising forms. The Jails Team found this box during a book delivery. Someone who likes high-speed driving and sports cars tagged this box with some cool designs.
Service without guile is as important as service with a smile. "Skillful deceit," as Webster defines it, finds its way into the work-place in a dazzling array of behaviors, some of them functional and some dysfunctional.
This post won't bother separating the useful from the obstructive, the "good" from the "bad." (Guile often seems beneficial on the surface. Efficiency often improves when the restless workers are in conflict with each other, vying for approval and respect within the hierarchy. Colonial power structures maintained control that way and flowered into vast bureaucracies where guile took the place of labor.) Any institution can become this way, where we end up workin' for the man, rather than workin' as the man. The work of pleasing and performing is not the work, itself. Why is dishonest behavior needed in the work-place at all. Who needs it?
Library Patrons do not benefit from guile; they genuinely seek honest, open smiles from employees who offer friendly directions or guidance through the library environment.
If staff goes outside the library to provide service (as it does to our incarcerated patrons at the jail,) deceptive charm and the judgmental agenda are noticeable a mile away. We are not judge or jury. The inmates "time" was assigned by others. We may want to help, but we are not on a rehabilitative task force. Our job is to create library-patron relationships with our user group, a neutrality promoted by ALA members who serve Special Populations. For incarcerated readers--like anyone else--true help is welcome, while the sharp-toned agents of Self-Improvement are viewed with suspicion.
A few months ago, some guys asked our team if we were missionaries! Was it the starched white shirts and black neckties?
Say we're just stressed out and feelin' stingy. Even the brittle, stressed-out minds of people bound by a code of conduct (which usually includes high expectations of others,) can disrupt service and antagonize patrons. Library users in jail have heightened sensitivity to punitive attitudes and know when rules are motivated by fair-play or enforced by false pride. The latter generates resistance all around.
The Jails Team must periodically assess their own behaviors and feelings to see if their service is punitive and constrained (to please hidden agenda) or generous and responsive to what the users want. Effective management recognizes guile and does not reward it or foster the confusion by saying, "Change is Good." Effective leaders help troubled teams step forward to honest self-appraisal and authentic adaptation to what is real.
Here is a typical spread of "Returns" from a day at the Jail. Three houses or cell blocks receive and return books on a given day. 5 carts stuffed top to bottom with paperbacks prove how important it is to have support staff in place "back at the ranch." All people involved are fairly flexible and pitch in to help each other.
Once the books are unloaded, organized on carts and reshelved, the team immediately begins to select and pack books for the next visit. This ebb and flow from the collection (with intensive weeding every time) is routine. Large depletions result in empty shelves, then suddenly we need overflow carts because the shelves are full.
Both inmates and deputies help us keep the books in motion. Some podworkers even separate damaged paperbacks from those in good condition, making it easier to deal with copious returns.
We all find ways to keep the springs in working order.
Please mail Donations to JAILS - 2450 Stevenson Blvd. Fremont CA 94538. This Jails Service is brought to you by Marta, Raul, Jennifer, Dan, Angela, Joan, Patricia, Gina, Lisa, Sherryl and the fine folks at Inmate Services! Thanks to Friends of Jails: Karmann, Don, Steve, Vidya, Susan, Mira, Donna, Carolyn, Larry, Zack, Amy, Alice, Monica, Lyn, Julie, Gary and Richard.