Thursday, September 24, 2009

Recent Picks and Pans:

Service to a blind inmate has taught me a great deal about library collections: what appeals, what falls flat. It has also given me a renewed interest in individual needs. This inmate enjoyed Star Wars, Phantom Menace: Episode One on an Mp3 player and wanted the sequel. Some books from our Braille collection (Harry Potter series) were okay but not exactly right. He'd like them in audio. Thanks to the techies in Inmate Services, he can hear them on an MP3 player!!!

With a huge group to serve, individual preferences are often overlooked. We do find ways to keep individual picks in mind when we pack our books, load the book carts or do face to face service. We can often match a request for author, if not specific title.

In a public branch, a user can return again and again and develop a relationship with staff to gain exactly what they need or "more of the same."

Precise matching of material to user is very problematic in a jail setting. Yet, surprisingly, if we bring a wide enough variety of the best we have, the needs of individual inmates are often met.

A recent conversation with an inmate proved the importance of selecting meaningful material--not just the latest fad. This man had scored a copy of, "I'm Okay, You're Okay" from the book cart. He loved the book and it had sparked self-reflection on his part.

This simple yet profound interaction of between librarian and user, book and mind says a great deal about the importance of libraries in jails. Here is an inmate who is searching for wisdom and sees others as important as himself. He asked for many classics and just plain good stories, as well. He obviously cares about other people and may spread the sanity contained in, "I'm Okay, You're Okay," to others in his "house."

Every community of people trades stories, the jail is no exception and the library service plays a role in sparking the imagination of others. A young man in minimum has been taking children's stories we bring to the cart and embellishing on them with both drawings and his words and telling stories to his bunk mates--just like they were gathered around a camp fire.

We're in the business of art education, as well! As our team was restocking the book cart in Maximum Security, an inmate asked his cellie to show us some of his pencil portraits. He showed us a curvaceous fantasy woman and an excellent depiction of Michael Jackson. This was his way of expressing his need for Art books. Luckily some good material was donated and we delivered it today to his deputy: an excellent book on the art and sculpture of Florence and an exhibition book on Vermeer.

Were there any pans? One can assume the 3-book stacks tied up in old waist-bands to use as push-up blocks are NOT the pods' favorite books. I've been waiting for the right reader to latch onto the biography of Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, but that person hasn't come along. I'm not sure if anyone is willing to be seen holding the hairy romance by C.J. Barry, Unearthed, Unraveled, Unleashed! but some inmate is sure to surprise me.