Volume 29, Number 1, Spring 2007

Maryland Prison Libraries Prepare for the New Population

Glennor Shirley, Library Coordinator, MSDE Correctional Education Libraries

The majority of Maryland’s prison librarians are white females, older than the age of 45, with several entering prison librarianship after retirement.

Maryland’s prisons house 24,000 prisoners, including 7,300 older than 40 and 366 older than 60. Seventy-seven percent are black, 22 percent white, and 1 percent identify as "other." Caribbean, African, and Hispanic inmates often distance themselves from the African Americans, preferring to be called West Indian, African, or Latino, respectively.

The Hispanic population in our prisons is small but growing. In 2004, I used LSTA funds to develop a collection for Hispanics, inmates with disabilities, older inmates, inmates from various ethnic traditions, and materials on alternative life styles.

On one computer, we offer Recursos en Espanol, which includes an English-Spanish dictionary, directory information, library service description, and a list of Spanish titles. We added a Spanish legal dictionary to reference, printed flyers in Spanish, and produced a Spanish translation of our popular CD-ROM Discovering the Internet @ your library.

We purchased: large print books for older inmates and worked with the Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) to provide tapes and players, closed-caption videos, and materials on alternative lifestyles for two libraries.

We now notice many requests for materials to learn Spanish and other languages as inmates want to communicate with cell mates who do not speak English.

Books on sign language are always in demand. One cynical staff member declares: “This is so how they communicate among themselves, without the staff knowing what they are talking about.”

Prison libraries, such as those in Maryland, are making inroads into serving nontraditional customers; others encounter attitude and funding barriers. Our prisons are no different from public libraries that struggle with outreach services.

For more information, contact Glennor Shirley or check the ALA Office of Literacy and Outreach Services article.