Prison Libraries

In 2010, over 2.25 million adults were incarcerated in the United States. The American Library Association, through its members, works to provide library services to these persons, as well as their families. ALA policy 8.2 (formerly 52.1) states, "The American Library Association encourages public libraries and systems to extend their services to residents of jails and other detention facilities within their taxing areas."  Also, the Intellectual Freedom Committee has interpreted the Library Bill of Rights to include Prisoners' Right to Read.

The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) is the ALA membership division that represents state library agencies, specialized library agencies, multitype library cooperatives, and independent librarians. Specialized library agencies are those organizations that provide materials and services to meet the information needs of persons whose access to library services and materials is limited because of confinement, sensory, mental, physical, health, or behavioral conditions. As a type-of-library division, ASCLA is empowered by the ALA Council to establish standards of service for libraries in correctional institutions. Formerly part of the Libraries Serving Special Populations Section (LSSPS), two interest groups are currently active:

In addition, ALA's Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS) supports, serves, and promotes adult literacy and equity of information access initiatives for traditionally underserved populations through training, information resources, and technical assistance.

Standards I Resources I Selection and Collection Development I Prisoners Book Donation Resources


The Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA, a division of ALA)  has prepared the following standards of service libraries in correctional institutions.

Lehmann, Vibeke and Joanne Locke.  Guidelines for Library Services to Prisoners. 3rd Edition. IFLA Professional Reports, No. 92. 2005.

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Online Articles

Austin, Jeanie. "Critical Issues in Juvenile Detention Center Libraries." The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, posted July 25, 2012. (Accessed January 31, 2013)

"Behind the Walls @ Your Library" in  OLOS Columns. Ten columns written between 2004 and 2008 by Glennor Shirley and Joseph Bouchard, Jeannette Larson, and Barbara Lipsley, including:

Conrad, Suzanna. Collection Development and Circulation Policies in Prison Libraries: An Exploratory Survey of Librarians in US Correctional Institutions. The Library Quarterly , Vol. 82, No. 4 (October 2012), pp. 407-427  (Accessed January 31, 2013)

Lehmann, Vibeke. Planning and Implementing Prison Libraries: Strategies and Resources. Paper presented at the 2003 IFLA Conference in Berlin. (Accessed February 4, 2013)

Lilienthal, Stephen M.  "Prison and Libraries: Public Service Inside and Out." Library Journal, posted February 4, 2013. (Accessed Sept. 11, 2013)

Pew Center on the States. Public Safety Performance Project. One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008.  Washington, DC: Pew, 2008. (Accessed February 5, 2013)

Selected Print Bibliography

Note: Additional resources may be found in the Library Services to the Incarcerated list in OCLC's WorldCat.

Clark, Sheila and Erica MacCreaigh.  Library Services to the Incarcerated: Applying the Public Library Model in Correctional Facility Libraries. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited, 2006.

Dowling, Brendan. "Public Libraries and the Ex-Offender." Public Libraries, Nov/Dec 2007. (Pages 44-48 of the 84-page PDF, 2.7MB).

Gilman, Isaac. "Beyond Books: Restorative Librarianship in Juvenile Detention Centers." Public Libraries, v. 47, no. 1 (January/February 2008), p. 59-66. (Pages 59-66 of the 100-page PDF, 3.7MB)

Jones, Patrick. “Reaching Out to Young Adults in Jail,” Young Adult Library Services 3, no. 1 (2004): 16-19.

Lehmann, Vibeke, ed. "Library and Information Services to Incarcerated Persons: Global Perspectives," Library Trends, Vol. 59, no. 3, Winter 2011 (entire issue).  List of Contents

Marshall, Aileen M.J. 2011. "Library Services in Correctional Settings". Information Outlook. 15, no. 1: 24-26.

Vogel, Brenda.The Prison Library Primer: A Program for the Twenty-First Century. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009.

Vogel, Brenda. Down for the Count: A Prison Library Handbook. Lanham, MD:Scarecrow Press, 1995.


Web-based resources

Note: Additional information on prison libraries using collected Delicious tags.

American Association of Law Libraries. Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section. Standing Committee on Law Library Service to Institution Residents. Directory of Law Libraries Serving Prisoners. (Accessed February 5, 2013)

ALA Office for Library Outreach Services (OLOS). Outreach Resources for Services to Incarcerated People and Ex-Offenders.

Association for Library Service to Children. The Service Network for Children of Inmates Book List. 2009.

Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies. Articles on Prison Libraries, from the archives of Interface.

Correctional Education Association (CEA) oversees prison libraries in the United States. (Accessed February 4, 2013)

Etheredge, Stacy for Standing Committee on Law Library Service to Institution Residents, Social Responsibilities Special Interest Section, American Association of Law Libraries. Law Library Services to Prisoners: A Bibliography. July 2008. (Accessed October 25, 2014)

Library Services for Youth in Custody  (Accessed February 4, 2013)

Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki. Services for the Imprisoned. (Accessed Sept. 11, 2013)

Literacy Behind Bars: Results From the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy Prison Survey (NCES 2007–473) (3.09 MB PDF file) This report includes the section "Library Use," in Chapter 5: Work and Literacy Experiences in Prison. The section begins on page 62 (86 of 170) of the 170-page PDF file. Note: the NCES report complements the April 15, 2007 60 Minutes news story, "Maximum Security Education: How Some Inmates Are Getting A Top-Notch Education Behind Bars." (Both accessed February 4, 2013)

Maryland. Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. Division of Workforce Development and Adult Learning. Directory of State Prison Libraries - Maryland Correctional Education Libraries (Accessed Sept. 11, 2013)

Maryland. Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. Division of Workforce Development and Adult Learning. Maryland Correctional Education Libraries (home page). (Accessed Sept. 11, 2013)

National Institute of Corrections. Online Resource Library. (Accessed February 5, 2013)

New York Public Library.  New York Public Library Office of Community Outreach Services - Correctional Services Program.

Prison Librarian (Blog; accessed February 4, 2013)

U.S. Department of Justice. Federal Bureau of Prisons. Federal Prison Facilities.

Washington. Secretary of State. State Library. Directory of State Prison Libraries (Accessed Sept. 11, 2013)


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Selection and Collection Development

Library Services for Youth in Custody. "Book Lists."  (Accessed February 4, 2013)

Maryland. Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. Division of Workforce Development and Adult Learning. Materials Selection Policy.   (Accessed February 4, 2013)

Shirley, Glennor. "Prison Libraries Help Inmates Get Over The Fence: Reducing Barriers to Reentry." Behind the Walls, August 2006. (Accessed February 4, 2013)

Shirley, Glennor. "What Do Prisoners Read? Prison Libraries and Collection Development." Behind the Walls, September 2004. (Accessed February 4, 2013)

Young Adult Library Services Association. Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. (Accessed February 4, 2013)


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Prisoner Book Donation Resources

For in-depth information on book donation programs in general, please see ALA Library Fact Sheet 12: Sending Books to Needy Libraries: Book Donation Programs

Selected list of sources for donated books: