Crafting a library revitalization project at a Juvenile Detention Center Library


By: Ariel Bacon, Collection Management Specialist, Ohio State University Libraries

The last semester of my MLIS program at Kent State, a professor offered the unusual opportunity to complete my practicum experience at the Franklin County Juvenile Detention Facility (JDF) in Columbus, Ohio. JDF is a maximum-security detention center that can house up to 132 youth, although thanks to recent programs, like the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI), the population hovers around 50-75. The facility houses all genders, ages 12-21, but the majority of the population are teenage boys.

Those with library privileges can visit the Jacobs Media Center (JMC), a collection of about 4000 items - mostly paperbacks, but also magazines, audio books, and computer games - created and funded through the Columbus Bar Foundation’s (CBF) “Open Books Open Minds”* book donation program and charitable fund.


The JDF doesn’t staff a library media specialist, and after a few years extensive collection maintenance and development was desperately needed. It also functioned without a collection development policy, a common oversight for juvenile detention center libraries (Jones, 2004, p. 16). Items were stacked and crammed in every nook and cranny. Covers were torn off with pages missing and spattered with graffiti. A catalog didn’t exist, so it was impossible to know what was in the collection and what circulated. Due to the state of the collection and space issues, ordering new books had been put on hold. The efficacy of the Open Books program had begun to erode.

This was a huge problem. The whole purpose of the program is to - wait for it - open minds! A relevant, useful collection was needed to fully meet the youth where they’re at and support recreational reading. Austen (2012) writes about the necessity of creating culturally relevant collections for detained youth because reading helps with identity forming and provides “opportunities for mental escape and personal and social transformation” (“Critical Issues in Juvenile Detention Center Libraries,” para. 4). Furthermore, detention might be one of the only times youth have the time or inclination to read, due to the lack of everyday life distractions and access to technology (Austen, 2012).

I felt it was important to develop a more representational collection. Feeling ambitious but unwittingly naive, I drafted a project proposal that contained three objectives: 1) drastically weed the collection to create space for newer books; 2) create a catalog that is easy to use, keyword searchable, and usable in an on and offline environment; 3) write a collection development policy covering intellectual freedom, donation policies, and title request procedures for youth and staff.

How did I accomplish all of this in a 150 hour practicum experience? Well the truth is, I didn’t. I decided to stay on after graduation and now volunteer part time to complete the job and keep everything working smoothly. But here are a few essentials that helped get the project off the ground:

  1. Do your research

The library literature is thin when it comes to outreach to youth in juvenile detention centers and a lot of it focuses on intellectual freedom issues which are tricky in this environment. I really appreciated how Jones (2004) stresses the importance of partnering with the facility when it comes to format and content restrictions. While drafting a collection development policy, I invited JDF administration to formulate the mission statement of the library and to view, edit, or comment on any section of the document. Buy-in is key if you want to create sustainable policies.

Other great resources include the Association of Specialized, Government, and Cooperative Library Agencies’ (ASGCLA) Library Services for Youth in Custody interest group. Their site includes book lists, sample collection development policies, and other helpful resources.** There’s also the yalsa-lockdown listserv and book lists from Into the Margins, the Young Adult Library Services Association, School Library Journal, Voice of Youth Advocates, and the Rainbow Book Awards. ALA has written standards (See: Library Standards for Juvenile Correctional Institutions) which are about 20 years old and need to be updated, but are still useful.

  1. Ask for help

One of the first things I did after creating a project plan was reach out to my iSchool’s listserv for other volunteers. That’s how I met Athnie Mcmillan-Comeaux, a fellow Kent State MLIS student who’s working toward her K-12 Media Licensure. It was so helpful having another person to brainstorm with, or ask if we really need 3 copies of every Judy Blume book (answer: we don’t).

She’s also ordered supplies from DEMCO, labeled and repaired books, scanned ISBNs for the catalog, and contributed to the collection development policy. Her expertise and support has helped the project progress to where it is today, and I don’t know where it would be without her. It’s also kept me motivated and on task knowing that I’m working on a team.

  1. Leverage technology

The biggest project deliverable was creating the catalog. Because internet is restricted, the JMC needed something that works both on and offline so it could be used in the library by staff but also viewable online by possible donors and stakeholders from Open Books. I researched different catalog software, both open-source and proprietary, and came across (CLZ).

We scanned the whole collection into Excel via ISBN, and then batch imported CSV files into CLZ’s Book Collector. CLZ has a robust back-end database that matches ISBNs to descriptive metadata like author, title, publisher, subject, cover art, and even LCC and DCC call numbers. The database can be used offline and synced to a cloud-based catalog online. Although some manual data cleanup was required (okay, a LOT of cleanup), it was the perfect tool for our needs.


  1. Be flexible

This is the most important thing I’ve learned over the course of the project. Sometimes, you’ll show up to work but can’t get in because of a lockdown. Maybe security personal will misplace your contraband exception form and you’ll have to leave your computer in a locker. Perhaps a custodian will accidentally mistake a bag of returned books as garbage and throw them out.

There were many instances where I had to adapt the project or change my schedule to fit the environment. For instance, without any circulation data, one way weeding decisions were made was condition. Generally good condition is a good thing, but if an item looked like it had never been opened, it was a candidate. The key is to roll with the changes and use creativity to get things done.

Next Steps

At the time I’m writing this, we’ve just finished labeling the first batch of new books for the library. New popular series, graphic novels, and easy reading materials that are representative of more diverse characters and subjects now span the shelves, and I’m excited to see how well they circulate. This project experience has been incredibly rewarding and I hope next we can develop library programming to promote reading and digital literacy to better support the JDF’s GED program.


*We’re currently working on creating an updated wishlist.

**As of the writing of this article, their site appears to be under construction.


  1. Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center (n.d.). Retrieved from
  2. Columbus Bar Foundation (2019). Open Books Open Minds. Retrieved from
  3. Columbus Bar Foundation (2018). 2017-18 Annual Report: Working Together to Advance the Philanthropic Interests of the Central Ohio Legal Community. Retrieved from
  4. Library Services for Youth in Custody:
  5. Yalsa-lockdown listserv:
  6. ASCLA Ad Hoc Subcommittee (1999). Library Standards for Juvenile Correctional Facilities.
  7. CLZ Book Collector Software:


Austen, J. (2012). Critical issues in juvenile detention center libraires. The Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults. Retrieved from

Jones, P. (2004). Reaching out to young adults in jail. Young Adult Library Services. Retrieved from

Zeluff, K. (2012). Collection Development Policies in Juvenile Detention Center Libraries. Library Media Collection, 36-38.