As Ithaka S+R’s research has well documented, people in prison have profound information needs and suffer from an equally profound lack of resources to meet those needs. Over the past several years, public, state, academic, and law libraries have increasingly sought to serve people in prison through a variety of services, whether reference by mail, lending books, or supporting incarcerated college students in conducting research. Providing these services to people in prison is not, however, always straightforward or easy, and providing a suite of wrap-around services (i.e. a holistic suite of services that meet people’s recreational, academic, or legal information needs, wherever they are situated) to people while they are incarcerated and after their release can be even more challenging. One of the chief challenges in providing such services is effective collaboration, both between libraries and Departments of Corrections (DOC), as well as between different libraries themselves.

Now, with a $115,972 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), Ithaka S+R is undertaking a planning project to 1) document the challenges and solutions for catalyzing greater cross-section collaboration across library types and with DOCs to serve the needs of system-impacted library patrons, 2) gather evidence in order to prioritize between service concepts so that limited resources are best utilized at a future implementation stage, and 3) build relationships in preparation for the implementation of a pilot service. Based on this work, in the future we plan to partner with a library or libraries to develop and pilot wrap-around library services capable of meeting the information needs of people who are currently incarcerated and their families, in order to better support their reentry and community reintegration upon release.

This work will be done in close collaboration with the library community. The project commences with an initial research phase in which we will collate the existing literature on library collaboration. We plan to look broadly at how libraries have collaborated with external partners in the past, as well as at the challenges libraries face when working with DOCs specifically. Building on this research we will host a series of “community calls” to bring librarians from different backgrounds and institution types together to discuss the challenges they have faced when implementing services for people who are incarcerated. We will also bring together representatives from Departments of Corrections to better understand what effective collaboration and good partnership look like from their perspective.

It is, of course, critical to keep the needs and perspectives of people who have been impacted by the criminal legal system centered in this work. To do so, Ithaka S+R will host two focus groups for directly impacted individuals to more deeply explore and document their needs and what they see as the best way to provide effective and useful services. These focus groups will provide important information as to what services are most needed, and where gaps in services exist.

The success of this project will rest, to some extent, on the engagement of the library community, so be sure to look out for opportunities to engage in the community calls. We will share everything we learn through this project with the community, so sign up below to receive email updates about future publications as well as a webinar as the project progresses!


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The views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.