Scheduling Patrons to Visit the Library

Last week I learned how to schedule patrons to visit a prison library while visiting an institution. Patrons once were able to visit the library when ever they pleased when the librarian was working. This had complications for the librarian. When the library’s small space was flooded with patrons, the librarian and staff would be so overwhelmed that the chaotic feeling compromised the efficiency of library and burned out staff.

Now patrons request to visit the library by using request slips on their decks (living quarters). These request slips give the librarians their name and ID number, reason of request (for legal work or to use the leisure library), if they are in school and when, and if they work and when their days off may be.

The librarian then assesses the requests to make a schedule of patrons to visit the library. Around 25 patrons are scheduled in the morning and in the afternoon library sessions. Patrons are scheduled when it best fits their schedule, the time they need to spend in the library (legal research that will be time consuming will be scheduled in the longer session), at a rate that will even out the amount of legal vs. leisure patrons as to not overwhelm law clerks, etc. Patrons that have an upcoming deadline will be scheduled for multiple days in a row upon their request.

Once the schedule is made, the schedule is entered into a system that will produce what is called call slips. Each patron is given a call slip which acts as a permission slip to walk through the institution to the library.

This system seems to work better than the chaotic open library, but around 1/3 of patrons do not come to their library scheduled time. This may be for a reason out of control of the patron. The librarian puts a lot of their weekly time into creating call slips, so this system could be revamped to work better for the librarian and patrons.

Rethinking PIC Librarianship after Michelle Alexander


This week Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, came to campus.

As she explained her book’s thesis, it made me consider how prison librarian could be more aware of how we can better support our patrons trying to survive the PIC.

But as a correctional employee, prison librarians live, breathe, and work within the myths of incarcerated persons and the effectiveness of the PIC. So, how can we balance the PIC and providing library services that needs to satisfy the two extremely different world views of the PIC administration and those who are incarcerated?

How can we provide programming that offers support to patrons when being honest about the PIC can be seen as threatening to administration and guards and could put our positions in jeopardy?

In my short experience of being within the PIC, I feel that there is a lot of heavy communication for staff to view people behind bars as lazy, not to be trusted, and other stereotypes.

Michelle suggested that we need to embrace those who are incarcerated as their genuine selves, not solely based on the behavior that the criminal justice system deemed appropriate for incarceration. She continued to assert that the PIC operates with the core belief that some of us are not worthy of genuine concern, care, and compassion. In comparison to the PIC, we need an approach that cares for the victim for the victim, offender, and community. The idea of care is extremely drastic when we realize that shame and blame is placed on communities and individuals for incarceration.

I was able to briefly speak about this with Michelle afterwards. Though I didn’t have a specific question for her, she told me that being inside of the PIC, you have to try to navigate as much as you are able to in order to provide the service that is envisioned. It is important,  she stressed, to treat those behind bars with dignity. As librarians in training, we often think that we always treat patrons with respect and dignity, but within the PIC having to stress this shows how the institution operates.

Inmates Rising

1bill1 Billion Rising is the invitation to “ONE BILLION women and those who love them to WALK OUT, DANCE, RISE UP, and DEMAND an end to this violence. ONE BILLION RISING will move the earth, activating women and men across every country.”

This last month, a “group of choreographers visited San Francisco County jails to make sure inmates were able to participate in the global actions ” (Rivas).

Lately I’ve been thinking ways to incorporating events happening outside of the prisons and jails and how to make them available for people behind bars to participate in… beyond sharing an video that has been taped and then approved to be viewed inside of an institution. While this program is not directly library related, it makes me continue to think about how to provide effective programming that can build community with fellow inmates and on a larger scale outside of the institution.

Read more about this program: San Francisco Jail Inmates Dance to Stop Sexual Violence

The Beat Within

beat within

Check out this online and print publication – The Beat Within! It is their mission to:

…provide incarcerated youth with consistent opportunity to share their ideas and life experiences in a safe space that encourages literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community. Outside of the juvenile justice system, The Beat Within partners with community organizations and individuals to bring resources to youth both inside and outside of detention. We are committed to being an effective bridge between youth who are locked up and the community that aims to support their progress towards a healthy, non-violent, and productive life.

This current issue features poets from Champaign-Urbana that are behind bars at the Juvenile Detention Center.

You can find past issues in their archives.

letterThey also have this great letter project that is piloting.

Writing mentors will be matched with an adult incarcerated writer whose overall goal will be to foster better writing for publication through literary advice, fleshed out ideas, providing writing prompts, basic editing/ grammar education, etc.

Words, Connotations, and Compassion

This week we have a guest blog post by Joyce Hatton.

This winter I was able to have coffee and a wonderful conversation with Joyce about direct and indirect communication. Being from the midwest, manyof the conversation I see (and participate in) are passive. I have been struggling with speaking in a passive and indirect voice in the prison library environment; I want to be direct, clear, compassionate, etc. within the library to have meaningful library relationships with my patrons.

Today at the prison library we were fruitful in conversation. I had an honest conversation with a patron and library worker about programming, policies, and reading culture behind bars. But, this patron also made a comment that made me feel very uncomfortable. I told him that I felt that way due to his comment and we discussed why. After that conversation, we were able to work side by side very efficiently and left the library proud of the progress we made on the project we were working on together. It is with the conversation I had with Joyce and my peers that made this conversation have a positive outcome for both of us. In the past, I might not have addressed this particular situation in the same way.

Joyce Hatton is currently working at the complex business of being a human being.  Her biggest project is figuring out what is unhealthy/unhelpful social conditioning, and what is ego-puffery/resistance to maintain itself and it’s status quo.  She blogs at


Words and their connotations are very important.

Someone told me recently that an oil boom city was being “invaded” by outsiders. I replied “Invaded, that’s a heck of a word to use.” I stopped myself from talking any more because I was really upset. I was in a store, so it wasn’t really the time or the place to have an indepth conversation about why and how I was offended by her word choice. Additionally, she was a stranger, so I had my safety to consider.

There are no right or wrong feelings. They just areThis post is about how to communicate more compassionately, and to do that, we need to remove judgments about whether a person is right or wrong to feel the way they do, and accept the fact that they are feeling that way.

Connotations are important.

“Our city is being invaded.”
“Our city is overrun.”
“Our city has a lot of outsiders.”
“Our city has had a population boom.”
“Our city is growing.”

I make an effort when I speak to be aware of what words I’m using. When it’s inappropriate for me to be judgmental I try to put a lock down on my filter. I try to be very careful what kind of language I use. Occasionally I do use judgmental language (if I’m tired, angry and/or venting to a good friend).

When I speak judgmentally, I try to call myself out on it. I want to make clear that I’m aware I’m using judgmental language so that 1) I don’t teach myself that judgmental language is acceptable to use in all situations; and 2) even though I am modeling judgmental language, I am modeling awareness of the language one uses.

I think it’s especially important to use nonjudgmental, non-shaming language when speaking to someone we are dominant over. Dominance and power is something that can be hard to recognize. Many of us don’t consider the power that we have for many reasons- one reason being that we can shift from a dominant to a submissive role several times in a day. We can shift power roles with the same person depending on the situation. While we might not be aware of our dominance- a person who is submissive under us is very aware of our power.

For example- one day I realized that I had massive amounts of power over children. I saw myself as fairly equal to two kids I’m friends with until one day I told one of them she couldn’t have any ice cream. She became really upset. I realized that it wasn’t just because she couldn’t have any ice cream, but because she had no recourse- no way to appeal. I had so much power over her that there was no way she could even begin to argue her case with me. That is the ultimate powerlessness, when we don’t even have a voice to complain about how we are being treated.

Since we can’t always change the power structure we’re a part of, (sometimes not at the moment, sometimes not ever); and since sometimes we aren’t even aware of it, we can at least soften the blow of dominance by being careful to use nonjudgmental language.

Some examples of softening the blow:
1: A woman tells a man “Ugh, I’m so sick of TV shows where the average looking husband has a supermodel wife.” The man replies “That’s been going on for years. You should be used to it by now.”

A less judgmental way to express the same idea might be “I’ve noticed that trend has been going on for years. I guess I thought people were just used to it by now.” By saying ‘I’ve noticed’ and ‘I thought’ rather than ‘you should’ the judgment is removed.

2: An older adult tells a younger adult “I thought that when I was your age. When you’re my age you’ll know better.”

Less judgmental: “I thought that when I was your age. As I grew older I found that my thoughts and opinions changed, and I have a different viewpoint now.”

To say “when you’re my age” invalidates the experience the younger adult is currently having, and “you’ll know better” is very judgmental as it implies ‘you currently know wrong.’ The words “changed” and “different” in this context are emotionally neutral words.
Taking just a moment to consider the impact of our words is an act of compassion. Maybe there is a better word choice we can use, or a more helpful way to phrase our statement, or we should listen a bit longer. Maintaining awareness of power roles, the validity of feelings, and the connotations of words will help speak compassionately.