Upcoming Webinar – Street Smart: Urban Fiction in Public Libraries

picI am so excited! Vanessa Irvin Morris will be presenting a Public Library Association webinar on Urban Fiction called Street Smart: Urban Fiction in Public Libraries! Register for the May 15, 2013 webinar here.

Participants will leave the webinar with the ability to:

*Understand the evolution of street lit as we know it today

*Articulate the difference between urban fiction and street lit

*Refer to established resources for the purpose of collection development and readers advisory


During this 1 hour long webinar, Vanessa will be:

highlighting the popular literary genre, street lit, also known as urban fiction. Morris will not only explore the historical context for the genre as well as the characteristics and sub-genres, she’ll also provide concrete ideas for collection development, readers’ advisory and programming.

Vanessa is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Street Literature, which I highly recommend!

She also has a great website: www.streetliterature.com.


Coming Soon: YA Underground | School Library Journal

Coming Soon: YA Underground | School Library Journal.

Starting January 16, Amy Cheney, who works with incarcerated kids at Alameda County (CA) Library’s Juvenile Hall, will be writing a new column for SLJTeen. The column, “YA Underground: Teen Books You Might Have Missed,” will run every other month and feature titles that are of interest to teens—particularly those who have grown up in poverty or are now incarcerated. Because juvenile detention facilities, like Amy’s, don’t typically allow kids to read “street lit,” she’s always on the lookout for books that will pique their interest, and many of these titles are perfect for your public library’s young adult section. So get ready for some great reads: fiction, nonfiction, adult books for teens, and graphic novels—they’ll all be highlighted in YA Underground! Put the January 16 issue of SLJTeen on your must-read list.

Click on the link above to follow to the article & to subscribe to SLJTeeen!

Janet Evanovich & Read Alikes

The women in the county jail are in love with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series! And the men are now starting to catch onto the series!

Popular series are hard to come by in the jail library. In part is that people who buy them want to keep and collect the entire series until it is finished and then donate them when they are ready. An other part is, that many of the popular reads are released as hardcovers first and therefor cannot be in the jail library until they are softcovers. (The bottom two books were hard covers that were converted into soft covers to be allowed in the jail.)

As I brought in my Janet Evanovich finds from a book sale, the same day a patron donated five of her own books that her husband bought for her (patrons can only be sent brand new books directly from book sellers). This really increased out our collection considerably, but by how fast they are being read, the desire for the rest of the series will come fast. One patron said to an other, “This will just take me a couple of hours to read.”

Male patrons had not been too interested in the series until this week. One of our big (an one of the few) male romance readers is trying out the series and the mystery genre. An other patron who has read most of the mystery section started with book # 7, and scooped up all of the first six books (the limit of books checked out at one time). As he was checking his new books out, he laughed as he told us about the main character.

As patrons might get antsy about needing more of the Stephanie Plum series, I started looking for read alikes. Below are some links.





Law Library Requirements and Access for Isolated Patrons

As a non-law fluent person, this was the best resource to understand what the law says about legal libraries in prisons. If you are looking for the same information. This should be your first stop! Sources are so abundant that the notes on each page of this book are more than half of the page which includes further information such as cases and laws with quoted text.

I’m not really comfortable to talk about what the law is right now, but what I found interesting that could apply to non-legal libraries is the following quote:

Courts understand that a “cell delivery” or “paging” system, by itself, does not provide adequate court access because prisoners who cannot visit the library generally will not know what materials to ask for. If prison officials do permit segregation inmates to have physical access to the law library, that access must be adequate. (242)

This might make us rethink how delivery services to hospital and mental health (and other) locations in the prison system might be improved for better access. For example, bringing a cart full of books might be better suited in addition to books requested from patrons instead of just the requested reads.


Boston, John and Daniel Manville. Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Sooo Much Urban Fiction — So Close To Being Added To The Jail Libraries!!!

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Months ago at a meeting of jail librarians, we began talking about the small number of urban fiction books in the jail libraries’ collections despite the very high number of requests from patrons asking for this genre.

From this meeting, a jail librarian asked the key members who oversaw the jail libraries for an in-house grant to purchase urban fiction despite the mission of the organization is to collect only donated books with the exception of dictionaries. And, we got permission to buy a considerable number of books. We were also asked to buy graphic novels; here we decided to buy only Manga (look for an other post as to why).

By consulting many books, blog posts, websites, and readers advisory brochures, I was able to come up with a collection development list for the jail librarians to approve. One of the most helpful sources were:

  1. Honig, Megan. Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011.
  2. Morris, Vanessa Irving. The Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature. Chicago: American Library Association, 2012.
  3. Patron Input! I asked patrons at each library what titles they enjoy and would like to see at the library. One patron asked to go back to his cell to get a list he had already made for his own reference! He had a list in a small address book that was four pages long, in small print, and in alphabetical order. His list was so extensive that he let me borrow his notebook to copy the titles until the end of library hours and had our library assistant bring his notebook back to him. Asking this patron for input engaged the patron significantly to the project and he took more pride in the library, for he once checked-in on the project stating that he thought he had something to do with getting urban fiction into his library and he did. It is unfortunate that now that we are getting ready to have the books circulate, he has been sentenced and transferred out of jail and into a prison facility.

Now that we have some of our books we are labeling them with our sticker system  (you can see me starting to put some of the stickers on the books in the photo above). We do not separate Urban Fiction or  black authors from the libraries’ fiction sections like large book stores do, but we do add blue and white striped stickers in addition to stickers that display the genre (fiction, romance, etc) to distinguish black authors. This has been effective in helping patrons learn how to browse more effectively and search for items of their interest in their short time allowed in the library (usually 10 minutes or less) without having a library catalog.

After stickers are put on, we are attempting to expand the lifespan of our purchased books by wrapping the books in contact paper. See blog post Expanding Lifespan of Paperbacks in the Jail Library for more information and a tutorial video.

Once the purchased collection is prepped for the library, our plan to track the lifespan of the books will enter it’s final stages. Once those documents are complete I’ll share them with you all. Look for the catagory “Purchased Books Project 2012.”

Successful Book Donation to Vandalia Correctional Center Library (& I Met My First Paid Prison Librarian!)

Last month the 3 R’s Project (Reading Reduces Recidivism) was able to make a successful donation to Vandalia Correctional Center Library!

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Vandalia’s librarian, Steve, was able to travel to a collection site to pick out collected items to bring back to the correctional library. He picked out 135 books (61 non-fiction, the rest fiction) and 20 magazines. Fiction was mostly classics, science fiction, and popular fiction (ex: Patterson). What Steve was unable to bring back to the library with him was urban fiction (a highly requested genre) due to the hardship in being able to collection urban fiction in the community.

Being able to meet a PIC librarian was great! I could barely believe I had the chance to ask any question that I wanted to someone working in a PIC library! Steve was able to share examples of key issues in the library he maintains, circulation periods, collection development & weeding, and offer feedback on some of the issues I was struggling with. Meeting Steve provided confirmation that I was on the right path on preparing for and thinking about PIC librarianship and gave me that boost that was all sometimes need to work on our work a little harder. 🙂

New Easy Reader Series Released

Knowing if a patron needs an easy reader can been difficult.

Sometimes at the jail library patrons request Goosebumps books, stating that their interest as wanting to revisit their childhood or how they felt when they read it in their youth. Maybe that is true, sometimes I think it is their reading level.

If you are not familiar with easy readers, they have a lower reading level, but have a more mature plot that is more relatable to the readers’ age and life.

This new easy reader series, Always Upbeat / All That, is written at a 3rd grade level and is coming out this summer. The first five books in the series are already out. This cheer dramas and baller swag dramas are flip books, meaning one side of the book is from the young woman’s perspective and if you turn the book over the perspective is from the young man.

Readers are taking well to the series already:

In the two weeks the Urban Flip Books have been on the market, McHugh said preorders have exceeded sales for any other book in the company’s 30-year-history, underscoring what one struggling teen reader said in a focus group: “Finally, I can have a thick book and look like everyone else.” (Carpenter)

A co-worker of mine also suggested Liar by Justine Larbalestier as a great easy reader that is also extremely engaging in plot.

To read more about the series that starts with Always Upbeat / All That, read the article below:

Carpenter, Susan. Not Just For Kids: A Lifeline for Struggling Teen ReadersLos Angeles Times. 17 June 2012.