ALA Annual 2013: Sessions of Interest for Prison Librarians

I am so excited for ALA’s Annual Conference this week! Here are my top sessions to visit to improve my skills as a prison librarian. Following my top choice are other sessions that our profession can learn from.

Connecting Multilingual Patrons with Legal Information: Key Resources

Presenters: Mirenda Watkins, LawHelp Interactive Program Coordinator, ProBono Net & Stacie Colston Patterson, Outreach Coordinator/Attorney at Law, Illinois Legal Aid Online
Date: Saturday, June 29, 2013
Time: 8:30 – 10:00 AM

Location: Palmer House Hilton, Spire Parlor

This workshop focuses on Spanish-language resources for librarians assisting low income and vulnerable patrons facing legal issues. We will highlight:

-LawHelpEspanol.org- a national gateway to websites providing free legal information
-LawHelpInteractive.org- a gateway to pro-se forms assisting self-represented patrons
-CitizenshipWorks.org- a website and companion app assisting individuals understand the naturalization process
-ImmigrationLawHelp.org- a website assisting low-income immigrants find legal help
-Collaborative models between libraries/civil legal services providing Spanish-language legal information/referrals.

-Participants will be able to identify available multilingual sources of legal information to assist patrons facing legal challenges.
-Participants will be able to identify available multilingual sources of legal referral information to assist patrons facing legal challenges.
-Participants will be able to identify key stakeholders and steps in creating their own civil legal services/library partnership.
-Participants will be able to identify additional online legal resources to augment their current collection.
-Participants will be able to access additional online materials concerning Librarians and the Access to Justice Movement.

Library Services for Youth in Custody
Date:  Sunday, June 30, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 4:00 PM
Location: McCormick Place Convention Center

Meeting & Social Gathering for anyone interested in library services to juvenile correctional or detention facilities. This time is for networking, problem-solving, skill-sharing, and general happy-making! You do not need to be a member of Library Services for Youth in Custody, but we would love it if you want to join.

Diversity and Outreach Fair
Date: Saturday, June 29, 2013
Time: 3:00 – 5:30 PM
Location:  McCormick Place Convention Center – Hall A1, Special Events Area

The Fair highlights library services to underserved or underrepresented communities, including people with disabilities; poor and homeless populations; people of color; English-language learners; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people; new Americans, new and non-readers; older adults; people living in rural areas; incarcerated people and ex-offenders; and mobile library services and bookmobiles. The theme of the 2013 Diversity and Outreach Fair is Removing Barriers to Service for All: Creating Meaningful and Integrated Library Experiences for People with Disabilities. One poster that will include on libraries behind bars is Mix IT Up!

Other sessions that may be of interest to the profession are:

Guantanamo Bay – Patrons’ Rights

Guantanamo Bay. This facility is considered illegal to some and to others a necessity. It may come as a surprise to some that they have a library.

Guantanamo's library

How are prisoners’ rights different in this facility compared to other facilities? The answer is that “The US military says the detainees at Guantanamo Bay have no legal rights under American law” (Guantanamo Bay Library). While the reigning law is that prisoners have no rights, several organizations do not agree.

The ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table adopted the following resolution on Guantanamo in 2008:

… therefor it be RESOLVED, that the Social Responsibilities Round Table of the American Library Association
1. calls on the President of the United States to begin the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba;
2. strongly urges that, until such time that the prison is closed, all prisoners shall immediately be afforded the right to read and supplied with materials enabling them to do so by the United States Department of Defense and its libraries; and
3. recognizes that all people imprisoned as a result of the belligerent acts of the United States and other warring entities be afforded with all rights described by the Geneva Conventions Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War and any other rules of law pertaining to the humane treatment of prisoners.

The full resolution can be found in their newsletter archives.

For a further glimpse into this institution’s rules of prisoner communication to the outside world….

Prisoners wrote poems and sent them to their pro bono lawyer, Marc Falkoff, because it was the only communication they were allowed. Falkoff found himself with a collection of work from his clients and had a selection of these poems approved by the Pentagon (each line needed to get an okay) to be published in Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak.

Death Poem by Jumah al Dossari

Take my blood.
Take my death shroud and
The remnants of my body.
Take photographs of my corpse at the grave, lonely.

Send them to the world,
To the judges and
To the people of conscience,
Send them to the principled men and the fair-minded.

And let them bear the guilty burden before the world,
Of this innocent soul.
Let them bear the burden before their children and before history,
Of this wasted, sinless soul,
Of this soul which has suffered at the hands of the “protectors or peace.”

This institution’s library work is intriguing. In the next week or so, I’ll post more about Guantanamo and it’s library.


Falkoff, Marc. Poems from Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak. Iowa City: Iowa City Press, 2007.

Guantanamo Bay’s Library. Aug. 26, 2009. PRI’s The World.

Resolution on Guantanamo & the Rights of Prisoners to Read

This is post is the last in a series on exploring some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons. Other blog posts include:

Prisoners’ Right to Read

Do people behind bars have the right to read? The American Library Association believes so. On June 29, 2010, the Prisoners’ Right to Read was adopted by the ALA Council as an amendment to the Library Bill of Rights.

Q: Why is reading vital in the Prison Industrial Complex?
A: The ALA says “The right to choose what to read is deeply important, and the suppression of ideas is fatal to a democratic society” (ALA).

Below is the main points in the adopted Prisoners’ Rights to Read:

These principles should guide all library services provided to prisoners:

  • Collection management should be governed by written policy, mutually agreed upon by librarians and correctional agency administrators, in accordance with the Library Bill of Rights, its Interpretations, and other ALA intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional libraries should have written procedures for addressing challenges to library materials, including a policy-based description of the disqualifying features, in accordance with “Challenged Materials” and other relevant intellectual freedom documents.
  • Correctional librarians should select materials that reflect the demographic composition, information needs, interests, and diverse cultural values of the confined communities they serve.
  • Correctional librarians should be allowed to purchase materials that meet written selection criteria and provide for the multi-faceted needs of their populations without prior correctional agency review. They should be allowed to acquire materials from a wide range of sources in order to ensure a broad and diverse collection. Correctional librarians should not be limited to purchasing from a list of approved materials.
  • Age is not a reason for censorship. Incarcerated children and youth should have access to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, as stated in “Free Access to Libraries for Minors.”
  • Correctional librarians should make all reasonable efforts to provide sufficient materials to meet the information and recreational needs of prisoners who speak languages other than English.
  • Equitable access to information should be provided for persons with disabilities as outlined in “Services to People with Disabilities.”
  • Media or materials with non-traditional bindings should not be prohibited unless they present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security.
  • Material with sexual content should not be banned unless it violates state and federal law.
  • Correctional libraries should provide access to computers and the Internet. (ALA)

Are there other prisoners’ rights to consider? And what does the PIC think about this rights that are not necessarily seen the actual law? This week and the following we will explore some prisoners’ rights that affect prisoners as patrons.

ALA. Prisoners’ Right to Read. ALA.

The following are the rest of the blog posts in my exploration on prisoners’ rights that affect them as patrons: