Canadian Prison Libraries

Library TrendsCorrectional Service of Canada Prison Libraries from 1980 to 2010 focused on reports, legislation, and events that has changed prison librarianship in Canada.

It is interesting that in Canada there is disproportionate numbers with inmate populations compared to the national population (similar to presence of disparities in the U.S.):

Aboriginal offenders are disproportionately represented at all levels of the Canadian Criminal justice system. At the end of March 2009, Aboriginal people comprised 17.3 percent of federally sentenced offenders, while the general population is 2.7 percent of the Canadian adult population. (387)

With these undeniable numbers, at least libraries are able to begin to add services like what the Pacific Region prison libraries most recently put into place:

Recent accomplishments in the Pacific Region prison libraries include the establishment of the Regional Multi-Lingual Collection (in response to an incresingly diverse ethnocultural community), and the Regional Aboriginal Collection (in support of Aboriginally sensitive programming and education). (406)

When Canadian prison librarians were asked what they liked best and least about their job, the flowing themes emerged:

  • Challenge: the responsibility for all aspects of library services and operations with inadequate hours and funding.
    • Reward: the variety of the work and the autonomy (working in a one-person library allows one to use a wide range of library skills and do a little bit of everything).
  • Challenge: working with demanding and at times manipulative individuals who may have very little understanding of the library as a community resource.
    • Reward: working with disadvantaged individuals who genuinely appreciate your services.
  • Challenge: creating a “normal” space in a “non-normal” work environment”
    • Reward: contributing in a positive way to a safe and humane environment in a prison setting. (406)

In 2003, Ann Curry with Kris Wolf, Sandra Boutilier, and Helen Chan published Canadian federal prison libraries: a national survey. Within this survey they provide information about staff in prison libraries:

(*you can click on the graphs to also be brought directly to the the survey*)

Other interesting graphs include the following and more are included in their survey…


Curry, Ann with Kris Wolf, Sandra Boutilier, and Helen Chan. Canadian federal prison libraries: a national survey. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science. 35.3 (Sept. 2003): 141-52.

Ings, Catherine and Jennifer Joslin. Correctional Service of Canada Prison Libraries from 1980 to 2010. Library Trends. 59.3 (Winter 2011): 386-408.

Photo Credit

Additional Canadian Resources:

Books 2 Prisoners

Canadian Library Association

Correctional Service of Canada

Cuts to the CSC Budget: What will they mean? from Prison Uncensored: The Truth Behind Bars (blog written by a man who teaches creative writing in prison in Western Canadian)

GELA Women’s Prison Library & Reintegration Project Blog

Joslin, Jennifer. Prison Libraries: A Resource Guide.

Justice Behind The Walls

Prange, Laurie A. Computers Behind Bars: Information Technology in Canadian Prison Libraries. 2001.

Superprisons in Canada Zine

Women in Prison: Do They Deserve Books? (Part One) and (Part Two) from Lady Leading: Women’s Library Activism

Wurmann, Kirsten. Books Behind Bars: Community Development Librarianship in Prison Libraries PowerPoint. May 16, 2012.