Words from Past Prison Librarians: Frances Sandiford

This week the library that I work at has two staff people retiring. Their retirements got me thinking about retired prison librarians and what they have to say in reflection after years in the field. Today and next week we will reflect on a three retired librarians experiences, beginning with Frances Saniford. Frances Sandiford was the prison librarian at the Green Haven Correctional Facility in New York from 1980 to 2000. Prior to her employment, “[t]o restore peace after the riots in Attica Correctional Facility in 1971, New York State prison authorities made some changes, including setting aside a place in every facility for a library supervised by a qualified librarian.”

She credits Brenda Vogel’s Down for the Count: A Prison Library Handbook as a manual for managing the library, for this handbook changed the library’s managerial perspective from correctional facility’s to a librarian’s.

Sandiford states that “the real difference between prison libraries and libraries in the free world—prison libraries are lifelines for the inmates, their one contact with the outside, a small taste of freedom. To ensure their operation, however, prison librarians must accept a few restrictions themselves.” And, for her, “it sometimes sent chills down [her] spine to know that the men [she] dealt with in the library had such sordid pasts. [She] felt the contradiction of providing intellectual freedom in the midst of prison security.” I like that Sandiford lets us know that she had troubles with the restrictions and knowing were to draw the line with intellectual freedom, for this lets us know that the profession may be harder when you are a practitioner in the inside rather than on the outside of the PIC learning about librarianship.

The major question many LIS students, or any student entering a profession, is how much you have liked your job. Sandiford says, “I’ve also been asked if, now that I am retired, I would consider going back as an adviser or some kind of assistant. The answer to that is also no. I did my time and paid my dues.” Although she has considered her dues paid, she serves as a board member of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, so her participation with the PIC is not done yet and perhaps although she would not go back, she might have felt fulfilled in her job.

Source:  Sandifrod, Frances. “Reflections of a Retired Prison Librarian.” Library Journal Archive.  6 Jan. 2011. Web. 27 Apr. 2012.