Polish Prison Libraries

This post focuses on key points learned from the Library Trend article Prison Libraries in Poland: Partners in Rehabilitation, Culture, and Education.

Poland and subsequently the prison system and prison libraries have experienced some major changes in the last 3o years. This is due to the Solidarity movement, Round Table Agreements, and joining of the European Union.This transformed the prison system from one that focused on punishment to one that’s focus is on rehabilitation, “reeducation,” and re-entry. One primary change was to see people behind bars as having individual needs, for example sentencing changed to three different “regimes” once could be sentenced to which dictates what day to day life is like in prison. Those are:

  1. The Program Regime
    • “includes juvenile and adult offenders who agree to participate in a variety of structured activities” (410)
  2. The Therapeutic Regime
    • “includes ‘offenders with non-psychotic psychiatric disorders and other persons addicted to alcohol or intoxicating or psychotropic drugs, as well as offenders with physical disabilities that require special care'” (410-1)
      • Looks like we got some ableism going on.
  3. The Regular Regime
    •  “includes those who have failed to comply with the requirements set forth in their individual treatment plan or who have refused to participate in such a plan” (411)

Within the prison system, the Minister of Justice regulates all of the facilities in the prison system. The director of each prison facility controls the prison library’s operation, development, space, budget, rights of the patron, library policy, staff training, etc. Staff who are called facility educators run the library part-time (or is one part of their full-time job) and are in charge of:

  • developing and maintaining collections
  • lending materials
  • record keeping and preparation of reports
  • organization of the library premises (maintain library space and satellite programs)
  • cooperate with public library staff (418)

The library facility educator does not necessarily have a library science degree and receives professional development through the prison facility or public librarian. This is due to the Minister of Justice creating a regulation that prison libraries and public libraries work together. This regulation is key for professional development and inter-library loan services. A similar regulation is in place to encourage inter-library loans through the prison facilities, including juvenile facilities.

Policies and collection development decisions are made to support the following needs that the prison system has deemed important in their setting:

  • Reading as a constructive use of free time, as a method to reduce stress, and as a means to minimize undesirable behavior
  • Meeting emotional needs and intellectual interests
  • Increasing basic and advanced knowledge
  • Developing positive personality traits
  • Developing aesthetic sensibility and appreciation of art and education
  • Developing cognitive skills
  • Preparing for life and work after release
  • Meeting professional needs of prison staff (413)

Inmates are allowed to recommend titles, except what is banned by law from patrons, which are:

  • pornography
  • content that advocates violence
  • content that advocates antisocial behavior
  • content that advocates threatens the healthy development of juveniles (416)

Items in a foreign language are not actively collected due to the very low numbers of inmates that speak a foreign language. Collection development happens for these rare inmates once they are in prison and usually with the help of partnering with organization and community members.

Libraries use an open and closed stacks model, sometimes both. A unique aspect of Polish prison libraries is their branch libraries in facilities, such as in the medical wing of the prison, classrooms, etc. In such branch libraries, there is a small collection of items, which rotate quarterly, with a 3-ring binder catalog of items that can be requested and sent to them. If the library employees inmates, managing these branches is usually on of their duties.

Initiatives have been put in place to encourage all prison libraries to have author catalogs, although not all do yet. Some also have title and subject catalogs. These are hard to come by at some libraries due to funding issues, staffing, and the ability to get all of the information needed to complete a catalog.

An other unique component of Polish prison libraries is their communication about the libraries:

reading promotion is often an important component of other cultural and education activities conducted by prison staff not directly involved with library work, and is also supported though internal radio and television broadcasts. (417)

These communications include new acquisitions and even broadcast audio books!

For example, in 2008 the Chelmno prison inmates had the opportunity to listen to twenty books, presented in 50-minute installments over the in-house [speakers] (423)

Programming is an important role of the library, especially in the subject of reentry. Patrons have the opportunity to explore about how to be successful after prison by learning how to fill out a job application and resume, new skills, what the job market is like, being free of addictive substances, ect.

Beyond inmates, there is a collection developed exclusively for staff to utilize. This collection is primarily focused in professional development. In an article I read in the past, they stated that if you wanted prison staff to respect and work with the library (instead of seeing it as a pain), attempt to collect materials that the staff will also enjoy and be able to check out. Doing so the staff will also see the library as something that also benefits them and the staff would then hopefully want to help maintain physically and provide better access.

More information is included in this article about further education and cultural programs that are offered in many prison facilities, which I encourage you all to read if you can pick up a copy of Library Trends! You can click on the Library Trends link below to see if a library near you has one!


Zybert, Elzbiea Barbara. Prison Libraries in Poland: Partners in Rehabilitation, Culture, and Education. Library Trends. 59.3 (Winter 2011): 386-408.

Additional Poland Resources:

Frister, Roman. Polish Prisons Teaching Jewish Studies to InmatesHaaretz. Feb. 21, 2011.

Polish Librarians’ Association

Zybert, Elzbieta Barbara. Prison Libraries in Poland. International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions Newsletter. 58 (2004).