Prison Libraries in Ireland

In Ireland, prison libraries are a recognised group within the Library Association of Ireland (LAI) and receive their funding through the Local County Council (Development Plan for Dublin City Public Libraries 2012-16, p. 14). In this context, a prison library is defined as a service ‘provided in partnership with the relevant local authorities. Prison officers have a key role in facilitating the availability of services in the evening and at weekends. The library service tries to reflect the material available in the wider community, including books available in languages other than English, audio books and easy reader materials’ (Irish Prison Library Service, Para. 1). An understanding of this service is essential to how we ascertain the information needs of both the employees and patrons within the prison library service. However, despite the recognition that prison libraries receive from the LAI and the important contribution they make to the prison service, there is a distinct lack of scholarly research concerning the prison library service in Ireland. As a result, there is very little factual data available concerning the operation of prison libraries or how librarians engage with this unique working environment.

International Studies

Research on the Scandinavian Prison System reveals that prisoners generally had lower educational attainments, no significant work experience, reading or learning difficulties and had suffered from some form of substance abuse (Ljodal & Ra, 2011). The Penal Reform Trust UK states that ‘half (51%) of people entering prison were assessed as having literacy skills expected of an 11 year old’ (Prison: The Facts, Bromley Briefings Summer 2016, http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk). The ability to obtain employment post-imprisonment is significantly hindered by low literacy levels. Recent statistics from the UK reveal that unemployment among prisoners directly affected their likelihood of re-offending. See chart below:

Statistics and graphs from the UK on unemployment among prisoners and how it directly affected their likelihood of re-offending. Test reads: Half of prisoners had been in employment the year before custody. People are less likely to reoffend if they had a job before being sent to prison, 65% unemployed and 40% employed. 15% of prisoners were homeless before entering custody. People who were previously homeless have a higher reconviction rate. 79% previously homeless, 47% previously had accomodation. Source Minitry of Justic 2010 Compendium of reoffending statistics. From Prison Reform Trust UK, Summer, 2016: www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk

(Prison Reform Trust UK, Summer, 2016: www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk)

Prison libraries, therefore, play a vital role in promoting prisoners education and learning. Inclusive training programmes and literacy groups have tackled development needs and promoted a positive reading culture. Germany and Scandinavia provide some of the most progressive library services in Europe (Peschers & Patterson, 2011 & Ljodal & Ra, 2011).

Irish Prison Libraries

Recent studies acknowledge that there should be little differences between a ‘public and prison library service’ (Conrad, 2012, p. 414). As previously outlined, Irish prison libraries seek to provide a service similar to that of public libraries (Irish Prison Library Service, Para. 1). One existing challenge within Irish prison libraries is the inadequate level of technological resources available. In 2015, the Cloverhill Visiting Committee stated that despite the ‘wide variety of books… it would be very beneficial to introduce modern technology, that can offer a higher quality of education and a better understanding of learning to prisoners that may have impairments such as deafness and other physical difficulties’ (Report of the Prison Visiting Committee, Cloverhill, 2015, p. 6). The provision of such a service would provide additional supports for prisoners with learning difficulties or those with specific information needs. It is accepted that ‘the internet- is an important resource in modern life… Public libraries provide electronic catalogs and computers for searching the Internet as part of their core services’ (Ljodal & Ra, 2011). However, Irish Prison libraries provide an invaluable service to the prisoner community. In recent years, Prison Visiting Committees acknowledged the diverse range of literature available in the country’s prisons (Reports of the Prison Visiting Committee Mountjoy, 2015; Arbour Hill, 2015; Cloverhill 2015; Wheatfield 2015). In Mountjoy, books were seen as a necessary learning aid for prisoners and these items should made be available as part of the rehabilitation process (Report of Prison Visiting Committee Mountjoy, 2014, p. 8).

Conclusion

To date, there is little research available on Irish prison libraries and prisoners’ information needs. Each prisoner has a unique and individual need or requirement and educational training/work experience in the prison library service would be immense benefit to prisoners during their sentences. Future research could assess the information needs of prisoners and how the library service contributes to the education and training of prisoners Ireland.

References

Bowe, C., (2011) Trends in UK Prison Libraries, Library Trends, 59(3): 427-445. DOI: http://muse.jhu.edu.ucd.idm.oclc.org/article/420680/pdf

Conrad, S. (2012) ‘Collection Development and Circulation Policies in Prison Libraries: An Exploratory Survey of Librarians in US Correctional Institutions’, The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 84 (4), 407-27. Retrieved 21 Sept. 2016, http://www.jstor.org.elib.tcd.ie/stable/pdf/10.1086/667435.pdf

Cramard, O. (2011) ‘The Long Development of Prison Libraries in France’ Library Trends, 59 (3) 544-562. DOI: http://muse.jhu.edu.elib.tcd.ie/article/420687/pdf

Fought, R.L., Gahn, P & Mills, Y., (2014) Promoting the Library

Through the Collection Development Policy: A Case Study, Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, 11:4, 169-178, DOI: 10.1080/15424065.2014.969031

Hayes, M. & Cassidy, A. (2012) Development Plan for Dublin City Public Libraries 2012-16, 1-54. DOI: https://www.dublincity.ie/sites/default/files/content/RecreationandCulture/libraries/About%20Us/Documents/Development-Plan-for-Dublin-City-Public-Libraries.pdf

Huffman, R.D. (1976) Robert Palmer, Prison Librarian: Guys tell me: “If I couldn’t read, I’d go bugs”, American Libraries, 7 (6), 351-351. DOI: http://www.jstor.org.elib.tcd.ie/stable/pdf/25620717.pdf

Irish Prison Library Service, 2016, http://www.irishprisons.ie/index.php/prisoner-services/library-services/, Retrieved, 27 October 2016.

Johnson, P. (2009), Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management, Chicago: American Library Association.

Lehmann, V. (2011) ‘Challenges and Accomplishments in US Prison Libraries’ Library Trends 59 (3) 490-508. DOI http://muse.jhu.edu.elib.tcd.ie/article/420684/pdf

Ljodal, H.J., & Ra, E., (2011)’Prison Libraries the Scandinavian way: An Overview of the Development and Operation of Prison Library Service’ Library Trends, 59 (3), 473-489. DOI: http://muse.jhu.edu.elib.tcd.ie/article/420683/pdf

Peschers, G., Patterson, A. (2001) ‘Books Open Worlds to People Behind Bars: Library Services in Prison as Exemplified by the Munster Prison Library, Germany’s “Prison Library of the Year 2007”, Library Trends 59 (3) 520-43. DOI: http://muse.jhu.edu.elib.tcd.ie/article/420686/pdf

Reports of the Visiting Committees to Arbour Hill, Cloverhill, Dochas, Mountjoy and Wheatfield, 2014-5. Retrieved 29 Sept. 2016,

http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Prison-Visiting-Committee-Annual-Reports-2014

http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Prison-Visiting-Committee-Annual-Reports-2015

 

Websites

Irish Prison Library Service: http://www.irishprisons.ie/index.php/prisoner-services/library-services/

Penal Reform Trust Ireland: http://www.iprt.ie/

Renal Reform Trust UK: http://www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk/

About the AuthorPhoto of Anne-Marie McInerney

Anne Marie McInerney is presently studying for a MLIS at UCD 2016-17. She completed a PhD in Modern Irish History entitled ‘Internment of the Anti-Treaty IRA 1922-24’, in Trinity College Dublin in 2015. Anne Marie previously worked as both a researcher and a teaching assistant at Trinity College Dublin. She is presently employed by Dublin City Public Libraries. Her major research interests include the Irish Revolution 1916-1923, penal history, prison reform and civil wars.

Spotlight on John Stearne Medical Library

PC's in the John Stearne medical library.

The John Stearne Medical Library (JSML) is located in the Trinity Centre for Health Sciences on the campus of St. James`s Hospital Dublin. Established in 1973, the JSML was relocated to its current location in 1992. In 2006, the library received extensive refurbishment to create additional space to accommodate both readers and the physical collection held here. Up to 100 readers can currently be accommodated comfortably in the reading room. It is a very open and vibrant physical space finished with wood panelling, and the vaulted glass ceiling allows lots of light to enter into the room. There are also three bookable rooms within the JSML to facilitate students who prefer to study collaboratively and work on group projects.

In term-time, the JSML is open Monday-Friday from 9am-10pm, and on Saturdays from 9.30am-1pm. It is intended to serve as the primary reading room for medical students in the latter yejs2ars of their training, along with occupational, physical and radiation therapy students at all levels, and nursing students. However, all registered students and staff of Trinity College Dublin are entitled to use the Library facilities. It is also used by postgraduate students, researchers and staff of both the Trinity Centre and St. James`s Hospital throughout the year.

The clinical portion of Trinity College’s medical collection are housed at the JSML. This collection includes textbooks and journals relating to the clinical disciplines. In addition, other periodicals and textbooks in fields allied to medicine and surgery – primarily physical, occupational and radiation therapy – are also housed here. The physical collection is divided into two categories. Undergraduate students are entitled to borrow from the SJ collection, while staff and research postgraduates can borrow material from the SJR collection. Patrons can also submit requests to have materials held in offsite storage to be delivered to the library, along with inter-library loan requests.

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Occupational therapy section

The reading room is enabled for wireless internet connection and has a number of live points which allow access to the College Network. There are currently 6 PCs available in the reading room, 1 PC in each group study room, and 1 guest PC to allow students, hospital staff and visiting researcher’s access to the online resources available through Trinity College. The Library subscribes to a wide variety of electronic journals and databases including EMBASE.com, the Cochrane Library, Scopus, Web of Knowledge, PubMed, AMED, CINAHL, BIOSIS and PsycINFO. Furthermore, the library provides access to an assistive technology computer/scanner in group study room 2. This computer is wheelchair accessible and equipped with the latest assistive technology software, including; Zoomtext™, Duxbury™, JAWS™, Kurzweil 1000™/Kurzweil 3000™, Hal™, Lunar™ and Supernova™.

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Group study room

Regarding future developments, we are currently making space in a section of the library by relocating some of the infrequently used or outdated items in the collection to offsite storage. When this section is emptied and the shelving has been removed completely, (subject to funding and permission) we hope to use the space to create additional group study rooms or to house more PC`s.

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Area currently being cleared for repurposing

About the authorPicture of Jesse Waters in front of library shelves.

Jesse Waters is a 2015 graduate of the MLIS at University College Dublin, and also holds an MA in History from Mary Immaculate College. He is currently working as a library-assistant in the John Stearne Medical Library (Trinity College Dublin) on the campus of St. James`s Hospital. Previous to this role, he worked as a library-assistant at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, the James Joyce Library (University College Dublin), and volunteered in the library at Limerick School of Art and Design and the Glucksman Library (University of Limerick).