Friday, 13 July 2012

Librarians behind bars...

So last Wednesday I spent the day banged up with several other librarians at Lewes Prison. It was a suitably gloomy morning when we arrived at the gates:

The foreboding entrance gates at HMP Lewes (understandably,
there were no photo opportunities to be had inside the prison)
We were taken on a tour of the prison first. The cells reminded me of some of the more basic Halls of Residence I had encountered during my time as a student (and these even had their own ensuite WCs!.. albeit fairly basic ones). Joking aside, for a Category B prison the inmates seemed fairly well treated, with most being allowed out of their cells for much of the day. Even the serious offenders (separated in another wing which wasn't part of the tour) did have access to the library, if accompanied by an officer, for an hour at a time. There were many opportunities for inmates to work and learn during their stay (average sentences at Lewes are only 8 weeks but some prisoners were there for very short or long terms, ranging from several days up to Life). The Prince's Trust has set up a course in Falconry which is available only to those prisoners who have been exemplarily well-behaved. We were introduced to some fairly menacing 'jail birds' outside in the Prison's aviary, including Kestrels and Harris Hawks. Prisoners had the chance to learn to feed, look after and fly these birds.

A Harris Hawk (courtesy of  FurLined on Flickr - Creative Commons Licensed)
In the prison library you find almost everything you would expect to find in a public library, including an extensive DVD collection, the inevitable graphic novels display and sporting/celebrity auto-biographies. There was a noticeably augmented Crime section and I had a chat with an inmate about whether he liked to read these. He told me that he did but but was disappointed the novels available all conformed to a "simplistic narrative" where a "Gillian Anderson/Scully-type character" would invariably track down the culprit and bring them to justice. He went on to (ironically, I think) bemoan the lack of books explaining how to jimmy one's way into a Securicor van..

The library's approach to rules and regulations reminded me, interestingly, of the system of passive enforcement I saw at GVSU. There were no barrier alarms and it was simply accepted that some stock would go missing. There was certainly censorship here but it was subtly done. Only a handful of 18-rated films made it into the collection but there was certainly some fairly hardcore fiction (Richard Montanari et al.) available. Law books were popular, of course, to the extent where these statutes and proceedings had to be kept behind the counter and were only available upon request. Maps of the local area were similarly restricted, just in case someone did want to try to use them to plot their escape!

The library is heavily involved in the learning opportunities which are available, promoting reading groups and a scheme which allows prisoners to record a bedtime story for their children. The librarians spoke of how much satisfaction the prisoners get out of such programmes. The library also hosts the Toe by Toe scheme which pairs up strong readers with those who have learning difficulties in a 'Buddy System'. And that (eventually and in a roundabout sort of way) brings us to Thing 11: Mentoring.

There's only a limited amount I can say about Mentorship. I have engaged in this to a limited extent in the past through Kingston's own buddying scheme is run for new employees. I have never had a mentor (nor mentored) in a formal capacity, however before and again I look forward to meeting my potential Chartership mentor. He is from a public library background so hopefully both of us will be able to learn from one another. I also hope to be able to work with him to identify where my own personal strengths & weaknesses lie and this is something covered in the Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP). 

The prison visit was organised by CILIP and a big thanks goes the librarians who met with us on the day - it was a fascinating insight into a side of libraries I had barely thought about before and it was very positive to hear how rewarding this could be.

I continued my adventures (a little closer to home nowadays!) with a jaunt along the East Sussex coast this week, ending up in Eastbourne:

A hotel library, Art Deco-style at The Cavendish on the Eastbourne seafront
 Fireworks hail the climax of Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture - performed 
by a 20-strong brass band at Eastbourne's bandstand

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