Library Juice 6:12 - June 5, 2003
3. Oregon anti-war poetry anthology censored by print shop
4. Senate Library and Bookseller Protection Bill
5. The Great Escape (Portrait of a Prison Library)
6. Amusing searches
7. Puzzle Answer
Quote for the week:
"If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and the
fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to
be applied is more speech, not enforced silence." -Louis Dembitz Brandeis,
lawyer, judge, and writer (1856-1941)
Homepage of the week: Dr. Jassim M.Jirjees
Born and raised in Chicago, the son of a wealthy and successful man, he was
thought to be brilliant by all who encountered him. He came to the library
entirely by accident, being assigned to bring new life to an institution
whose facility had been consumed in a fire. Though still a young man and
with little practical experience, he devoted himself entirely to the job,
later revealing that it was the beginning of a new world for him and a life
which afterward was devoted to study and public service. With an I.Q. of
over 200, he may have been the most intelligent American librarian of the
20th Century, though he is not remembered for his work in the stacks but
for a defining moment of his youth. Who was he?
[Puzzle sent to listservs by Michael McGrorty. Answer at the end of this
A joint project of the California Library Association and the ACLU of
[ from Don Wood ]
Catalog This: An Interview With Activist Librarian Jessamyn West
[ Library Link of the Day - http://www.tk421.net/librarylink/ ]
Sample of Search Warrant Procedures for Libraries
[ from Dan Mitchel ]
Umberto Eco - "Eternal Fascism: 14 Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt"
The 14 Characteristics of National Fascism
By Lawrence Britt, Free Inquiry, Spring 2003, p. 20
Secret Service Questions Students
[ from Don Wood ]
Rotten, Old-Fashioned Corruption at the FCC
[ from Don Wood ]
The Middle East Librarians' Association Committee on Iraqi Libraries
[ from Don Wood ]
Iraqi Officials Say Looting of Ancient Sites Continues Despite Pleas to
U.S. Troops for Help
[ Center for Arts and Culture Update ]
Timbuktu Heritage Institute
Saving the Timbuktu Manuscripts, Promoting their Peace-Making Legacy, and
Fostering Sustainable Development
[ from Fred Gertler to the SJSU SLIS list ]
Central Asia: Libraries In A Difficult Bind Following Soviet Collapse
[Radio Free Europe]
[ Library Link of the Day - http://www.tk421.net/librarylink/ ]
Catalyzer Online Journal
[ from Ben Regenspan ]
Philosophy and The Matrix (that movie phenomenon)
[ Center for Arts and Culture Update ]
"BibDitties" - The beginning of a collection of songs about librarians
in MP3 format, at The Laughing Librarian.
[ from Brian Smith ]
Rory Litwin's postings to LISNews.com
3. Oregon anti-war poetry anthology censored by print shop
[SRRTAC-L:10953] Publisher Nixes Oregon Anti-War Poets Anthology
Date: Fri, 23 May 2003 08:35:34 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ann Sparanese <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: SRRT Action Council <email@example.com>
Reply to: firstname.lastname@example.org
I received this from NJ Citizen Action, whose national
organization received it from an affiliate (or
Check out the reasons they refuse to publish this
book. Sound familiar? Maybe a few emails could help...
From: RuthAlice Anderson [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Wednesday, May 21, 2003 3:52 PM
Subject: Fwd: Oregon anti-war poetry anthology
This is an incredible piece of censorship. This vanity
press - a glorified Kinko's is refusing to print an anti-war poetry
anthology. Does anyone in Michigan know anything about them? Is
there a way to shame them for their fascist use of corporate power
to enforce national patriotic correctness?
X-From_: firstname.lastname@example.org Tue May 20
Date: Tue, 20 May 2003 21:04:09 -0700
From: Duane Poncy <email@example.com
Subject: Oregon anti-war poetry anthology censored
X-Mailer: GyazMail version 0.9.9.9
Our book is being censored. What is it, you ask?
Porn? A reprint of The Anarchist Cookbook?
Well, no...it's a book of poetry. I contains some of
the finest poets in the country. The introduction, in fact, was written
by Ursula K. Le Guin and Judith Barrington.
After weeks of editing and sending out for bids from
book manufacturers, we though we had found the right company, with the
right price, to print RAISING OUR VOICES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF OREGON POETS
AGAINST THE WAR. We sent it off early last week, and have been waiting
patiently for our blueline. Instead of a draft, today we received a
package with our book in it, a returned check, and a letter from the
company, Color House Graphics, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The letter
We appreciate you sending the job materials for RAISING OUR VOICES.
Unfortunately we will not be able to accept the order. After reviewing
the laser copy we believe that our employees may take offense to the
content of the book. We would also risk offending our customers who
do not share the same point of view as portrayed in the book.
We regret any inconvenience to you and trust you will understand our
Director of Sales
I understand Mr. Knight's decision all too well. It is censorship, pure
and simple. Mr. Knight tries to paint it as a "bottom line" issue. I'm
sure many of his employees and customers will not care for the content
of our book. But I also suspect that many of Color House Graphics
customers, and potential customers, DO share our point of
view. Furthermore, most independent publishers are very sensitive to
issues of censorship, whether or not they agree with us about the war in
Iraq. This kind of censorship is of particular concern to tiny publishers
like us. There are only a few dozen affordable, small-run (less the 2000
copies) book manufacturers in the U.S. Our options are now one
less, and our publishing schedule has been set back at least two weeks.
If you would like to tell Color House Graphics what you think of their
business practices, here is their contact information:
Color House Graphics, 3505 Eastern Ave., Grand Rapids, MI 49508.
Toll Free Telephone: 800-454-1916. Email:
visit Elohi Gadugi: poetry, software,
Cherokee culture and Native American rights.
Editor's note: Jane Cothron informed the SRRT list that another, slightly
more expensive press was found that wouldn't censor the anthology. The
producers hoped to meet the original publication date with the new printer.
4. Senate Library and Bookseller Protection Bill
ALAWON: American Library Association Washington Office Newsline
Volume 12, Number 46
May 28, 2003
In This Issue: Senate Library and Bookseller Protection Bill
Senate cosponsors are being sought for S. 1158, the "Library and
Bookseller Protection Act." On Friday, May 23rd, Senator Barbara Boxer
(D-CA) introduced S.1158 to ensure that libraries and bookstores are
subjected only to the regular system of court-ordered warrants. S. 1158
has some similarities to H.R. 1157 in the House, the Freedom to Read
Protection Act of 2003.
S. 1158 would:
1) exempt bookstores and libraries from FISA court orders (Section 215
of the USA PATRIOT Act] requiring the production of tangible things for
foreign intelligence investigations; and
2) exempt libraries from being considered "wire or electronic
communication service providers" under Section 2709 of Title 18 of the
US Code, which provides for counterintelligence access to certain
Section 2709 of Title 18 of the US Code relates to the "National
Security letters", a legal tool that has been increasingly used by law
enforcement to obtain many kinds of records from a broad range of
organizations. These are a type of administrative letter requesting
information for an investigation. The FBI can issue these "letters"
internally, without going to any judge. The FBI has indicated to
Congress that is is more likely to use its authority under Title 18,
Section 2709 to get at the electronic transactional records that a
library may have (e.g., e-mail, Web usage) than its authority under
Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Section 215 is the business
records provisions that covers intelligence investigations related to
Though there are no co-sponsors to date, library advocates are
encouraged to ask their respective U.S. Senators to contact Sen. Boxer's
office about cosponsoring H.R. 1158. The bill has been referred to the
Senate Judiciary Committee.
For further information, contact Lynne Bradley or Patrice McDermott at
the ALA Office of Government Relations at 800-941-8478.
ALAWON (ISSN 1069-7799) is a free, irregular publication of the
American Library Association Washington Office. All materials subject to
copyright by the American Library Association may be reprinted or
redistributed for noncommercial purposes with appropriate credits.
To subscribe to ALAWON, send the message: subscribe ala-wo
[your_firstname] [your_lastname] to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to
http://www.ala.org/washoff/alawon. To unsubscribe to ALAWON, send
the message: unsubscribe ala-wo to email@example.com. ALAWON archives at
ALA Washington Office, 1301 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Suite 403,
Washington, D.C. 20004-1701; phone: 202.628.8410 or 800.941.8478
toll-free; fax: 202.628.8419; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Web site:
http://www.ala.org/washoff. Executive Director: Emily Sheketoff.
Office of Government Relations: Lynne Bradley, Director; Camille Bowman,
Mary Costabile, Don Essex, Patrice McDermott and Miriam Nisbet. Office
for Information Technology Policy: Rick Weingarten, Director; Jennifer
Hendrix, Carrie Russell, Claudette Tennant. ALAWON Editor: Bernadette
5. The Great Escape (Portrait of a Prison Library)
The Great Escape: In a maximum-security prison, there's a place where
Shakespeare gets stolen, poets are kings, and books still matter.
By Holbrook Sample
City Limits 2/28/2001 V.XXVI; N.2 p. 18
In prison, there are two things to do for healthy recreation: pump iron or
read. As a result, the library at Eastern New York Correctional Facility is
filled with enormous men looking for books. They kill time in the reading
room, leafing through magazines or newspapers while they wait to pick out a
book. They watch a video. By threes, they may browse in the cramped stacks
among the 11,000 titles. Shoulders and heads bob silently over the
In the movies, the prison library is a sanctuary amid violence and horror,
with long wooden tables for study, tall windows filtering pleasant light,
meticulously kept stacks, a pet crow. Here, at this prison on the depressed
edge of the southern Catskills, there are no wafts of espresso coming from
a cafe. No sunlight at all, as a matter of fact. "Urine-colored walls,
feces-colored tables, and institutional gray floors," is how one inmate
describes the place.
A correction officer surveys the library through windows that look in from
the hall. A civilian clerk watches for theft in a traffic mirror hanging
from a ventilation duct. Eastern is a maximum-security prison, and 85
percent of the men here are from New York City. They are doing long
sentences for felonies like murder, drug dealing, and sex crimes, and they
are constantly being watched. Most of the time, they don't let on that they
know, but they are always aware of it. An inmate, crouching in the stacks
to see some titles, looks up into the mirror on the duct and catches me
watching. He flashes me a peace sign.
I am here on a summer internship as I work toward my master's degree in
library science at the State University of New York at Albany. Many other
students are spending the summer learning to be archivists, public
librarians, or academic librarians, but I wanted to take the most
interesting internship I could find. Here, I could work side by side with
people who live in a world that few outsiders ever see. And unlike my
coworkers, at the end of the day I could go home.
At Eastern, I spend every morning working alongside a part-time librarian
and a clerk. The inmates do the bulk of the work, though, including
interlibrary loan, cataloging, checking in books and shelving. Mostly, I
just look over their shoulders. As a civilian, my role is technically
supervisory, but many of them have been doing their job for years. I'd be
meddling if I tried to offer advice.
The leader of the inmate clerks is Frank Fissette. This is not an elected
position. Fissette leads by being the smartest, and by having a hard,
indifferent attitude that others try to emulate. He is bored by people with
no guts, and he has a sharp disdain for most correction officers.
Like a startling number of inmates in Eastern New York Correctional
Facility, Fissette is a voracious reader. If you have any knowledge,
Fissette will find a way to extract it from you. He has both a genuine
curiosity and a dark charisma, and it's hard to resist the impulse to try
to entertain and impress him.
Fissette doesn't meet many grad students, and in me, he evidently believes
he has hit the intellectual jackpot. But before he can start mining my
brain, he has to make sure I meet his standards.
On my third day in the library, it's empty except for me and a few of the
inmate clerks. Fissette lights a cigarette. Smoking among the books is, of
course, anathema to a librarian. This is a test of my authority, and my
willingness to use it. He'd think I was spineless if I ignored him. But I'd
be despised if I called the C.O. or pressed my emergency beeper. I'm being
asked to show my colors, and reveal where I stand. Am I a potential ally,
or just another amateur cop?
"What, are you kidding, Mr. Fissette? Put that out," I say. I'm nervous, but
I also resent that he's toying with me. He does not put it out.
This is not what I signed up for. What I expect to do as a librarian is to
inform, enlighten and agitate. But at Eastern--and at all prisons--the
librarian must serve two masters. The first is the old ideal that brought
me here: the conviction that books and reading can change men's lives. But
in the modern prison, there's a more mundane reason why libraries remain
despite budget cuts and tough-on-crime politics. They keep inmates quiet.
If an inmate is in the library or reading, goes the thinking, then he isn't
in the yard with the gangs. Here at Eastern, I am learning how to be a
librarian, but I'm also expected to be something of a custodian. The line
The other inmates and Fissette continue talking. "Put it out," I say again.
"If it bothers you," he replies over the live cigarette, "I'll put it out.
But if you're just going to squeal on me...."
He's given me an out. "It bothers me," I tell him. Fissette smiles, hauls
his feet from the desk to the cement, and stubs it out.
When he reads this, Fissette will laugh if I suggest that I won his trust.
In a maximum security prison, there is little traffic in trust between
inmates and civilians. But perhaps he'd agree that I have at least not
earned his contempt.
The dramas in prison usually play out like the cigarette incident. They are
small, charged maneuvers that carry a lot of psychological freight. But in
the library, these potent interactions are slightly less loaded. There are
occasional exceptions to the rigid laws of authority and power. The
possibility for something approaching a normal human friendship still
Fissette's little game is probably the most important moment in my summer,
the difference between staying locked out of the prisoners' world,
relegated to being an outsider, a civilian, a jailer--or getting a chance
to understand why this library is so important to these men. It's the
beginning of my education in what it means to be a prison librarian.
At a maximum-security prison, there are few diversions as powerful as a good
book. At public and school libraries, the staff must lure patrons in with
clever advertising and the Internet. Here at Eastern, the surroundings may
be grim and the resources minimal, but the customers are absolutely
devoted. In a completely unexpected way, it's a librarian's paradise.
The men are avid and thorough readers, and they are desperate for new books.
About two-thirds of the prison's 900 inmates use the library, and new
releases--a true crime novel, the latest in a popular street fiction
series--become precious commodities. Inmate reading varies widely, but
there are themes. Often, men choose by writer, reading each one of an
author's works in turn. A series must be read in order; installments are
anxiously awaited. Patrons eagerly inquire about the books they've ordered
through interlibrary loan from the local system. Fissette fulfills up to 30
of these requests each week.
Browsing through stacks of best-sellers is a modern concept in
incarceration. On the Hulks, the 18th-century floating prisons that ferried
criminals from England to Australia, the library collections were carefully
chosen to guide prisoners to the righteous path. A ship's chaplain usually
directed the collection, with predictable results. According to library
historians Tony Stevens and Bob Usherwood, a prisoner on the way to a new
life in Australia might have read Syneg's Answers to All Excuses for not
Coming to the Holy Communion, or, perhaps, The Evil Consequences of
Attending the Race Course. Dickens' reformist Household Words was banned
because it didn't foster decency.
Now that keeping inmates quiet is more of a priority than keeping them pure,
catalogs are organized on the ethos of the public library: Give the
customer what he wants. Pauline Lewis, Eastern's librarian, takes this
consumer-friendly credo seriously. The New York State budget covers about
$20 per inmate per year for books and other materials, and the prison
librarian has nearly free rein on how to spend the money. So Lewis
continuously checks newspaper and magazine subscriptions against the
desires of a fickle inmate population, making sure that the catalog matches
up with demand. During one of her regular meetings with the inmate clerks,
she ends a subscription duplicating news from China and replaces it with a
daily newspaper to appease men from Buffalo.
With the books, the collection's mandate translates into a mix of paperback
pulp fiction and classics. Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, the two dons of
the Street Literature genre, fill their potboilers with drugs, violence and
prostitution. Inmates can read Stephen King's Misery, The Autobiography of
Malcolm X, or Goines' Whoreson. Books in Spanish, Russian and Chinese
command increasing proportions of shelf space, but certain topics are
off-limits: how-to books on martial arts, explosives manuals,
aggrandizements of pedophilia, road maps.
The easiest way to track the most popular books at Eastern Correctional is
to look for what is missing. Self-help books, religious works and
information on post-release life are never stolen. Books with pictures of
dogs get lifted. Strangely, Shakespeare walks. All that is left on the
shelves is The Encyclopedia of Shakespeare--shelved in the reference
collection, where prisoners must surrender an ID in exchange for a book.
Locking glass cases also protect the most desirable new books, the videos
and popular special collections like African-American literature. The only
way to minimize theft, a phenomenon that plagues libraries everywhere, is
to keep patrons out of the stacks. But Lewis is more interested in
maintaining the balance of trust than maintaining all the books in the
collection, and therefore allows inmates to browse the stacks.
For some motivated inmates, prison becomes a substitute for college--a
chance to acquire a classical education. By the librarian's creed, I don't
ask about these men's crimes, but I know that many of them spent their
school years in prison or on the street. New York State requires prisoners
to work toward a GED, but options for college education are nil unless an
inmate can find a private sponsor. As a result, the exceptional
self-educators mostly rely on the library.
It is inevitably frustrating, because there is no way a prison library can
stand in for a school or university. The Internet is banned, and
prospective scholars are short on options for further courses. Yet the
persistence of some men is astonishing. Some take advantage of other prison
programs to train and learn new skills, like Braille translation. Others
find sponsors to pay for correspondence courses. Men often ask me for
school reading materials like language-learning books, or books of literary
criticism. One inmate, during question-and-answer with a visiting author,
calls out for a booklist of "what they're reading in college." It occurs to
me, sometimes, to be jealous of how much some inmates read.
With his dark hair swept back off his forehead and tattoos decorating his
muscular forearms, Frank Fissette, who is serving a 25-to-life sentence for
murder, is every inch the pin-up felon. And he knows it. It's a role he
consciously plays, with both nuance and gusto.
His relationship with those around him hinges on an absolute code of honor.
In the stories he tells, there are only two kinds of people. There are rats
who betray, and there are admirable criminals who keep their word.
Yet Fissette is also a model prisoner, who has managed to impress prison
officials as much as his fellow inmates. The administrators respect his
tenacity and his intelligence; he's now working on a bachelor's degree from
Empire State, thanks to a benefactor who pays for his classes. The other
men admire his menace, which extends to his control over the library.
Like anything else of value in prison, new books have their own economy.
Prisoners are always desperate to keep up with what's happening on the
outside. One inmate, Rich Kirkwood, says that his wife gives him a
technology update each week: e-mail, call waiting, E-Z Pass. "But it's not
the same as the real thing," he says. Many have never seen the Internet. To
keep current, most men in prison rely on books, magazines, and newspapers
in the library. The demand for new reading material is steady and intense.
Supply is in the hands of Fissette and Kirkwood, who control the books right
up to the point when they are shelved. The men are territorial about their
jobs, with a proprietary, almost obsessive attention to the details of the
work. For one thing, these jobs are slightly less boring than most of the
other ones in prison. More importantly, in a place where power is at a
premium, controlling anything--even a fresh copy of A Perfect Storm--has
its rewards. Tiny reservoirs of command become decisive.
When new books come in, it is Rich Kirkwood who enters them into the
computer and labels them. With great flourish, he slaps red "Eastern"
stamps in every conceivable place in the book, decorating the binding,
cover, all edges, and almost every page.
But all the drama with the red stamp appears to be reserved for works less
in demand. It soon becomes clear that there are certain new titles that
don't go directly to the shelves, as well as books that get returned
directly to Fissette or Kirkwood instead of through the usual procedures.
The two men, I come to discover, run the library's black market. As far as
I can tell, it's a titles-for-favors scheme: Certain people get first crack
at new books in return for cigarettes, snacks, loyalty. This illicit
system, like others in prison, is closer to patronage than it is to
larceny. The currency here is favors.
But though I pry mightily, neither man will reveal the exact terms or
mechanism of this arrangement. Kirkwood insists, "It's just some books for
friends, people I trust. If I didn't do it, some stupid m.f.'er would steal
the books. Then what? Who'd get to read 'em then?"
This argument prevails with Lewis, who tolerates the shadow book club. But I
know there is more to it when Fissette splits with me a warm, buttery egg
sandwich, covered in cheese on a fresh-baked roll. I was told that the guy
who brought it likes fantasy books. "When you're good to people, they need
to be good back, right?" asks Fissette, grinning.
In the early part of the century, prison libraries were still mostly an
afterthought, a collection of books chosen primarily for their dreary
purity. In 1928, not one of the country's 110 federal penitentiaries had a
trained librarian. But as the profession of librarianship began to muscle
its way into institutions, librarians increasingly took posts behind bars.
By 1940, half the federal prison libraries boasted a librarian.
At that point, the library was still a tool of the jailers, a means to mold
and shape the inmates. The prison librarian's job was to simply collect and
organize the books prescribed by the administration to foster positive
change and moral betterment. Any other kinds of reading were, as Stevens
and Underwood put it, "considered to be `mental dope' and indicative of
After World War II, correctional philosophy, having failed to solve the
problem of criminal behavior, mutated again. Instead of remolding the
criminal into an acceptable member of society, the hope was now to unlock
the inner citizen. The idea that crime was a type of treatable illness
became pervasive in correctional theory. Where before an inmate went to
prison to change, he now went to be cured. The basic premise, in the words
of correctional researcher Mick Ryan, was, "Where hard work and God had
failed, group therapy and Freud were to succeed."
So it only made sense that ambitious reformers borrowed the tools of
rehabilitation from mental health institutions. One of those ideas was
bibliotherapy, the doctrine that therapeutic reading could cure the
afflicted through a process of self-actualization. Bibiliotherapy promised
to cure by changing attitudes, motivation and behavior through the medicine
of assigned reading and discussion. Inmates would get to know themselves
through a kind of personal and intellectual catharsis, by identifying with
the characters and situations in fiction. Reading and discussion might give
inmates insight and vocabulary to discuss their own problems more
accurately in therapy. And literature could also help with socialization,
by suggesting interesting conversations on healthy topics. This is the
stuff librarians dream of. The power of literature could finally be
harnessed to correctional ends; the unification of prison and library was
With bibliotherapy, the role of prison libraries and librarians in the 1950s
and 1960s expanded. No longer a mere archivist and information expert, the
librarian also became something of a personal guide, leading book
discussions and helping prisoners with individual directed reading. And as
the librarian took on part of the therapist's role and the library became
something akin to a clinic, the expectations for what books and libraries
should accomplish also became more complex. Bibliotherapy and other similar
programs were expected to produce cured criminals who would lead
well-adjusted lives once they returned to free society. Lowering recidivism
may have always been the Holy Grail of corrections, but by the 1960s it had
become an implicit justification for funding prison libraries as well.
In 1966, this doctrine was put to the test. New York State was in the middle
of an ambitious effort to develop programs that would employ
state-of-the-art methods to keep the state's nearly 16,500 inmates from
returning to prison. In the best traditions of social science, the state
Department of Corrections recruited a researcher named Robert Martinson to
do an exhaustive survey, analyzing hundreds of rehab programs and reams of
statistics on recidivism in order to find out what really works.
Four years and 231 reviews later, Martinson's answer came, weighing in at
1,400 pages. But the study's conclusions were discouraging--so dismal that
the state refused to release the results. Finally, four years later and
under subpoena, the state made the review public. "It is possible to give a
rather bald summary of our findings," writes Martinson in The Public
Interest, the first published account of his study. "With few and isolated
exceptions the rehabilitative efforts that have been reported so far have
had no appreciable effect on recidivism." In one crashing moment,
corrections experts found that some of their most cherished assumptions
about what it takes to rehabilitate a criminal had evaporated. Martinson's
report concluded, in painful detail, that nothing works.
It was a bombshell. After the Martinson study, correctional theorists and
prison program directors scrambled to justify their efforts, and in the
three decades since then sociologists, politicians and activists have
continued to battle over the efficacy of correctional work. The formidable
idea that "nothing works" destroyed the momentum behind rehabilitative
services, and spelled the beginning of the end for bibliotherapy.
But incarceration's next crisis came unexpectedly to the rescue. As violence
and gangs laid siege to prisons in the 1970s and 1980s, administrators
realized that libraries serve another important purpose--namely, security.
Libraries sedate. The cost of some books and a librarian is, after all,
much lower than the price of an institution in turmoil. Professor Shadd
Maruna, a corrections specialist at SUNY Albany, says that the politics of
criminal justice have kept rehabilitation programs afloat ever since.
Today, he observes, a prison administrators' goal "is really to keep a lid
on the shop and make sure you don't wind up on the front pages of the Times
for whatever reason. Keep the prison out of the news, keep the prisoners
inside where they are supposed to be, and don't embarrass the governor."
As a result, much of what the library does is merely palliative, and
colludes with the other parts of the prison to keep things quiet. But if
they believed crowd control was their only function, librarians would flee
from prisons. The library, and the librarian too, work a paradox. Help men
by control, control men by help. It's something they don't teach in library
Among New York's prisons, Eastern Correctional has a reputation for taking
its library more seriously than most, and as more than a token gesture to
public safety. Bibliotherapy may be passe, but a book group of 18 men meets
weekly, reading titles selected by the inmates: Guterson's Snow Falling On
Cedars, Dexter's Paperboy, Proulx's The Shipping News. A professor from one
of the nearby colleges sometimes comes in to lead the discussion. A local
poet has volunteered to lead a writing group in the prison, and the men
publish their most polished work.
The prison also hosts a writing contest, with a judges' panel that includes
me, Fissette, an inmate who writes haiku and a few civilians. We are
overwhelmed with entries. Men just learning how to spell, as well as
published writers, give us works to consider. Almost every one is about the
experience of prison itself, either stark physical descriptions, essays on
oppression or poems of loneliness and loss.
Now that inmates are barred from state and federal education grants for
college, Eastern can no longer sustain a higher education program. The
prison still does host programs for high school equivalency classes, which
rely on the library for books and research.
During my first week, the English teacher brings her 25 students to the
library for Wednesday morning class. The library is at maximum capacity,
and the men are restless and noisy. Quickly, it gets to the point where I
try to quiet them. "Hello. Please...Yo!" Yelling only brings them to a
louder pitch. I have no control.
Then Pauline Lewis steps up. Like a symphony conductor, she raises her
hands. "Gentlemen," she says softly. The inmates fall silent. "You know
that I shouldn't have to remind you that you are in a library. This is Mr.
Sample. He will be spending the summer with us. He is here to help you, so
please welcome him." After scattered "hellos," the inmates tone down for
the rest of the time. Lewis comes from the New York Public Library system,
where she developed literacy programs and worked to bring library services
to nursing homes and hospitals. When she moved upstate in 1989, her talents
naturally fit in at Eastern.
Lewis has found a way to be both firm and gracious, and these tough men are
as respectful as they can be to this slight woman in her fifties. It's a
level of regard that few who work at Eastern can count on. On my first day
at Eastern, as she escorted me through the warren of halls and clanging
gates, we were greeted by a continuous chorus of "Good morning, Mrs.
Lewis"es from the inmates as we passed. Even the correction officers bow a
bit in greeting her. "Mrs. Lewis is the best person I know," Fissette says.
Martinson's "nothing works" is easy to cite, and easy to argue over. But for
Pauline Lewis, as for other prison librarians, the recidivism figures that
obsess the academics and administrators are almost irrelevant. And like
many others in her profession, Lewis is not particularly drawn by the dusty
charm of books. Her work is based on a more precise and realistic faith:
that information, and access to information, is the most powerful tool she
can provide to these men. "I am not a lover of books," she says to me, in
her airy Jamaican accent. "I became a librarian because it is a service
It may seem trivial, but one of the most important things Lewis does is
simply convert inmates into library patrons. A man leaving prison may have
no job and no house, but he also can be at sea in more profound ways. When
he walks out the door, he is suddenly stripped of the daily routines and
habits that have shaped him for years. The library can be a refuge, helping
him find a job and a place to live. It also can provide cheap
entertainment, and a way to constructively engage in a community.
"We really believe, most of us that are in prison library work, that the
work we do, if we are successful at getting inmates to come into the
library, prepares them for a return to the street," says Jean Botta, the
supervising librarian for the New York State Department of Correctional
Services." We are preparing them for better use of the public library."
In New York State, libraries are still required by law, and they are still
being designed into the new prisons being built upstate. But a 1996 New
York Commission on Corrections report essentially recommended an end to
prison libraries in New York State. Starve the libraries, the commission
suggested, cease buying books and materials, and abolish the requirement
for a professional librarian. Helping inmates, entertaining them or simply
pacifying them is no longer as important as making the prisons cheaper to
I ask Fissette what would happen with no library in prison. "There will
always be books in here," he says sharply. Clearly, no policy change is
going to keep him from reading, and laying his hands on new books.
But books for whom, I ask? Fissette himself was not a reader when he was
sentenced to prison, and he had no interest in education until he took a
couple classes on a whim and realized that he was good at it. A clutch of
inmates--there are always people nearby--hassles Fissette into conceding
that they need the library, at least to give the other men the chance that
This year, Pauline Lewis retired from Eastern. But she says it is hard to
leave, and that she will miss the inmates. "I know that they are criminals,
but really they have become a part of my life," she says. Lewis is adamant
that Eastern's library should continue to be run by a professional. Right
now, though, the woman in charge is a civilian with no formal training. It
gets me thinking. After watching Lewis all summer long, I am no longer so
queasy about the idea of working for a prison. Her conscience is clear. She
has accepted her role as a jailer in order to help the people who need it
By spending years or decades in prison, these men miss out on almost
everything life has to offer: an education, a profession, a social life, a
family. The idea that a well-run library could begin to compensate for any
of that is a joke. With so little to point to for pride, though, the
library grants them small opportunities for victory. It seems to me that
even finishing a book marginally increases their chances for survival both
in and out of prison. It gives them something to call their own. For a
librarian, that's the ultimate job satisfaction.
To Fissette, I'm still a "rich suburban kid with an unnatural affinity for
khaki pants." Yet I am also a trained librarian, and Fissette and Kirkwood
have started lobbying me to be Lewis' successor. Normally, candidates for
the job have to ascend the civil service list in order to get their pick of
openings in the prisons. But Fissette has a plan to get me on the fast
track. "Take hostages," he suggests with a wide grin.
Holbrook Sample is a reference librarian and freelance writer.
Article copyright City Limits Community Information Service, Inc.
Republished with permission.
6. Amusing searches
The following were some amusing searches that led from search engines,
mostly Google, to pages on Libr.org during the month of May.
pictures of anger managements classes
do we need a appendix
pyjama or pajama correct spelling
university library foot fetish
methods of making money as a Watkins home products associate
continuously muttering to yourself
recording artists with juice in the name
where can i work as a mercenarie
"pickle juice" harmful
Quotes dealing with Jesus and telecommunications
charts relating to wolf posturing
I NEED WEAPONS
Percentage of Gay Pastors in the state of Michigan
cars take over the future of mankind
www. setting timing on nissan.com
"her legs are short" compared
what makes up the definition of neo
fashion models bunion photos
popeye sea goblin
Topic: Cars, How important they are to everyday life.
take things from the public library
how many countries have bullies?
I stare at people
nobody gets in, not nobody not no how
For some amusing searches made into haiku, take a look at what they've
done at the Identity Theory website:
7. Puzzle Answer
Sue Kamm sent the answer:
"Nathan Leopold. He and his friend Richard Loeb kidnapped and murdered
Bobby Franks. Their trial was a sensational one, as Clarence Darrow
appeared for the defense. A Google search on "Leopold and Loeb" brings up
a website devoted to the trial."
"Sue Kamm is correct. The librarian is Nathan Leopold. Check out his
'Life Plus 99 Years,' especially pages 213-221 of the original 1957 edition.
If I were to begin a library anywhere and had the choice of anybody to put
on staff, he'd be close to the top of my list.
"This brings us back to the old question of what makes a librarian; in
Leopold's case it was brains, curiousity and a deep desire to do
something positive after the horrid crime that put him in prison as a
young man. I wonder how many of us would have done the same thing in
"Uh... for those of us that do not have original 1957 edition of
'Life Plus 99 Years' handy, could you give us the juicy details of this
horrid crime? Since when did M. McGrorty get all tight-lipped? :)"
"Nathan Leopold is half of the infamous duo that
committed "The Crime of the Century" in 1924 in
Chicago. Richard Loeb was the other half. Here is a
link for a site that offers much information about the
Clarence Darrow was their attorney. It makes for
fascinating reading. I didn't know that Leopold was a
librarian while in prison though. Thanks for the info."
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