Survey Results: Library Services for Justice-Impacted Individuals

To better understand library services to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, Ally Dowds, Consultant to Special Populations at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, recently conducted a survey of public, school, academic, and special libraries. Of the 48 respondents, 9 currently provide outreach services to incarcerated individuals and 4 support reentry efforts in their communities. “The results confirm that libraries want to do more to provide services, but they need support, staffing and funding to do so,” said Ms. Dowds. Many libraries stated that they simply “don’t know where to begin.” Libraries also reported needing better connection to community partners and access to continuing education to prepare staff. The survey is the first step in the MBLC’s ongoing efforts to support libraries as they provide services to incarcerated people and reentry services or support for returning citizens at libraries.


• 48 Respondents
• 40 Public Libraries

• 9 currently provide outreach to incarcerated individuals
• Blend of book donations, legal support and comprehensive services

Outreach Needs:
• Continuing Education and Staffing were primary needs of those currently providing outreach services
• New outreach – 29 responded “Where do I begin?”; 25 needed connection to a partnership. Continuing education also a big factor

• 4 libraries currently provide reentry services or support returning citizens at the library
• 37 libraries reported they do not

Reentry Needs:
• 24 reported needing more information
• 26 reported “Where do I begin?”
• 23 reported needing access to community partners
• Continuing education, community partnerships were top responses

Survey Responses

Survey question "Please select your type of library" with responses 40 public, 1 school, 1 academic, 6 special. The special libraries are all law libraries.
Survey question "Does your library currently provide outreach services to a local jail, prison, or youth detention center?" with responses 9 yes, 38 no, and 1 other

Type of outreach reported 

  • Book donations and access to book sale items 
  • Institutional library card for staff to reserve and check out items to bring back to facility 
  • Outreach visits to facilities to give book talks, book groups, technology and art programming, and occasional author talks 
  • Greenfield Community College offers courses and library services at Franklin County House of Corrections 
  • Legal reference question support 

    *”Yes” respondents were (1) juvenile detention center, (5) county jails or House of Corrections, (3) state prisons. 
Survey question "If yes, does your library need additional support?" with responses 1 funding, 4 staffing, 6 continuing education, 2 other.
Survey question "If your library provides outreach services to incarcerated individuals, do you collect data (statistical or anecdotal) to show the impact or efficacy of your services?" with responses 4 yes, 8 no.
Survey question "Would your library be interested in partnering with a local jail, prison, or a youth detention center to provide supportive library services to individuals experiencing incarceration?" with responses 6 already do, 13 yes, 13 maybe, 16 need more information.
Survey question "If yes, or considering, outreach to incarcerated individuals, what does your library need?" with responses 18 continuing education, 25 partnership or connection to institution, 15 funding, 29 where do I begin?, 5 other.

“Other” response: 

  • More staff 
  • Method of delivery of materials to institution 
  • Loss prevention around materials 
  • Inactive library cards 
Survey question "Does your library currently provide services, resources or programs for returning citizens or reentry support?" with responses 4 yes, 37 no, 7 other.

Types of re-entry support: 

  • Re-entry fairs and Re-entry Center partnerships/drop-in services 
  • Legal support 
  • Internet access 
  • Digital literacy and tech support around social service applications (ie, Registry of Motor Vehicles, housing)
  • CORI-sealing workshops 
Survey question "If yes, does your library need additional support?" with responses 4 funding, 4 staffing, 8 continuing education, 8 community partners.
Survey question "If your library provides reentry services to returning citizens, do you collect data (statistical or anecdotal) to show the impact or efficacy of your services?" with responses 1 yes, 6 no.
Survey question "Would your library be interested in providing reentry support services to returning citizens?" with responses 2 already do, 16 yes, 6 maybe, 24 need more information.
Survey question "If yes, or considering, reentry support services at your library, what does your library need?" with responses 20 continuing education, 23 community partners, 16 funding, 26 where do I begin?, 4 other.
Survey question "Does your library have a librarian that could or does provide outreach in the community?" with responses 27 yes, 7 no, 11 would like to, 3 developing a new position.

If yes, who?

  • Admin (Director/Assistant Director): 5 
  • Adult Services: 5 
  • All departments: 5 
  • Outreach Librarian: 4 
  • Youth Services: 5 
  • Other: 3 

If no, reasons? 

  • Funding, funding, funding 
  • Time 
  • Staffing 
  • Development of new position  
  • Community/administrative support, funding, continuing education, blueprint for how to create position 
  • Need community input, interest and prioritization 
  • Justification and buy-in to bring library services beyond library walls  

Additional Comments: 

  • Barriers to library card signups such as ID requirements, lost materials, old charges, etc. 
  • Collaboration with initiatives such as the Prison Book Program or Prison Library Support Network 
  • Map or directory of youth detention centers, points of contact for carceral facilities  
  • Library programs/support to expunge records 
  • Continuing education on topics such as outreach partnerships (establishing, maintaining), library services to incarcerated individuals  
  • Library to library collaboration to share outreach responsibilities, alleviate burden on staffing and funding, etc.   

“I would like to see social work and other services available right here in the library…” 

“We would be interested in learning more…” 

“A huge barrier is finding prisons and jails with libraries [and] staff tasked to manage them.” 

“I…believe that helping people who are incarcerated is incredibly important and would like to see our library organization do more…” 

“… be a known ally [for incarcerated youth]…” 

“…extremely important work… I’m grateful for all libraries that are providing this for incarcerated individuals… potential to have life-changing outcomes…” 

“…[I]t’s important for libraries to provide more than just materials to incarcerated patrons…” 

A Little History Lesson

By Lauren Stara, MBLC Library Building Specialist

The Library: a World History came out a few years ago and I did a blog post to the short-lived MBLC Construction Blog in January of 2014. I wanted to share it here because it was such a great read.

The book was written by James W.P. Campbell, with photographs by Will Pryce. I saw the review and it sounded interesting, but to be honest I thought I’d ooh and aah over the photos and put it on the shelf.

Au contraire. I started reading the introduction and I realized that this was not just a doorstop with pretty pictures. I’m about half-way through and I have learned about form and design in the library building type from ancient Sumer to the late nineteenth century. I’ve gleaned some great cocktail party conversation starters. For example, did you know that most of the knowledge we have about the earliest libraries is because of fire? Clay tablets, usually just baked in the sun, were “fired” when their building burned. These hardened tablets are the ones that have survived, in contrast to the total destruction of papyrus, vellum and paper in fires. Later libraries were entirely lit by daylight until the advent of electricity, since the potential destruction by lamps or torches was so great.

As the format and production of books evolved, so did the spaces and shelving styles that house them: from lecterns to alcoves to perimeter shelving; from chained books to grillwork cabinets to open shelves. We think we have it bad now, with collections growing out of the available space – imagine the poor librarians right after the printing press was invented! Collections, literacy rates and the services required grew exponentially.

The 21st century is the first time since Gutenberg that the shape of libraries has been determined by something other than printed books. People are using public libraries in unprecedented numbers. They want access to collections, sure, but they also want internet via library stations and wi-fi, programs and activities, and just a place to hang out. Libraries have become the de facto community center in many places, and people take up more space than books do.

We’re in a period of great flux now, and it’s harder than ever to answer the question “what will libraries be like in 20 years?” Over the last several decades, librarians have proven to be masters of resilience and flexibility; our buildings must reflect that flexibility. Mobile technology, furniture and shelving with a welcoming atmosphere and a philosophy of service is the model that seems to be working. We have to be ready for anything.

Postscript: this fabulous quote from the book shows that some things never change:

“The results of Beaux-Arts planning were all too often libraries in which librarians worked in increasingly impractical layouts, designed to look good on plan rather than function well in reality. This was the tyranny of the symmetrical plan.” –p. 225

We have this book in the MBLC professional collection, available through NOBLE or the Commonwealth Catalog.


Keen Eye for Detail Sets Shrewsbury Apart

Shrewsbury’s revamped library held its grand opening on September 21. This renovation and expansion project made room for more computers, a new community meeting space, group meeting areas, and a courtyard adjoining the children’s room.

The new space configuration and furniture setup pays homage to the design details and charm of the historic 1903 building while also accommodating the needs of present-day patrons. Self-checkout machines, plentiful power outlets, and many options for seating – whether visitors want to read for hours, charge their devices, study, or just relax in front of the window for a moment – allow for customizable, user-centered experiences in the library.

Banned Books Week 2016

It’s humpday of Banned Books Week 2016. This year’s focus is on diversity in literature; books that get banned or challenged are disproportionately written by diverse authors.

celebrate diversity for banned books week, september 25-october 1, 2016

For the uninitiated, Banned Books Week is “an annual event celebrating the freedom to read… it highlights the value of free and open access to information, [and] brings together the entire book community; librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types, in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.” More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982, according to the American Library Association (ALA).

Throughout the U.S. at libraries, schools, universities, and other institutions, “read-a-thons” and “read-outs” of books banned over the years will increase awareness of both censorship and the importance of the freedom to read. This year, virtual read-outs from around the country are featured on their own YouTube channel as well.

the top ten most challenged books of 2015 - titles & authors listed below image

2015 Book Challenges in Detail

(from the Banned Books Week website)

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Globe-Horn Book Awards Kick Off Children’s & Young Adult Award Season

Editor’s note: This post was written by Shelley Quezada, the MBLC’s Consultant to the Unserved.

Here in New England, September marks both the beginning of fall and the start of the children’s book award season, recognizing some of the most excellent books for young readers published in the past 12 months. A perennial favorite with youth services librarians, authors, and publishers, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards Ceremony will take place on Friday, September 30 at Simmons College in Boston. The Boston Globe Horn Book Awards has been presented annually since 1967 and is considered among the most prestigious honors in the field of children’s and young adult literature.

Selections are featured in three categories: Picture Book, Fiction and Poetry, and Nonfiction. Additionally, each category includes two honor books. Unlike many American Library Association awards, the winning titles may be written or illustrated by citizens of any country as long as they are published in the United States. Awards are chosen each year by an independent panel of three judges appointed by the editor of The Horn Book.

This year’s award winners were announced by video on the Horn Book website in May. However, next Friday’s ceremony is especially exciting because it features speeches by the award winners, followed by a book signing.

2016 Award & Honor Winners

covers of the three 2016 horn book award winners. titles are listed below

Nonfiction Award Winner

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War by Steve Sheinkin (Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of Macmillan)

Fiction Award Winner

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams)

Picture Book Award Winner

Jazz Day: The Making of a Famous Photograph written by Roxane Orgill, illustrated by Francis Vallejo (Candlewick Press)

covers of the 2016 horn book honor award winners. titles and authors follow below in text.

Nonfiction Honor Books

  • Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick Press)
  • Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement written by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick Press)

Fiction Honor Books

  • The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (Candlewick Press)
  • Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House)

Picture Book Honor Books

  • Thunder Boy Jr. written by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
  • One Day, the End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-than-Ever Stories written by Rebecca Kai Dotlich, illustrated by Fred Koehler (Boyds Mills Press)

Attendees at the Friday ceremony are in for a treat: with the exception of authors and illustrators Frances Hardinge, Sherman Alexie, and Yuyi Morales, all awardees will be on hand to give presentations to the audience. Many of these authors will also participate the following day at the 2016 Horn Book Colloquium “Out of the Box” that will also be held at Simmons College.

Happy Read an eBook Day!

Did you know today, September 16th, is Read an eBook Day? I didn’t either, but I just so happened to download the electronic version of Stacy Schiff’s The Witches: Salem, 1692 this morning, and OverDrive let me know what’s up.

I live in Somerville and The Witches is our city’s community reads title for 2016. Last night, I checked out the 400+ page hardcover tome and immediately dreaded lugging it around town. Luckily, Minuteman Library Network’s OverDrive collection came to the rescue – I now have the ultra-portable ebook version on my phone, too. Woohoo!

There’s even a hashtag, #eBookLove, for y’all to wax poetic and join in the celebration. What are you e-reading right now? Let us know!

Massachusetts Libraries ( Relaunches

Massachusetts Libraries (, the online portal for statewide library resources & services first launched in 2007, has been completely redesigned. We wanted to keep it simple and user-friendly while also offering personalized access to catalogs and collections.

screenshot of massachusetts libraries website homepage

Visitors are first prompted to find their local library by entering a zip code, town, or library name. The new site is then customized with access to their home network’s catalog and the Commonwealth Catalog, making it easy to search both locally and throughout the state. It also helps visitors find ebook collections and provides immediate access to online articles. And there’s a new A-Z title list of all research journals, magazines, and newspapers available through our statewide subscription.

In the Your Local Library section, visitors can find out about classes, events, and workshops – such as summer reading and early learning programs, high school equivalency exam prep, and English learning groups – at nearby libraries and literacy centers. The Digital Collections page highlights digital libraries and special online collections, great resources for teachers and students looking to explore history in Massachusetts and beyond.

We’ll be testing the site with users and consistently making adjustments throughout the coming months, so we welcome any and all feedback on the new site! Send your thoughts and comments to

Hello world!

This is a new blog from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners about what’s happening in the library world, both at the state level and beyond.

We’ll be writing about our partnership with libraries around the state, exploring the revolution in library programs, services, and building design that’s reshaping the way we do business in the 21st century. We’ll also be raising awareness about how libraries help bolster our cities and towns through early learning and literacy programs, tech training, community partnerships, and more.

Interested in writing a guest post?
Whether you’re a librarian who wants to share special events or news about your library, an educator with a passion for reading or lifelong learning, or a tech employer who values 21st century skills, we welcome contributions from all perspectives.

Here’s what we’re looking for:
• 500 words or less
• Informal, personal writing style – like you’d expect from a blog!
• Pictures and videos are always welcome.
• Please note: We may lightly edit posts for brevity and tone.

Send your submissions here.