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…” 

Massachusetts Libraries Receive Prestigious Architectural Awards

The Woburn Public Library on a snowy night.
Woburn Public Library – Photo courtesy Andrea Bunker

By Lauren Stara, Library Building Specialist at the MBLC

Public library buildings are civic hubs and as such, they are often designed to serve as enduring symbols of public good. They are opportunities to demonstrate community values in the built environment. The Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program focuses on functionality and efficiency of library designs, but it’s a fact that inspiring and beautiful buildings are ones that people want to visit again and again.

For a library building, an architectural award is something to celebrate. This year, Massachusetts public libraries have received an unprecedented FIVE awards from the American Institute of Architects’ New England Chapter, and two of those buildings also received national recognition, receiving awards from the joint committee of the American Institute of Architects and the American Library Association.

2021 AIA/ALA Building Awards

  • Boston Public Library – Roxbury Branch / Utile, Inc Architecture and Planning
  • Cambridge Public Library – Valente Branch / William Rawn Associates Architects

2021 AIA New England Design Awards

  • Best of the Boston Society of Architects
    • Woburn Public Library / CBT Architects
  • Honor Awards
    • Woburn Public Library / CBT Architects
    • Boston Public Library – Roxbury Branch / Utile, Inc Architecture and Planning
  • Merit Awards
    • King Open Schools Complex, which includes the Cambridge Public Library – Valente Branch / William Rawn Associates Architects
    • Eastham Public Library / Oudens Ello Architecture
  • Citation
    • Norwell Public Library / Oudens Ello Architecture

All of these buildings received funding from the MBLC through the Massachusetts Public Library Construction Program, and we add our congratulations to all these libraries and their architects.

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.

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

Fall Library Conferences & Meetings in New England

Ah, autumn in New England – the return of students, crisp air, and an overabundance of pumpkin-flavored things. And… lots and lots of library and archives conferences and events!

Here’s just a handful of the upcoming options for professional development, networking, and skill-building around the area.

The New England Assessment in Action Symposium
presented by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)/New England Chapter & Massachusetts Library System (MLS)
Tuesday, September 13
Assumption College, Worcester, MA
“Assessment in Action: Academic Libraries and Student Success is an initiative to help academic librarians build skills in carrying out data-driven assessment projects. Join your New England colleagues who participated and learn how the academic library community might build on its success at the national and regional level.”

Special Library Association (SLA) New England Fall Conference: Building Skills, Creating Value
Friday, September 30
Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center
“Sessions from SLA members focusing on measuring value, working with stakeholders, and career transitions. Our keynote speaker for the conference is Tracy Z. Maleeff (@LibrarySherpa), the principal of Sherpa Intelligence, a research and social media consulting firm in the Philadelphia area.”

Society of American Archivists (SAA): Privacy and Confidentiality Issues in Digital Archives
Thursday, October 13
Hampton Inn Hadley-Amherst (MA)
“This course covers privacy and confidentiality legal issues specific to archives of digital material. You’ll examine the intersection of (and the tension between) privacy/confidentiality, free speech and freedom to research/write, and focus on how electronic records and the digital realm have altered the scene.”

New England Archivists (NEA) Fall 2016 Meeting: Bridging the Gaps
Friday, October 14
Yiddish Book Center, Amherst, MA
“NEA’s Fall 2016 Meeting will offer inspiring examples of how archivists, associated professionals, and record stakeholders are working to bridge gaps in collection development and accessibility of materials.”

New England Library Association (NELA) Annual Conference: Imagining Tomorrow
October 16-18
Doubletree by Hilton, Danvers, MA

Massachusetts Library System 2016 Annual Meeting (“save the date” link)
November 7
College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA
Keynote speaker: John Palfrey, author of Bibliotech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google
More details to come, but presentations include final projects from this year’s ProjectSET (Skills, Empowerment, Talent) participants and the MLS Strategic Plan for 2017-2019.