Correctional Services Managing Librarian New York Public Library New York, New York
There are approximately two million people who are incarcerated in the United States, and wide swaths of the community served by the public library are impacted by policing or incarceration. Reference by Mail is one of the many ways that libraries can reimagine the public they are already serving to include people who have or have previously experienced incarceration in order to create a more socially just system of information distribution. People who are incarcerated have minimal access to information during their incarceration, and that access has been further curtailed as jails and prisons have implemented lockdown conditions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. During the pandemic, many jails and prisons have limited or no library access, have suspended many programs, and have paused in-person visitations as the pandemic continues. Even as COVID 19 restrictions ease, Reference by Mail services allow librarians to increase information access from a distance and will continue to meet vital needs inside. New York Public Library has provided a Reference by Mail service for people who are incarcerated for over 30 years. Over that period of time, information access outside of jails and prisons has become increasingly digitized while information access inside of prisons has continued to be limited and contested. Given that information access is one of the ways in which people who are incarcerated can maintain a sense of self, San Francisco Public Library’s Jail and Reentry Services librarians have adopted the model created through New York Public Library. Together, the two library systems provide Reference by Mail services for people inside of jails and prisons across the country. This presentation extends the opportunity to learn from an established (NYPL) and a growing (SFPL) Reference by Mail program. NYPL librarians and SFPL Jail and Reentry Services librarians will explain how Reference by Mail service fits with the mission of public libraries. In recognition that every public library is likely located near a prison or jail, the presenters will share resources for starting and maintaining a Reference by Mail program at a variety of levels. The presenters will also discuss the importance of integrating a Reference by Mail program into existing library services and specializations. New York Public Librarians and San Francisco Public Librarians have developed Reference by Mail assignments that are utilized in LIS classrooms. They will share their experiences of creating assignments, managing workflow, and mentoring LIS students as they build reference skills related to a broad range of reference requests. Librarians will provide insight into how LIS educators can form partnerships with public libraries in order to simultaneously support student professional development, broaden students’ perspectives of their future patron base, and provide highly valued information to people who are incarcerated
Describe how a Reference by Mail service improves outreach to un- and under-served patrons, and create an inclusive and informed atmosphere at the library.
Reduce barriers and improve information access to people who are incarcerated, and encourage library use through consistent, quality service, and well-researched information.
Envision levels of implementation and bring together a potential network of library systems interested in starting a Reference by Mail service.