Thursday, March 11, 2010


I attended a Foundation meeting yesterday and heard some great things about awards our library is winning, ones we're nominated for, and perhaps most importantly, the work we're doing at the county jail. We believe our public library may be the only one in the nation with a full branch of the library housed in the jail. It has much of the material you'd find at any library branch, with a few differences. For example, all the books are paperbacks so they cannot be used as weapons. Only the librarians have internet access on the branch computers, though the patrons can use CDs such as the Florida Statutes to do research.

But here's the surprising part. The sheriff's office pays half of the expense to maintain the library, and has for years through administrations of sherriffs both Republican and Democrat. I've known all the sherriffs in the 30 years since the jail library opened, and none of those men and women were bleeding-heart liberals coddling criminals. Far from it. But they knew that inmates who earn GEDs through library programs have a lower recidivism rate. The studies bear this out and offering GED classes is an important part of what the library can do.

In addition, the library staff worked with inmates last year to help them make recordings of them (the inmates) reading story books. These recordings were sent to the inmates' children at Christmastime. There are book clubs at the jail, though I wasn't surprised to find they're more popular with the female than the male inmates.

There are other library systems that have services to county inmate populations, but we have not found another branch library such as ours that's open four days a week as part of the jail complex. Our Jail Service branch has grown much larger over the 30+ years it's been open, wins awards and is still going strong. It is a credit to the people who believe in the power of public libraries as a necessary component of a thriving community, and I'm proud of the ACLD staff who continually come up with new and innovative methods to work with a challenging and underserved population.

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