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Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

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February 2009 Volume 7(1)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland


Start of the story

Kate King is the Prison Librarian at HMP Edinburgh where the refurbished library is proving remarkably successful at attracting men who have never engaged with reading before.

Saughton Prison, HMP Edinburgh, opened its doors to a brand new library on 24 November and is currently setting new trends in delivering library services in Scottish Prisons. After many months of planning and partnership working with prisoners, I was appointed as the new Librarian.

I joined the prison from the award-winning Sighthill Library in Edinburgh which has received national recognition for the innovative ways in which it has reached out to different groups in the community. I was a Bookstart Project Worker, encouraging parents to read to their children from a very early age and using many tools to engage the hard to reach. My post is part-funded by the Scottish Prison Service and Edinburgh City Council.

The prison had previously identified that the old library, which was set in the Education Department and run by a Prison Officer, was not meeting the needs of the prisoners. It was thought that the library could have much more of an input into their rehabilitation.

Because the old premises were in the Education Department it was felt that most of the prisoners who visited were the ones who wanted to gain skills and re-train whilst inside. But the service was not reaching out to the hardest to reach prisoners. The old library was also too small.

The opportunity for bigger premises for the library came up in the form of the old Prison Gym. Prison Unit Manager Barry Fowler could see the potential of the space. The old Gym was situated in the work sheds area of the prison. Historically, prisoners who attend the work sheds undertake manual labour such as monoblocking, gardening and plastering. As they did not tend to use the old library, creating the new library on this site would help to draw them in.

Work began with designers CuriousGroup, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) and Edinburgh City Libraries to create a brief that would really take the library into the 21st century and make it as modern, welcoming, relaxing and different from anywhere else in the jail. We also wanted computers for prisoners to print letters, or wanted to learn how to use them, music cds and dvds, and magazines and information in other languages.

The creation of the new library was funded by the SPS and Edinburgh City Libraries paid for the new stock. Prisoners worked in partnership to build and paint the new library and give the stock a complete overhaul. Questionnaires were printed and the whole jail was asked to suggest books they would read. Music books, sport, poetry and thrillers were the most popular. It was hoped the new library would stock books they would want to read and also items that would encourage them to think about reading something different.

Prisoners were given the opportunity to work in the library. There are currently three prisoners who work full-time. The prisoners issue and return the books, shelve stock, create displays and do most of the duties that a library assistant would do. In the future we hope that they will be able to work towards a certificate in Library and Information Science.

So far, demand has exceeded our expectations and in the first week we took 144 visitors – compared to 30 each week in the old library. Prisoners are reporting they feel the new library is far more welcoming, the stock is modern and inviting and they like the relaxed atmosphere. Book issues are up and library membership has increased by 100 per cent throughout the prison – both prisoners and staff.

The new stock is appealing to men who previously have never read and there is evidence that we have reached men already who have never engaged with either reading or libraries.

Michael, who works in the prison library, is sure that it will help with the rehabilitation of many of the men. “The new library offers referrals to projects that can help prisoners learn to read and write. If people want prisoners to rehabilitate they need to get help with reading and writing as you are always learning when you are reading. Reading also helps pass the time in here – and it’s good to read.”

In time, the new library hopes to deliver many projects such as Storybook Dads whereby prisoners record a bedtime story and have it sent home to their child. We also want to hold events where families can come into the library and learn as a family.

We need to recognise that in order to help break the cycle of re-offending we need to remember that it’s not the children who are serving the sentence, and that families should be able to learn together. Reading is a valuable skill that can help inmates and families affected by prison to have the chance to renew their bond with their child, whether in prison or on release.

We also hope to deliver book groups and author visits. We have been the only prison in Scotland selected to take part in the  ‘Reading Stars’ football initiative run by Learning Connections that will reach out to families who wouldn’t normally engage with reading and libraries – but love football.

There is so much potential here to change lives and to encourage rehabilitation: this is just the start of our story.
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Information Scotland Vol. 7(1) February 2009

© Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

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Last updated: 27-Mar-2009