CILIP Prison Libraries Group workshop at CILIP Conference 2018: “Prison Libraries Change Lives”

Thanks to the Prison Libraries Group for permission to reprint this report here – it was written by Linda Collins.

This breakout session took place on the first day of the conference, Wednesday 4 July and was chaired by John Vincent of The Network.

  • Linda Collins, Librarian HMP Ford. I introduced the session by sharing the individual writings from several prisoners from Ford – their pieces were entitled “What Reading Means To Me”, which was one man’s personal reading journey throughout his time in prison, the second was a farewell message to our Nelson’s Parrot reading group, which emphasised the benefits a reading group can bring, not least in building confidence and social awareness, the third was an education report describing how a Traveller, petrified of entering a library when he came to Ford – “I can’t go in there it’s full of books” became literate and an active library member, and the last a poem “The Library” including the line “The anticipation of a visit to the library is better than sex – well maybe not…”.
  • Alan Smith, Prison Library Advisor, Staffordshire County Council Prison Library Service. Alan gave an inspiring talk on the history of the Books Unlocked Project in Staffordshire prisons. From a slow but assured beginning a reading group was established comprised of only young offenders. This progressed to the involvement of National Prison Radio and the extension of the project to seven other prisons, involving the local community including schools, work places and public libraries.
  • Gemma Williams, Librarian, HMP Norwich. HMP Norwich Library was awarded the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award 2017 for their Cognitive Stimulation Therapy Project. This project, in association with Norwich Forget-Me-Nots has been running for over five years. Gemma described the therapy that has been introduced for people with memory loss and dementia which enhances cognitive, mood, wellbeing and social engagement. It has been transformative for the group of vulnerable and socially isolated older prisoners who attend.
  • Bridget McKeown, Librarian, HMP Manchester. HMP Manchester was this year’s winner of the Prison Libraries Group “Excellence in Prison Libraries” for their BookBench Project. Bridget introduced us to working in a high security prison: the every day challenges and complications for activities and events. She detailed the development of partnership working and how this project led to greater community involvement.

All the talks were well-received and feedback was very positive. I think we revealed how much prison libraries can change the lives of prisoners in a positive and rewarding way.

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