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Jun 19, 2023

For this episode, Kim sat down with Jeanie Austin, a Bay Area librarian and academic who focuses on library services for incarcerated people, and Sarah ball, a New York City public librarian working inside jails and prisons providing access to books and information for criminalized and incarcerated people and their families.

We explore the multifaceted role of prison libraries, and the challenges faced by prison librarians in providing access to information and literature within the confines of the correctional system. We delve into the delicate balance between offering valuable services to incarcerated individuals while navigating the authority and constraints imposed by prison officials. Join us as we investigate how prison librarians promote access to information, address potential challenges rooted in the philosophy of rehabilitation, and challenge the dynamic shaped by whiteness, information, and power within prison library systems. We also delve into the ways in which prison censorship specifically targets LGBTQIA plus individuals and discuss strategies for dismantling biases and inequities.

Additionally, we examine the historical and political contexts that have influenced the evolution of prison libraries, the impact of political ideologies and policies and the role of education and rehabilitation within prisons. For enlightening discussions, we uncover the transformative potential prison library programs, identify the challenges they face, and explore innovative approaches and best practices to enhance their effectiveness. Lastly, we explore future perspectives on prison libraries, emerging trends, the influence of technology, and the importance of raising public awareness and support for these vital programs.

This episode also incorporates insights from Dr. Austin's book, "Library Services and Incarceration: Recognizing Barriers, Strengthening Access," which offers a comprehensive exploration of the topic. We examine key chapters, including the historical context, the role of information in incarceration, models of direct service, reentry support and programming, and strategies for building institutional support. Furthermore, we discussed several thought provoking articles that shed light on the impact of prison censorship, content-based bands in the denial of access to books, as well as the crucial role of community organizations and library and information science professionals in addressing these issues and fostering a more equitable information environment within prisons. Get ready to expand your understanding of prison libraries, their significance within the criminal punishment system, and their potential to empower and transform lives.

Jeanie Austin (they/them) is a Bay Area librarian and academic who focuses on library services for incarcerated people. More about Jeanie is available at

Sarah Ball (she/her) is a NYC public librarian working inside jails and prisons, providing access to books and information for criminalized and incarcerated people and their families, with a priority on patron privacy and autonomy.


Created and hosted by Kim Wilson and Brian Sonenstein

Website & volunteers managed by Victoria Nam

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