Local Libraries Support Books to Prisons Program

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by Stephanie Esters, courtesy of The Southern

MURPHYSBORO, IL - The woman moves among the rows and rows of books lining four tables and some covered chairs in the room, sometimes taking an armful to a table near the door where she's placing her stash of soft- and hardcovers.

Her hand delves into a pile, and she pulls out a peach, hard-covered book — "Strip Tease" by Carl Hiaasen — expressing her delight that she's found another version of the book, as the one in her own library is falling apart. She quickly adds that the 1993 New York Times bestseller is not about strip-teasing; the book is a crime novel about a single mother who takes up exotic dancing to make enough money to gain custody of her daughter.

"I left it on the shelf, 'cause it was a popular request," she said of the tattered book back on her library shelf.  As soon as she picks that one up, she picks up another book with the word "Lipstick" in the title.  "Sounds like something they may be interested in — (or) they may not," she said. "It's trial and error."

The woman, who asked that her name not be used, has served as a librarian for three years at one of the state's prisons in Southern Illinois, and this day is shopping at Murphysboro's Sallie Logan Library for mostly used, occasionally new, books for the library that she oversees. She expects to take about eight boxes full of books back to her prison library. The Thursday morning outing is so ideal for her because she said she runs a library with no budget for purchasing new books or materials for her patrons, prisoners ages "18 to 80," who read a high school and higher level.

This book giveaway is the Reading Reduces Recidivism Program, also known as 3R, which allows prison librarians to pick up items left over from library book sales to use for those incarcerated in their facilities. The program was adopted in this area about three years ago.

These books in Murphysboro's Sallie Logan Library are what are left over after library book sales that started this past weekend. In addition to Murphysboro's Sallie Logan Library, the Carbondale Public Library also participates in this project and the Sparta Public Library is expected to join.

The 3R’s (Reading Reduces Recidivism) Project is a statewide effort to build the library resources available to adult prisoners in the state's 26 prisons, according to Maurine Pyle, one of the facilitators of the project in this area.

"The Carbondale 3Rs' Project is an outstanding example of advocacy for incarcerated youth and adults through volunteerism, book recycling efforts, and community networking and collaboration," Pyle said in a statement. "Since the summer of 2015, the Carbondale 3Rs' Project has grown considerably in the number of community groups contributing time and donations, public libraries offering leftover books, correctional facilities served, and books and magazines distributed at no charge."

Once the librarian gets her books back to the prison, they will be reviewed by a publications review committee, whose members will make sure the books are appropriate for their prisoners, the woman said. Any leftover books from this giveaway are stored at the First Christian Church in Carbondale, according to Marilyn Smerken, one of the coordinators for the program at the Sallie Logan Library; those wanting to donate books can contact the directors at those respective libraries.

While the prison librarian is perusing the books, two more women walk in, Bethany Edmunds, a library associate, and Julie Copher, a literacy coordinator with the Jump Start Program at the Illinois Youth Center in Harrisburg. That site serves young people aged 13 to 21.

Copher is introducing Edmunds to the program and support staff at the Sallie Logan Library, as part of her new job will be to come and sort through the books that might be of interest for the younger people at the Illinois Youth Center. They, too, start scanning the rows and rows of books looking for titles for their reading population.

She said one of the challenges is that the young people in that facility like to read books that are similar to their lives, but her aim is to challenge them to read other materials.

"We are looking for books to help stock our library, as well as the libraries the she's (Edmunds) wanting to start on the individual units the youth live on" Copher said, "so that's our goal today, to find books of interest to them."