identifying with the prison librarian

Well, you tell me, does this make me a little nuts, or just mean that Steinberg is a skilled author? It’s occurring to me that our situations are parallel: we both work in “special libraries” (that’s a real term), meaning we’re not in schools, universities, or public libraries. Prisons and hospitals are fairly unique environments. I’m not sure my employer would appreciate the comparison, but both are large institutions, and I have heard my patrons say they feel a little bit like they’re being processed in a machine. I’ve been thanked for using their names instead of 8-digit numerical identifiers. That’s kind of sad. I just had this strange feeling as I walked back from lunch, having reluctantly closed Running the Books, that perhaps it’s weird that I’ve become accustomed to seeing signs on escalators that say “If You Are Feeling Dizzy or Unstable, Please Use the Elevator” and in bathroom stalls that say “If you have had an accident or soiled your clothing and need help, please call XXX.XXX.XXXX.” People here are not necessarily happy to be here. Also, I share with Avi the prison librarian the embargo against connecting with our patrons. There are different reasons – his are a serious security risk, are considered to have lost the privilege of making friends, threaten his job. Mine have a federally protected right to privacy and are going through utterly life-changing events. But they’re all people and we all too easily see ourselves and our loved ones in these strangers. Of course, Avi sees the same people for long periods of time (very much the norm in prison I think) and my people come and go unpredictably (and when they go, I never know why). But I’m getting into this book and identifying with Avi’s workplace conundrums.

2 Responses

  1. I think you should write an article for publication about your experiences, and making some of these comparative observations. It’s fascinating!

    When I was in library school, I remember reading an amazing article about a student who did his library internship in a prison library. In fact, I think I re-read it a few times, it was so interesting.

  2. I find the prison librarian really fascinating. Occasionally I’m interested in working in one but it’s also a pretty scary thought!

    I’m flattered that you find my musings interesting! I’ll keep it in mind and keep compiling… as you know, my library experience is fairly limited, but there’s no doubt this is a pretty unique environment here, like a prison (and unlike one, too).

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