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This Review of Prison Libraries in Ireland was commissioned by the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) in Ireland. It was undertaken over an eight-month period from May to December 2021 by Dr Jayne Finlay and Dr Jessica Bates from the School of Education, Ulster University and independent researcher, Dr Susannah Hanlon.

The aims of the project were to undertake a review of existing prison library services to assess current service provision and make recommendations for a potential new model.

There were three distinct aspects to the review work. Firstly, an understanding of global good practice in relation to the provision of prison libraries was achieved through a review of relevant literature and policy documentation and interviews with individuals who play a significant role in the provision of prison library services outside of Ireland.

Secondly, an understanding of the context of providing prison library services in Ireland and an assessment of current provision was achieved through an examination of the local policy context and a range of data collection techniques. These included: interviews with members of the review steering group; focus groups with county librarians, individuals involved in prison education, and other stakeholders; a survey of provision at each of the prison library sites in Ireland; and focus groups with persons in custody. The third and final stage of the review focused on the development of principles and recommendations and included two workshops with a wide range of relevant stakeholders.

Principles for Prison Library Provision in Ireland

  1. Policy-driven: Prison library services are underpinned and guided by a national policy of prison library provision.
  2. Universal access: All persons in custody have the right to access library services and, where possible, the library space while in prison.
  3. User-centred: Library services are user-centred, designed around the needs of specific populations at individual prison sites.
  4. Professionalism: Prison libraries are managed by professional library staff, supported by prison staff and volunteers from within the prison population.
  5. Partnership: Prison library services are provided in partnership with public libraries, and work with other prison departments and external organisations.
  6. Range and scope of provision: In addition to borrowing services, a broad range and format of stock, programmes and activities are available.
  7. Community: Prison library provision reflects, as much as possible, what is offered to communities by local public libraries, including access to digital resources.
  8. The Library as support while in prison: Libraries support health and wellbeing, information access, reading, self-development, learning, and social engagement in library programmes and activities.
  9. The Library as a stepping-stone to re-entering society: Libraries provide support in preparing people in custody for release and life in the community.
  10. Review and evaluation: Prison library services are reviewed on a regular basis to monitor and evaluate the implementation of strategic priorities, the provision of library services and how they support user needs, to ensure effective delivery both locally and nationally.

Related Research

Finlay, J. & Bates, J. (2021) Prison librarianship and prison education: A case study from Northern Ireland.
In: Garner, J. (Ed) Exploring the roles and practices of libraries in Prisons (pp 135-156). Advances in
Librarianship, Volume 49. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.

Finlay, J. (2020). Rethinking the dichotomy between libraries and prisons: Reflections from research in Northern Ireland. Journal of New Librarianship, 3(1), 115–119.

Finlay, J., & Bates, J. (2019). What is the Role of the Prison Library? The Development of a Theoretical Foundation. Journal of Prison Education and Reentry, 5 (2): 120-139.

Related Events

  • Online Symposium on Prison Libraries, 10 June 2022
  • Online CPD workshop on working in prison libraries, 15 June 2022
  • Conference presentation, Irish Prison Library Review, in Session 100 Books beyond bars – Engaging prison libraries, IFLA WLIC 2022, 27 July 2022