Michele Vassar, prison librarian at HMP/YOI Portland in Dorset
This week, Michele Vassar, prison librarian at HMP/YOI Portland in Dorset is in charge of @VoicesLibrary
I work as a prison librarian at HMP/YOI Portland in Dorset which holds about 500 male prisoners, about a third adults and the rest young offenders aged 18-21. The library service is provided by Dorset County Council (who employ me) and the library is open to both prisoners and staff. We stock books, audiobooks, magazines and newspapers, music CDs and DVDs.There are 5 of us in the library – myself, my assistant and a reading development worker who runs literacy initiatives plus two prisoner orderlies.
Did you know that in the UK 48% of prisoners have a reading age below 11?
Working in a prison can be a challenge in lots of ways. Prisoners all have to be brought to the library by staff so we work to a timetable during the ‘core day’ (when they are out of their cells) giving each Wing, education class and vocational course a library visit time. This can be disrupted by all sorts of things – a shutdown for example – so not everyone can get to the library. Despite this we had over 13,000 users in 2012 and issued over 21,000 items.
We are not allowed to take mobile phones into the prison and have only one computer in the library with Internet access. We can access Google but cannot get onto any social media or blogging sites. In many ways my job is very traditional – I am responsible for the day to day running of the library, buying the stock and promoting reading. I also spend quite a lot of time trying to retrieve items on loan to prisoners who are due to be discharged or transferred and chasing up overdue items. We are running the 6 Book Challenge at the moment to encourage reading among both prisoners and staff.
We also help men keep in touch with their children through the Storybook Dads scheme – we record them reading a bedtime story onto a CD then edit it, add music and sound effects and send it to the child.
I wanted to tweet for @VoicesLibrary because prison is a closed world to most and I wanted to open it up a little. My job is very different to that of many librarians but I find it very rewarding and I wanted to share the flavour of my working week. I shall be tweeting before and after work and in my lunch hour from my car outside the prison for my ‘Twitter takeover’ week. At other times you can follow me on @vassar14