Place of the Library in the Prison Regimes
The Prison Rules 1999, and Young Offender Institution Rules 2000, as amended, place on the Secretary of State the responsibility for ensuring that each Prison Service Establishment has a library, and that, subject to any directions of the Secretary of State, the prisoners of those establishments have facilities to use and exchange books. To complement success in education and vocation courses delivery, the Prison Library provides an accessible service. Through its collections, it supports learning, improving literacy and removing barriers to effective resettlement. It also promotes reading for pleasure and opportunities for wider cultural engagement by the prisoners.
The Library as a unique facility and knowledge repository is present in any establishment or Society aiming at capacity building, research promotion and knowledge acquisition. The Prison Library at Aylesbury Prison is no different as access to materials stocked is boundless despite the prison being a locked-up facility. A comprehensive collection is provided – as books for curriculum support, well-being (on foods, nutrition, healthcare), as well as fiction, magazines and audio books including prison newspapers. Examples include Inside Times, Converse, and VOICE (newspaper for the BAME) Also, of importance is how library spaces are utilised and facilities provided.
Services on offer
Readers’ Services – loaning of books and magazines, information /enquiry services provision
Outreach Services – taking reserved books to the cells of the young offenders who have constraints in visiting the library. Library Book return boxes (painted red) are located in all the Residential Blocks for prisoners to return loaned books and is emptied weekly by the library staff.
Readers Advisory Service – due to the fact that some of the young offenders are from various backgrounds – some with their first language not being English; others who have no formal education; some from the Travellers’ group and those from the English-speaking countries. A prison librarian needs subtle interactions aimed to inculcate reading habit and by extension promoting reading culture amongst them. As improvements are made, all are encouraged to enrol for some education courses.
Activities engaged in
The Prison Library liaises with various bodies for different activities as detailed below:
Six-Book Reading Ahead programme – organised annually by the Reading Agency to promote reading among young offenders. The completers attend Award ceremonies, where each completer has the Governor’s handshake and a 1:1 chat for 2 minutes.
Story Book Dads – this scheme is for young dads and those who wish to have contacts with their siblings. Stories are read from shortlisted books and recorded unto a CD for to send to their named recipients.
Shannon Trust – A charity aiming to support reading activity among the young offenders through supply of some guidebooks and workbooks and stationeries to work with.
The Bucks Association for the Care of Offenders (BACO) – which aims to bring about positive change to people serving sentences in Buckinghamshire’s prisons. They provide small funds to cover distance-learning courses (course books & materials, plus art/craft materials), radios, smart clothing for interviews, to attend a Parole Board and family days amongst other things.
Guest Personalities and Authors’ visit – A number of ex-prisoners who have made their mark in the community visit for chats and to share their personal life experiences with the young offenders in custody. Some of these ex-prisoners are now authors of books, which they distribute free free-of-charge to the young offenders and for the library. There was a time that the World Boxing Champion, Anthony Joshua visited and had a down-to-earth talk with the young offenders on how to live outside of prison and be better persons, using himself as an example to emulate.
We had finalised arrangements with the National Reading Agency to bring JaQuavis Coleman – one of the authors of the popular Urban fiction – “The Cartel” Series from the USA to visit our prison for a chat. Sadly, the COVID-19 lockdown has disrupted this event.
National Literacy Trust – has an ongoing 3-year partnership with HMYOI Aylesbury on “Working with Young Offenders”, as sponsored by the Rothschild Foundation – mainly to develop a discursive book club, enable mini wing libraries to ‘sell’ reading to their peers, authors’ discussion groups and workshops, amongst others. The Trust, through one of its subsidiaries, ‘Books Unlocked’, supplies books for the use Wing libraries.
Prison Reading Group in collaboration with Give-a-Book charity – regularly donating books to the library and sponsors the Librarian to attend their annual training day, usually held at the Roehampton University, London.
Going extra miles – The backsets of health-related magazines are made available to the Health Care Unit, as appropriate. This ensures regular access to those who may be more vulnerable and less able to access the main Library.
Health and well-being and the COVID-19 – With COVID lingering and social distancing being observed, big changes have been made in the prison. Education including Library staff are not allowed entry to the Wings for now. In addition, the labels (DO NOT SIT HERE) have been placed on some chairs to ensure that the visiting population will be about 30% of total.
Ayo Onatola, BSc (Hons) Biochem, PGDE, MLS, ACLIP
Prison Librarian, Milton Keynes College
@HMYOI Aylesbury, Bucks.