For most of March 2020 we had been taking extra precautions –wiping down stock and surfaces, washing our hands until they cracked and offering a squirt of (specially permitted!) hand sanitiser to anyone who came through the library door. The notice to close and stay home wasn’t a shock, but it was a surprise that it had come so quickly – we’d left the library on Friday fully intending to open up again on the Monday. My first thought was, how do we get back in and keep library provision going?
The thought of being banged up in your prison cell without warning, without anything to do and without any idea as to when the situation might change was seriously concerning for the mental health of the prison population – a demographic already known to be severely at risk.
After several drafts of a risk assessment, a newly designed service plan and with the approval of multiple senior figures, our lockdown library service began less than a month later on April 16. Twice a week we circumnavigate the prison with a trolley, visiting each wing in the morning to collect request forms and returns. All returns are then quarantined for a minimum of 72 hours. We then read the request forms and make up named, labelled bundles to be delivered later that day. Men can borrow books, DVDs, music CDs and audiobooks. The trolley comes out again to cart all of the loans back to the wings, to be handed out to individuals by wing officers. We’re not allowed to visit individual cells, only hand items through the main wing door to officers.
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Only ever intended to be a temporary service, here we still are a year later. We’ve delivered in 32C blazing sun, -3C frost, howling wind and pouring rain. Being a prison librarian is not glamorous, and waterproof trousers are essential!
DVDs have always been traditionally most popular, but as time has gone on, book issues are almost equalling film requests. Fortunately we have been able to place reservations in the wider Wiltshire Library service since September, which are delivered to us weekly. Popular books include A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and The Chronicles of St Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor. In order to avoid disappointment, we ask our customers not to be too specific, but to ask for “an action film” or “a sci-fi book”. This surprise element both helps us to make the most of our (not huge) stock and to expand the tastes of our customers.