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Institutional Libraries: Reference and Access Services

Library Services to the Incarcerated, Detained, and Justice-Involved

"People incarcerated in prisons and jails have general information needs whose purpose may be to satisfy curiosity, help start a business, expand knowledge about a philosophical or religious situation, or any of the other myriad reasons humans seek out information over the course of a lifetime."

Reference Services to Incarcerated People, Part I, Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), by Emily Drabinski and Debbie Rabina, Volume 55 (1), 2017.

ALA Best Practices for Reference and Access in Prison Libraries

  • Correctional librarians should make all reasonable efforts to provide sufficient materials to meet the information and recreational needs of prisoners who speak languages other than English.
  • Age is not a reason for censorship. Incarcerated children and youth should have access to a wide range of fiction and nonfiction, as stated in “Free Access to Libraries for Minors."
  • Equitable access to information should be provided for persons with disabilities as outlined in “Services to People with Disabilities.”
  • Correctional libraries should provide access to computers and the Internet.
  • Correctional librarians should be given adequate support for making library resources discoverable.
  • Media or materials with non-traditional bindings should not be prohibited unless they present an actual compelling and imminent risk to safety and security.

Examples of Library Policies and Procedures


Picture credit: Our Prison Libraries Help Inmates to Re-enter Society, Washington State Library Blog, March 31, 2015.

Services for Inmates with Disabilities

SC State Library Information


Many South Carolina State Library programs, resources and services are supported in whole or in part by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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