Evaluating Impact in the “Forgotten Field” of Prison Librarianship[1]

Jay Rosen 

601 Research Paper

“There have been plenty of articles — too many, it seems sometimes — that describe prison libraries, say they are useful as rehabilitative tools, and stop there.” (Barone, 1977)

For decades, a number of prison librarians and researchers have decried the near-total lack of data in their field regarding the impact of prison libraries on incarcerated individuals. In spite of their critiques, the majority of prison library literature remains descriptive in nature and relies more on speculation than empirically valid claims when describing impact. This paper attempts to identify the main reasons why it is so difficult to adequately evaluate the impact of prison library services. Chief among these include the diminishment of prison library services in America following the Supreme Court’s 1995 Lewis v. Casey decision; professional divides and isolation within the field of prison librarianship; the uniquely complex challenges faced by inmates; difficulties inherent in evaluating impact; profound variations in the missions, resources, and institutional contexts of prison libraries; lack of attention towards impact evaluation in foundational prison library guideline documents; and generally inadequate and understaffed prison library facilities.  

Following an exploration of these issues, suggestions for strengthening impact evaluation in prison libraries are proposed, including enhanced advocacy efforts towards politicians, funders, and the public; increased partnerships with public libraries; an explicit adoption of the “public library model” by prison libraries; inclusion of library professionals in relevant policy discussions; improved communication between prison librarians and correctional staff; increased collaboration between re-entry efforts, prison education programs, and prison libraries; strengthening of administrative procedures; general clarification of prison library services; extension of relevant public library initiatives to prison libraries (for instance, the Public Library Association’s Project Outcome initiative); and the development of a more robust theoretical context on which to ground subsequent research.

In discussing the challenges prison libraries face, this paper will focus primarily on American state and federal adult correctional institutions with “full service” libraries. This paper will not consider prison law libraries, although many claims made concerning impact evaluation are likely applicable to those environments as well. Perspectives from Denmark, Norway, and elsewhere across the world are also included.

The Value of Evaluation

Given that most prison libraries are underfunded and understaffed, one can hardly fault prison librarians — often the only permanent, full-time, formally-trained staff member in their library — for prioritizing direct service over data collection. In light of this reality, it is at times tempting to ask why impact evaluation matters in the first place, particularly when resources are so scarce and prison librarians’ time so limited. However, impact evaluation shows great promise in regards to ameliorating these very issues. To name a few benefits, improved impact evaluation can help strengthen decision-making, resource allocation, delivery of services, and funding for prison libraries (Lithgow & Hepworth, 1993). While this paper will not attempt to exhaustively defend the importance of impact research, this section will serve to introduce some of its most significant benefits in this context. 

Connections have frequently been made between data collection and improved advocacy efforts. Vogel writes, “The odds of maintaining or even expanding the library can be increased by a librarian who represents the library program as a major contributor to the development of the reading and information skills of the entire incarcerated community” (Vogel, 2009). Data reflecting the connection between prison libraries and the development of desirable qualities and behaviors can go a long way in securing potential funding and portraying prison libraries as valuable institutions deserving of attention and support. Compelling reports can be “invaluable” in convincing prison administrators to approve requests for increased budgets and materials as well (ALA, 1992).   

In a similar manner, improved data collection helps to ground prison libraries in ongoing discussions and research on re-entry, inmate education, and prison reform more generally. As will be highlighted later, prison librarians likely have a great deal to contribute to these conversations, yet are almost entirely absent from them today.  

It is estimated that roughly half the world’s prison population — over 5 and a half million people — use prison libraries in some capacity (UNESCO, 2019). Better evaluating the impact of prison library services will not only provide information on how prison libraries are used today, but also offer opportunities for librarians and researchers to critically assess and refine services going forward. 

Most significant, though, is the largely unrealized role prison libraries might play in facilitating successful re-entry and reducing recidivism. The vast majority of inmates in America are ultimately released from prison back into society — some estimates put this figure as high as 95%.[2] This is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future, as many people incarcerated during the so-called “War on Drugs” continue to be released, and as a growing number of prisons release inmates early in response to budget shortfalls (Stearns, 2004). Though most inmates in America will eventually be released, 43% of them will return to prison at least once (Pew Research Center, 2011)[3]. Better understanding the impact of prison libraries will enable librarians to strengthen their services in order to encourage positive outcomes and lower recidivism rates for this population. 

Moreover, improving prison library services will likely improve literacy and education rates for individuals re-entering society, thereby helping to reduce costs associated with higher crime, incarceration, and re-incarceration. These financial benefits would be matched only by the improvements in public safety that result from decreased crime. 

In short, improved impact evaluation will strengthen prison library services, thereby increasing their positive potential and providing compelling evidence for their continuation and expansion. 

The Mission and Purpose of Prison Libraries Today

Before delving into the particular challenges faced by prison libraries in regards to impact measurement, it is useful to first clarify their primary aims. Prison libraries first emerged in Europe and the United States throughout the 17th century as a means of providing “moral and religious education” to inmates (Garner, 2017). The first prison “librarians” were actually clergymen who dispensed religious books to prisoners in the hopes of encouraging their “spiritual and moral reading and training” (UNESCO, 2019). Under this arrangement, prison library collections consisted entirely of approved religious texts, with books that served primarily to entertain (novels for example) strictly forbidden. 

This model of prison libraries persisted through the early 20th century, until the idea of reading for “educational purposes and for emotional, personal and intellectual development” (UNESCO, 2019) began to gain traction. In fact, not until 1970 were prison libraries formally recognized in the United States as institutions promoting “wholesome recreation, direct and indirect education, and mental health” (Lehmann 2011). Today, prison libraries have largely adopted the public library philosophy of promoting information access as an unconditional human right, and have developed policies and collections intended to meet the diverse information needs of their patrons. Their mission has expanded tremendously beyond offering spiritually edifying materials to include providing contact to outside communities, supporting rehabilitative programs, offering information on vocational skills, providing informal educational programming, encouraging self-directed recreational reading, providing access to legal information and the courts, and attempting to generally prepare inmates for re-entry (ASGCLA 1992). 

Though the missions and resources of individual prison libraries vary depending on the needs of their patrons and the restrictions and allowances of the correctional facility they are embedded in, most can easily be placed into six of eight roles of public libraries as identified by the Public Library Association (PLA): these include Community Activity Center, Community Information Center, Formal Education Support Center, Independent Learning Center, Popular Materials Library, and Reference Library.  

A number of national and international documents guide and govern the development and implementation of prison library services around the world. Commonly cited guidelines include the American Library Association’s (ALA) Library Bill of Rights, Freedom to Read Statement, Freedom to View Statement, and Policy on Confidentiality of Library Records; the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies’ (ASGCLA) Resolution on Prisoners’ Right to Read and Library Standards for Adult Correctional Institutions; the Council of Europe’s European Prison Rules; the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; and the International Federation of Library Association and Institutions’ (IFLA) Charter for the Reader.

As the missions of prison libraries have expanded, so too have their intended outcomes. Common intended impacts of prison libraries include improved literacy skills, information literacy, and the development of “critical reasoning skills, self-confidence, self-esteem, empowerment, and changed perspectives” (Warr, 2016), as well as the strengthening of hope, motivation, social bonds, and mental health for inmates (Finlay & Bates 2018). 

A chief motivation for the expansion of purpose and intended impact in prison libraries is the apparent success of correctional education programs in reducing recidivism rates and promoting successful reentry (Wilhelmus, 1999). But despite a clearer articulation of their purpose and intended outcomes than perhaps ever before, most prison libraries around the world remain plagued by a lack of empirical data testifying to the actual impact of their services. The next section will review the many reasons this is so.  

Challenges in Evaluating Impact in Prison Libraries

Librarians and researchers have lamented the scarcity of empirical evidence on the impact of library services on incarcerated users for at least sixty years now. David M. Gillespie’s 1968 analysis of prison library literature describes a prevailing overreliance on description over evaluation of prison library services (Gillespie, 1968), and the American Friends Service Committee similarly declared in 1971 that prison library literature lacks “credible scientific data on the effectiveness of correctional treatment program” (Barone 1977), with most programs determining their effectiveness not through rigorous research but rather “speculation.” These early concerns appear to have been largely ignored, and most in the field have not yet heeded calls to provide empirical data to buttress claims of positive impact. The situation has so little improved that one can scarcely tell whether particular pleas for increased research and data collection were published fifty years ago or in 2018. 

Why has this remained such a pervasive and largely unaddressed issue? What barriers prevent librarians and researchers from evaluating the impact of prison library services on inmates? This section identifies a number of distinct but overlapping problem areas. 

Difficulties in Evaluating Impact 

Notwithstanding the particular challenges faced by prison libraries, it is notoriously difficult to compellingly demonstrate causal relationships between particular factors and particular outcomes. Because there are so many forces at play in any individual’s life in a given moment, it is incredibly difficult to isolate any one aspect and argue for its particular impact. This fact helps explain why so many accounts of prison library impact rely on anecdotal evidence and largely unsubstantiated claims. Though it is tempting to make connections between library use and improved outcomes for inmates based on sentiment and observation alone, “the reason for an inmate’s success or failure is probably more complicated, [and is] produced by many factors, including criminogenic needs, risk principles, and the complicated interaction between an inmate and their institutional environment” (Stearns, 2004). Were prison librarians and researchers to dramatically improve impact evaluation tomorrow, it would remain exceedingly difficult to make conclusive, causal claims about the impact of particular library resources on particular inmate outcomes. As the esteemed social scientist Raj Chetty puts it, “there are so many things data may be trying to say” (Cook, 2019). 

Both quantitative and qualitative data present particular challenges in regards to impact evaluation. Though quantitative data is typically more tangible and easily collected than qualitative information, it is frequently misleading and limited. Ratios of library materials to inmates were often cited as a measure of success for prison libraries, despite the fact that prison library collections were mostly “outdated, little used, and sometimes inaccessible” (LeDonne, 1977). Other “hard data” including circulation statistics, number of patron interactions, and library program attendance, for example, likewise say very little about the quality of a patron’s experience, and can inadvertently foster inaccurate narratives.  

A greater consensus exists these days regarding the importance of gathering qualitative data to demonstrate impact. However, qualitative data presents its own set of challenges. For one, it is generally difficult to assess phenomena related to behaviors, attitudes, and other aspects of “human experience and development” (Finlay & Bates, 2018). Though many advocate for prison libraries on behalf of their ability to provide solace and “generate a feeling of normalcy” (UNESCO, 2019) for their users, it is hard to capture these invisible characteristics through data collection. This is true of many of the other behaviors prison libraries seek to encourage, including improved self narratives, identity development, and increased confidence pursuing self-directed learning opportunities (Warr, 2016). Is it possible, though, to provide objective evidence of subjective changes? 

Impact evaluation research also suffers from conceptual, methodological, and management issues. Conceptual issues relate “to the definition of library effectiveness, to who judges effectiveness, and to the definition of information needs and uses” (Vanhouse, 1989). Methodological issues instead relate “to the data collection methods, sampling, and statistics” used, while managerial issues “address the appropriate use and interpretation of measurement data” (Vanhouse, 1989). These issues spur complex and ambiguous questions which lack a “single, operational definition” (Vanhouse, 1989).  

Other issues related to impact measurement in prison libraries include the fluidity of user needs, attempts by inmates to conform to the measures of particular studies, and the fact that most inmates are not followed up with by researchers after their release (Barone, 1977). 

Taken collectively, these factors encourage caution when gathering and assessing data in prison libraries: 

“While we may be able to construct abstract models of the relationship between library actions and output measures, in practice the complexity of the library and its environment interferes with attempts to understand and manipulate output measures…They should be used with caution and an understanding of their limitations” (Vanhouse, 1989). 

Recent research similarly testifies to the challenges of identifying “an appropriate means of measuring outcomes and evaluating change” (Behan, 2014) in as unique and complex an environment as prison. This is not to suggest that such attempts cannot and should not be made. Rather, one should be mindful of the specific limitations, challenges, and pitfalls inherent to evaluating impact. 

Lack of Research and Attention 

With few exceptions, documents offering policies and guidelines for prison libraries devote marginal attention to assessing and evaluating prison library services. IFLA’s Guidelines for Library Services to Prisoners provides one sentence on measuring impact following their 94 distinct recommendations, only suggesting that libraries should conduct performance evaluations every “3-5 years.” UNESCO’s Books Behind Bars report likewise contains only a few words on impact evaluation. The same is true of prison library literature more broadly. Clark and MacCreaigh’s Library Services to the Incarcerated offers only a two page appendix on “performance measures,” and many other works refer to data collection and performance measurement in passing or as a brief aside.  

That these otherwise comprehensive, thoughtful, and well-researched works offer only a few pages (or words) on impact evaluation is extremely telling of the lack of attention devoted to this issue. Impact evaluation is deserving of more than lip service, and organizations and individuals already invested in relevant research, advocacy efforts, and policy discussions have a role to play in more clearly articulating and developing guidelines on impact evaluation. 

A Highly Decentralized Field 

There exists a great deal of variation in regards to how individual prison libraries are established and embedded in particular correctional facilities. Some prison libraries belong to their institution’s education department, others exist within rehabilitation-centered departments, and still others exist independent of any formally defined correctional department. In addition, the degree of cooperation between prison libraries and nearby public library systems varies tremendously, with some libraries collaborating extensively with one another and others have no connection whatsoever. Every prison library, then, is unique in both its operation and relationship to relevant institutions. 

Unsurprisingly, prison libraries differ remarkably in regards to their missions as well. As a result, it is not uncommon for confusion and disagreement to arise regarding the purpose and structure of a prison library: Does the library exist primarily for recreation? To grant access to legal materials? To rehabilitate or “reform” inmates? To serve as a public library surrogate? 

Of course, variation amongst prison libraries is a natural reflection of their unique user groups, resources, and restrictions. However, this decentralization complicates efforts to create useful and widely applicable guidelines for impact evaluation in prison libraries. 

Diminishment of Prison libraries 

The precarious and diminished status of prison libraries in America is also central to understanding the general lack of research and data in this field.  

The Supreme Court’s 1995 Lewis v. Casey decision dealt a powerful blow to prison libraries across the United States. The decision affirmed prisoners’ constitutional right to access the courts, but further declared that this right is not violated when prisoners lack “legal research facilities or legal assistance” — so long as prisoners are not “substantially harmed” by their absence. Though this decision primarily affected prison law libraries, it was widely seen as a reflection of prison libraries’ diminished importance in the eyes of the courts (Vogel, 2009). 

Other factors undermining prison libraries in America include the embrace of high security “Supermax” facilities, a trend towards prison privatization, the economic recession of 2008 (leading to the freezing or elimination of many prison librarian and educator positions (Lehmann 2011)), the introduction of re-entry programs in isolation from prison library programs, and the continued funding of “faith based” initiatives that compete with prison libraries for limited funds (Vogel, 2009). 

 On a deeper level, prison libraries suffer from a punitive approach to incarceration on judicial and congressional levels. This approach — which emphasizes punishment over rehabilitation and desistance — also finds expression in the mass media, with the result that most Americans are “bombarded with fictionalized and docu-images of prison, prisoners, and prison life,” images which tend to represent incarcerated people as sinister, hyper-violent sociopaths (Vogel 2009). Significantly, these depictions often represent prison libraries as spaces where inmates become further radicalized, encounter dangerous ideas, or hatch criminal plans (Stearns, 2004). 

Lack of advocacy for prisoners and prison libraries both results from and exacerbates these caricaturized, negative portrayals. The ALA has come under fire for its insufficient lobbying efforts on behalf of incarcerated library patrons, with some arguing that the organization forgets — or refuses to acknowledge — “that prisoners are a library constituency too” (Vogel, 2009). In the absence of sustained public advocacy from larger library organizations, prison libraries are vulnerable to a lack of recognition and support from prison administrators, a situation that further contributes to their diminished state (Garner, 2017). 

 Further, prison libraries are neither guaranteed nor expressly prevented by any “federal laws, constitutional provisions, or Supreme Court decisions” (Vogel, 1997). As a result, prison libraries exist in a highly ambiguous legal gray area. Advocacy on behalf of increased legal protections for prison libraries might go a long way towards addressing the lack of empirical data in the field. 

Recent mainstream discussions about the devastating and disproportionate impacts of mass incarceration perhaps signal a change in our public attitudes towards prisons and their inhabitants. At the least, there seems a growing recognition that the majority of American prison conditions are not conducive to any form of rehabilitation (some research suggests the opposite, in fact). Nonetheless, the above examples demonstrate that hostile perceptions of prisoners and prison libraries lead to their diminishment and complicate efforts to evaluate their impact on one another. 

Inadequate and Understaffed Facilities 

The generally inadequate status of most prison libraries goes a long way in explaining the lack of substantive research in the field. Most accounts of prison libraries make reference to the financial challenges they face. “The library program is often the lowest in priority, usually lacking an adequate budget, facilities, personnel, and moral support from the administration and custodial staff” (Barone, 1977). More recent scholarship testifies to the persistence of these issues; “As a rule, prison libraries are insufficiently funded” (Šimunić, 2016) and remain “lowest on the priority list” of state library budgets (Vogel 1997).

Among other negative outcomes, the impoverished state of prison libraries results in extremely understaffed facilities. As previously mentioned, prison librarians are often the only permanent, professionally trained employee of their library, and are commonly assisted by inmates who work part-time or volunteer. Prison librarians are thus tasked with carrying out a wide range of tasks and frequently struggle to “develop user programs and activities beyond the very basic services” (UNESCO, 2019). It is worth noting, too, that these librarians often work in professional isolation and in a highly regulated, restricted, demanding, and sometimes stressful environment. Prisons further represent a particularly difficult and unfamiliar setting for most librarians by requiring “restricted access to information, high levels of censorship, and little to no access to information technology and other resources” (Finlay & Bates, 2018). 

As if these challenges were insufficient, prison librarians are charged with the near-Herculean task of meeting “the information and diverse reading needs of a large multicultural community whose members have involuntarily been forced to live together” (ALA, 1992). In an environment in which most librarians are simply trying to keep things afloat, it is easy to understand the near-complete absence of empirical data describing the impact of their services.[4] 

In addition, many prison libraries are staffed by correctional employees who lack expertise and training in delivering library services (Šimunić, 2016). Although the IFLA advocates staffing prison libraries with professionally trained librarians, there is little evidence of widespread adherence to this recommendation. It is therefore not uncommon for prison libraries to be managed entirely by prison officers and inmates, or at least for their day-to-day operations to fall under their purview. Of course, this arrangement is better than nothing, and is a reflection of the larger lack of care and support offered prison libraries today. Nonetheless, this arrangement represents a “major obstacle to future development and to the ultimate goal of building truly professional prison libraries” (Lehmann, 2011). 

Prison librarians also commonly lack computers and other technologies typically available in most other kinds of libraries. This complicates the tracking of basic internal operations and makes the systematic collection of empirical data immensely more difficult. In a similar vein, prison libraries are excluded from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ (IMLS) Library Services and Technology Act, which allocates funds to be used for expanding services and accessing information resources (Lehmann, 2011). 

 Finally, prison librarians frequently lack autonomy and struggle for respect and understanding from other correctional staff. As Lehmann and Locke write, “in any profession that involves working with special populations, a narrow focus often develops in which the worker views that population only within the values and theories of that particular discipline” (Lehmann & Locke, 2005). It goes without saying that librarians and most other correctional employees operate under quite different and perhaps incompatible goals and principles. In the context of prison libraries, the “narrow focus” of each camp usually manifests in perceptions of librarians as naïve, easily manipulated “do-gooders” and correctional staff as apologists for a callous and oppressive system. It is important to note that neither view is “correct” or even useful; on the contrary, these perceptions prevent librarians and correctional staff from productively collaborating and understanding the other’s priorities and approaches. While this kind of relationship surely does not exist in every prison, it is a commonly referenced dynamic and a further obstacle to cultivating an atmosphere of trust, shared understanding, and mutual respect in prison libraries.  

In sum, disregard and lack of sufficient investment by library associations, politicians, funding institutions, and many correctional staff results in prison libraries that are often grossly underfunded and understaffed. This unfortunate reality makes the delivery of library services the primary aim of most prison librarians (quite reasonably so), and limits their ability to systematically evaluate the impact of their services.  

Professional Divides and Isolation 

Another factor contributing to the dearth of prison library research is the siloing of prison librarianship on multiple levels. Despite a surge of interest regarding inmate re-entry, relevant research and literature by and large fails to acknowledge the importance of skills encouraged by libraries (information literacy, for example) on the process of returning to society. Similarly, there is “an eerie lack of awareness about digital literacy and job preparation…in public policy guidelines” for re-entry programming” (Vogel, 2009). As a result, prison librarians are left “on the sideline” of most re-entry debates (Vogel, 2009). Librarians and library advocacy groups are similarly left out of most policy discussions regarding prisoners (UNESCO, 2019), who are themselves excluded from most education discourse (Vogel, 2009).  

A disconnect exists, too, amongst public and prison libraries. Though many public and prison libraries collaborate with one another to share staff and resources, no central guidelines exist to formalize this partnership. Initiatives developed by public libraries in regards to impact evaluation are therefore often not inclusive of prison libraries, or are never shared with them.[5] 

Finally, even if better communication between public and prison libraries was achieved, the LIS field itself has been called “isolated in considering the common problem of organizational effectiveness,” failing to draw on relevant research from the public and service sectors (Cameron & Whetten, 1983).

Seen in this light, prison libraries and prison librarians are isolated branches of an already isolated field. 

A Uniquely Challenging User-Group 

Though it is difficult to measure impact with any user group, it is perhaps more so with a population facing a disproportionate degree of personal, economic, educational, and social problems. On the whole, incarcerated individuals have lower levels of education and higher rates of illiteracy, suffer more from substance abuse and mental illness, and come from disadvantaged social and economic backgrounds at significantly higher rates than non-incarcerated populations. In addition, many incarcerated people in America struggle with technology and do not speak English as their first language (Lehmann, 2011). As a result of these disproportionate disadvantages, they are frequently considered a “unique user group with special needs” (Lehmann, 2011).

These problems disproportionately affect inmates even in countries with prison systems considered more modern and humane; Scandinavian inmates likewise experience the same personal, social, and economic problems at higher rates than most civilians in these countries (Ljødal, 2011). This fact raises broader questions about the links between membership in disadvantaged minority groups and incarceration. For the purpose of the paper, however, these examples are raised in order to demonstrate the difficulties prison librarians face in attempting to meet the diverse information needs of underserved individuals facing often immense challenges in a number of areas. 

Improving Impact Evaluation in Prison Libraries        

Given this multitude of challenges, what can be done to improve the measurement of prison library services?            

To begin, most prison libraries would do well to clarify and formalize their primary services and objectives. This clarification will help determine an initial sense of overall effectiveness, and will indicate which measures are important to track. “Once roles have been selected and programs developed to support those roles, measurement of the quality of the library service becomes more exact” (ALA, 1992). Clarifying services and objectives through written policies and informal discussions might also bring attention to previously unacknowledged funding sources.           

Dissolving professional and institutional barriers can also go a long way in empowering prison librarians to better measure the impact of their services. Unanimously adopting the “public library model” will help prison libraries align with “the professional standards and ethics of the wider library profession” (Finlay & Bates, 2018). This alignment has occurred in Denmark and other Scandanavian countries, resulting in enhanced cooperation and greater access to resources and support for prison librarians (Ljødal, 2011). Increased communication and support can also be sought out between LIS professionals, researchers, and correctional staff in order to reduce hostility and “produce empirical studies that not only help the library…but can enrich both the fields of librarianship and criminology” (Stearns, 2004).            

Prison libraries can also play an increased role in relevant policy discussions amongst stakeholders and the judicial system, and can seek to establish “national and regional prison library networks and associations” (UNESCO, 2019). This would result in the creation of policy documents and practical guidelines informed by prison librarians and reflective of their ongoing experiences. Consulting prison librarians throughout the prison construction process would also lead to the establishment of optimally designed and functional library facilities; Norway is one country which regularly consults library professionals when constructing and renovating prisons (Ljødal, 2011). All of these suggestions will serve to increase representations of prison librarians in valuable processes and discussions, contributing to the creation of an atmosphere more conducive to impact evaluation.            

Similarly, increased connections can be made between re-entry efforts and prison libraries. In recent years, many state prisons have introduced re-entry curricula that include classroom instruction and assignments related to personal development, education opportunities, and financial literacy, among others (Vogel, 1997). Prison libraries have a great deal to contribute to these programs and to the fields of re-entry research and inmate education more generally; “We argue for wider inclusion of the library in contemporary research on prisoners’ experiences of learning” (Finlay & Bates, 2018).            

Public library initiatives intended to improve impact evaluation can also be adapted and extended for prison libraries. PLA’s Project Outcome initiative offers standards and tools — including survey management options, data visualizations, training resources, and custom report builders — to be used in measuring the outcomes of public library services and programs. Furthermore, data generated through this project can be shared, viewed, and discussed online, allowing library professionals to see how their particular results compare to state and national averages. Since its introduction in 2015, Project Outcome has been widely praised and expanded for academic library settings. There is no apparent reason why this initiative cannot be tailored for prison libraries as well.            

The development of a more expansive and robust theoretical context for prison libraries will provide a strong foundation on which subsequent research and data collection can occur; “A larger body of empirical evidence, grounded in relevant theoretical constructs, is needed to truly understand the role of the library in the lives of prisoners” (Finlay & Bates, 2018).  The development of “sound ideas” regarding the function and goals of prison libraries will also provide clarity and a greater degree of autonomy to prison librarians. Holistic theoretical models for prison libraries have been proposed in recent years and center on desistance research, criminogenic factors, and insights from the fields of psychology, education, and medicine, among others (Finlay & Bates, 2018). Situating the theoretical context of prison librarianship in relevant adjacent fields will encourage “interdisciplinary examinations of inmates and how prison affects them” (Stearns, 2004), and offer insights that could not be gained in isolation.             

Finally, more aggressive and sustained advocacy can be pursued in order to improve the public perception and financial status of prison libraries. Successful advocacy efforts aid in creating a culture that recognizes prison libraries as “vital contributors to the field of corrections” (Stearns, 2004) and highlight their role in promoting “recreational pursuits, education, literacy improvement, and socialization” (Ljødal, 2011). As previously discussed, advocacy is also central to increasing visibility among funders, stakeholders, and others “responsible for increasing noncustodial budgets” (Vogel 2009). 


Prison libraries face significant challenges in regards to evaluating the impact of their services. At the same time, numerous reforms can be pursued in the short and long term in order to begin enhancing and formalizing data collection processes. Improving the measurement of prison libraries services will benefit inmates, library and correctional staff, researchers looking to better understand the role prison libraries play in facilitating re-entry, and anyone seeking to convince funders, politicians, and the public of prison libraries’ largely unrealized value and potential.


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Šimunić, Z., Tanacković, S. F., & Badurina, B. (2014). Library services for incarcerated persons: A survey of recent trends and challenges in prison libraries in Croatia. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science48(1), 72–89. doi: 10.1177/0961000614538481

State of Recidivism (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/0001/01/01/state-of-recividism.

Stearns, R. (2004) The Prison Library: An Issue for Corrections, or a Correct Solution for Its Issues? Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 23:1, 49-80.

UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/pdf/criminal_justice/UN_Standard_Minimum_Rules_for_the_Treatment_of_Prisoners.pdf

Vanhouse, N. (1989). Output Measures in Libraries. Library Trends, (38): 2. University of Illinois.

Vogel, B. (1997). Bailing out Prison Libraries: The Politics of Crime and Punishment Frame the Crisis in Prison Library Service. Library Journal, (19): 35.

Vogel, B. (2009). The prison library primer: A program for the twenty-first century. Scarecrow Press.

Warr, J. (2016). Transformative dialogues: (Re)privileging the informal in prison education. Prison Service Journal, 225, 18-25.

Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S. (1991). Organizational effectiveness: a comparison of multiple models. San Diego (California): Academic Press.

Wilhelmus, D. W. (1999) A new emphasis for correctional facilities’ libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 25(2), 114-120. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0099-1333(99)80009

[1] The term “forgotten field” was first used by Suzanna Conrad in her 2017 work, Prison librarianship policy and practice. Conrad, S. (2017). Prison librarianship policy and practice. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers.

[2] This according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ 2011 Reentry trends in the U.S. report. Hughes, T. & Wilson, D.J. (2011). Reentry trends in the U.S. Retrieved fromhttps://www.bjs.gov/content/reentry/reentry.cfm

[3] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/0001/01/01/state-of-recidivism

[4] It is worth noting, too, that many librarians have little to no training in statistics, data analysis, and performance measurement (Vanhouse, 1989). This presents somewhat of a catch-22, as outside researchers have been shown to influence behavior and shape experimental results in undesired ways (Lithgow & Hepworth, 1993).

[5] Take, for example, the Public Library Association’s (PLA) Output Measures for Public Libraries — a set of standards “widely used in the public library community” (Vanhouse, 1989) — as well as PLA’s more recent Project Outcome initiative. While the latter was recently expanded for academic library settings, there is no indication that the PLA has considered adapting these resources for prison libraries.

Exploring The Explorers Club

On October 4th, the Pratt Chapter of The American Library Association organized a tour of The Explorers Club, as well as a discussion with their Archivist and Curator of Research Collections, Lacey Flint. Headquartered at 46 East 70th Street since 1964, the Club occupies the former residence of Stephen C. Clark, an interesting figure among New York museums and history in his own right, and founder of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. While Clark did not have a direct affiliation with The Explorers Club, his tastes in architecture and interior design have certainly shaped its surroundings.

Welcome to the Club

As we ascended a hundred year old staircase and made our way past the mounted Polar Bear, it was clear we had entered a very unique kind of club. Seated before Ms. Flint, in a room lined by various framed expedition flags, our group was treated to a substantial information session about the history of the organization, and her professional responsibilities. Joined at times by other staff members who offered additional insights as they were going about their duties, we also had an opportunity for some Q&A with Ms. Flint following her presentation and throughout the tour.

We learned that Explorers Club flags have been carried to the top of Mt. Everest, and the depths of the Marianas Trench, both the North & South Poles, as well as the surface of the Moon. Since 1918, over 200 flags have accompanied Club members on excursions all over the globe (occasionally beyond) and as I foresee myself eventually working within a museum or similar institution, one of my first questions for Ms. Flint was about the preservation of the flags and other items in her care. Despite being ensconced in the opulent trappings of Madison Avenue, the Club’s collection is curated under relatively austere means, and many of the retired and framed flags surrounding us were in need of conservation care and remounting under appropriate archival glass.

The largest lunar flag was never flown, it remains in a sealed bag from the Apollo 13 mission

Progressing into what was previously the Clark family library, we were again reminded of the Club’s constant need for generating revenue, as they were in the midst of preparing the space for a ticketed event titled Tales from Dark Places. Though the bookshelves were partially obscured by large paintings of cave scenes (and rather ominous ones at that), it was easy enough to imagine a quiet read in the shadow of the fireplace’s massive mantel. What was less easy to imagine was how the family was able to navigate the assembled volumes, as Ms. Flint revealed to us a quirk of their personal cataloging. As opposed to author, title or even year of publication, we were told the books were sorted under broad generalities such as ‘things that fly’, a description that can encompass animals, aircraft and even celestial bodies.

This intriguing classification system brought to mind Finding Augusta, particularly the idea of “similarity” and the TSP. (Cooley, 2014) Viewing the library through the lens of the traveling salesman problem, I could imagine the parallels of trying to most efficiently find your way through the seemingly haphazard collection, while trying to gauge the similarity of subject matter as understood by someone else. Just as ‘Augusta’ could simultaneously describe many disparate things to different people, so did this Clark library lend itself to unique interpretations by those using it.

Just Lion around

Reaching the highest level of The Explorers Club, our group became acquainted with the main showroom, and its large taxidermy collection. Despite the delicate nature of the artifacts, the room housing them is not climate controlled, nor have any countermeasures been implemented as of yet to address ultraviolet degradation from sunlight through the windows. (Though we were told the curtains are kept drawn most of the time) I had recently read “Fundamental Forms of Information” before the tour, and as we learned more about the mounted specimens, a passage immediately came to mind:

. . . structures previously associated with life recede back into their natural, inert forms. Trace information is that information that is degrading from being represented information (encoded or embodied) into being natural information only (neither encoded or embodied). Trace information includes the no-longer-used wasps’ nest, waste heaps, carrion, disintegrating ancient scrolls, and so on.

Bates (2006)
Trace Information?

Even under the best of conditions, (and sadly the Club is far from being able to provide that) these artifacts and the information they contain, can not survive forever. As Bates explains, all organized elements eventually break down into basic patterns of matter and energy, and while organic decay is unfortunate, the loss of life of these animals in the first place is no small tragedy in itself. Though Ms. Flint assured the group that the particular examples on display were the result of scientific research, and not sport hunting, it is never easy to clearly discern the motivation of previous generations, and even a commemorative plaque within the room described the assorted animals as “trophies”.

Thinking back on this risk of complacency with questionable past cultural norms brought to mind a recent reading selection from Robert Jensen. His examination of “neutrality” in GLAM fields points out the potential dangers in accepting the status quo of an institution’s practices. (Jensen, 2006) Looking back on the tour with this additional perspective, I find myself conflicted over The Explorers Club’s taxidermy collection. While the specimens may still possess historic significance and cultural relevance, is their continued display a tacit approval of all the killing necessary for them to exist in the first place?

These shadows of the past can loom large in the ornate corners of the old Clark home, but moral ambiguity was not the exclusive takeaway of the day. Despite some questionable collection priorities, the Club does maintain its dedication to exploring the natural world, and one item in particular struck me as an eloquent overlap of information and exploration.


In this image, an inadvertent “selfie” of Neil Armstrong as captured in the reflection of Buzz Aldrin’s helmet, we see one of the only photographs of the first man to ever step foot on the Moon, and it was accidental! No satellite imaging, no high definition digital recording, not even a particularly captivating pose, just a man with some film in his camera snapping a photo of his coworker. Oh, and they just happen to be 200,000+ miles removed from the face of the Earth at the time. To be on the literal frontier of science, technology and human advancement, at the edge of the Abyss, and to capture it all with the click of a simple, mechanical shutter, it is a remarkable juxtaposition.


Bates, Marcia J. (2006). “Fundamental forms of information” Journal of the American Society for Information and Technology 57(8): 1033–1045. Retrieved from https://pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/bates/articles/NatRep_info_11m_050514.html

Cooley, H. R. (2014). Finding Augusta: Habits of Mobility and Governance in the Digital Era. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/pratt/detail.action?docID=1524277

Jensen, Robert. (2006). “The myth of the neutral professional” in Questioning Library Neutrality, ed. A. Lewis. Library Juice, 89–96.

All photos taken by Ian Gregory 10-04-2019 at The Explorers Club https://explorers.org/

Reshaping Black Culture Through the Archives

Terrie Boddie, “Prison Industrial”, 2018

On October 19, 2019 I attended the Black Portraiture[s] V:  Memory and the Archive, Past. Present. Future. Conference hosted by New York University.  I attended two panel discussions.  The first  panel I attended was entitled:  Archival Noise:  Black Women, Sonic Remains and Afterlives in Transatlantic Slavery Archives.  There were four presenters who each contributed to the panel by discussing how literature, sound, and various other forms of artistry conveyed the harsh realities of black women during and after the transatlantic slave trade.  The panel discussion was compelling, but I found there was a notable absence of the role of archives in their research.  Only one panelist, I. Augustus Durham in his presentation on “I Love “Lucy” I Think?:  The Makings of Kendrick Dinkinesh” made mention of “the archive”,  but only in passing when he said: “the artist’s (team of creatives) had a deep sense of “the archive”. (Durham, 2019).  His statement was referencing the symbolism used to create an artistic piece by the hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar.   He did not mention which archival records he was referring to, nor did he mention what archival analysis was utilized to arrive at such a conclusion.   As this was a panel of humanities scholars, this led me to believe there was a distinction being made between the “archive” and “the archives”, and I was immediately reminded of the misconception commonly held in humanities studies about “the archive”, and archival studies.

Michelle Caswell who is a writer, scholar, and archivist writes:  “For humanities scholars, “the archive” denotes a hypothetical wonderland…” (Caswell, 1).  This was implied in Durham’s statement in reference to the archive.  She goes on to state that there are two separate discussions taking place between archival studies scholars and Humanities Scholars:

“the archive” by humanities scholars and (of) archives by archival studies scholars are happening on two separate tracks in which scholars in both disciplines are largely not taking part in the same conversations, not speaking the same conceptual languages and not benefiting from each other’s insights” (Caswell 1-2).

It was very compelling to see this disconnect between the two disciplines actually taking place in academic discourse.

These separate tracks became even more evident during the second panel discussion of the day called:  “New Media, Techno, Archive, and Art.  Speakers on this panel discussed AI (Artificial Intelligence), big data, new media art, and addressed the biases embedded within these technologies.  The panelist I would like to highlight is Dorothy Berry who is an Archivist at Houghton Library at Harvard University.  Her presentation was entitled:  “Archives in the Age of Digital Reproduction:  Towards Discoverable Blackness.  In her presentation she discussed the importance of Provenance in archival study and ways it could be applied in archival preservation of the historical records of African Americans.  She stressed the importance of context in analyzing these archival records and the need for more collective description.  She then went on to discuss the embedded racism found in the Library of Congress subject headings, and why patrons of color can be more active pointing out these things for modification (Berry, 2019).

While listening to Berry I was again reminded of the power archivists have in shaping memory.  When dealing with marginalized communities whose histories and experiences have been largely misrepresented, applying  provenance, and cultivating proper context in archival preservation becomes an even more daunting task:

“The nature of the resulting “archive” thus has serious consequences for administrative accountability, citizen rights, collective memory, and historical knowledge, all of which are shaped – tacitly, subtly, sometimes unconsciously, yet profoundly – by the naturalized, largely invisible, and rarely questioned power of archives (Swartz & Cook, 4).

Berry’s presentation demonstrated the influence archivists have in shaping collective memory.  Berry also was able to convey the role racism plays (whether intentional or not) in affecting how African American archival records are archived. Berry’s presentation touched on issues of diversity emphasizing in her talk that 89 percent of archivists are white . She emphasized there was much need for community engagement (Berry, 2019).  In The Quest For Diversity in Library Staffing: From Awareness to Action, Jennifer Vinopal using the ALA’s 2007 Diversity Counts Report states:  “…a vicious cycle that the lack of diversity perpetuates: “[T]he lack of diversity in regards to race and ethnicity, age group, disability, and other dimensions…work [sic]to distance the very communities they seek to attract” (Vinopal, 2013).  This “vicious cycle” is reinforced by Berry’s call for more participation from people of color in bringing awareness to biases within the archives, specifically in the archival preservation of African American Culture. There is a sentiment within the African American Community due to the forms of racism endured such as Jim Crow, that has led African Americans to internalize the belief that they are not welcome in certain spaces.  I see this sentimentality being played out here, in reference to the lack of participation from the African American community, even in the reframing of African American culture through the archives.

As I mentioned earlier, I attended two panels each panel was very informative, and was very different from one another. The theme of the conference was memory and archive through the lens of the black experience.  The topics of discussion were about how these concepts intersect and how we can better understand, work through, and work with the power structures that govern our society in the United States and abroad.  Also, how marginalized groups can empower themselves with the use of modern technology to create, preserve, and reframe culture.  As the technological age continues to advance rapidly, we are continuously challenged to find ways to adapt.  Issues of privacy, racism, inclusivity, cultural preservation, and transparency are more important than ever.  These topics will continue to be of great concern as we continue to move forward. Through these panel discussions I was able to begin to identify themes from course discussions, and see how they manifest themselves through academic discourse.

Works cited:

Berry, D. (2019, October). Archives in the Age of Digital Reproduction:  Towards discoverable blackness.  Paper presented at the Black Portraiture[s] V Memory and the Archive Past. present. Future. NewYork University. New York, NY

Durham, A. I. (2019, October) I love “lucy’, I think?: The makings of kendrick dinkinesh.  Paper presented at the Black Portraiture[s] V Memory and the Archive Past. Present. Future. New York University. New York, NY.

Caswell, M. (2016) “The Archive” is not the archives:  Acknowledging the intellectual contributions of archival studies. Reconstruction:  Studies in contemporary culture 16(1). Retrieved from:  https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7bn4v1fk

Vinopal, J. (2013, January, 13). The quest for diversity in library staffing:  From awareness to action. In the Library with a Lead Pipe Retrieved from:  http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2016/quest-for-diversity

Schwartz, J.M., Cook,T. (2002). Archives, records, and power:  The making of modern memory. Archival Science, 2 , 1-19, Retrieved from: https://www.nyu.edu/classes/bkg/methods/schwartz.pdf

Illustration:  Boddie, T. (2018) Prison Industrial.

The Ever-Evolving Life of Archives

by Jay Rosen

I recently attended a presentation and panel discussion at this year’s Lapidus Center Conference on Enduring Slavery, hosted on October 10-12 by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at New York Public Library. The theme of this year’s conference was “Resistance, Public Memory, and Transatlantic Archives,” which I thought might connect to some of our previous discussions on archives, cultural preservation, and collective memory in the United States.

The particular session I attended was entitled, “Emerging Perspectives on Public Memory and Popular Representations of Anti-Black Violence.” The conversation was introduced by Jennifer DeClue, Assistant Professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College, who also presented original research and moderated the subsequent discussion.[1] Other panelists included Dr. Tyler Perry, Assistant Professor of African American and African Diaspora Studies at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and Dr. Allison Page, Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at Old Dominion University. Because the material presented in DeClue’s presentation was especially interesting to me, I’ve decided to focus exclusively on that here.

The title of DeClue’s presentation was “Staging Slavery: Public Television and the Performance of Slave Narratives.” Her discussion centered on “The History of the Negro People,” a 9-part televison series which aired on the public television network NET (now PBS) in 1965. The series explored lesser known narratives of black people in America and throughout the world, featuring episodes on ancient African civilizations, the racial history of the American south, and the experience of black people in Brazil, among other topics.

Poster for 1965 television series “History of the Negro People”

The episode discussed by DeClue is simply titled “Slavery.” Included in it are staged dramatizations of slavery that emphasize resistance; significantly, these dramatizations were based on the actual stories of enslaved people in America. The testimonies used in “Slavery” were collected as part of FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) program in the 1920s. Though the WPA is mostly remembered for grand-scale public works projects like the construction of highways and buildings, it also included the Federal Writers Project, which facilitated the collection of American folklore and oral histories. As DeClue put it, a “database” of oral histories by formerly enslaved people was amassed through these efforts. The “raw material” embodied in these histories was then reanimated through the dramatic performances described by DeClue, and given a national audience through the medium of public television.

As previously mentioned, “Slavery” primarily highlighted instances of resistance to slaveholders and the institution of slavery itself. The episode included re-tellings of the stories of infamous rebels Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, and John Brown, as well as narratives of lesser known enslaved people who dared challenge the “peculiar institution.” In chronicling American slavery through the lens of resistance and using the words of people who endured it,  the episode marks an “intervention into the dominant narrative of slavery,” shifting our public memory of slavery away from narratives of servility and complacency and towards tales of humanity and resilience.

The excerpts from “Slavery” that DeClue played for the audience highlight the potency of archives, as well as their insurrectionary potential. More specifically, they demonstrate that archives contain material that can be used to disrupt dominant understandings of history and uplift the narratives of marginalized people. As the Schwartz and Cook reading we were assigned earlier this semester suggests, archives have tremendous power in shaping our collective memory and identity, and can be used as tools to promote hegemony or resistance, depending on the materials available and the objectives of those who use them.   

At one point, DeClue mentioned that Federal Writers Project employees discovered that former slaves were less likely to be as forthcoming with white interviewers as they were with black ones. This unsurprising fact demonstrates that the archival record is anything but an unmediated collection of stories and documents. Rather, the records available to us today were shaped — implicitly and explicitly — by the people in positions to receive, create, and preserve them. As DeClue reminded us, it’s remarkable that so many powerful and subversive stories were collected by this project, given that most interviewers were white and were thus received less comfortably by black storytellers. What might this archival record look like if only black people collected these histories?

Still image from Ja’Tovia Gary’s “An Ecstatic Experience”

In closing out her presentation, Jennifer brought up the avant-garde short film An Ecstatic Experience,” created by Brooklyn-based artist and filmmaker Ja’Tovia Gary. The film repurposes footage from “Slavery,” overlaying etchings, drawings, and other markings over images from the 1965 segment. In manipulating this footage, Gary added yet another “layer” to the archive and underscored the fact that archival materials evolve over time and in response to current understandings of the issues they embody and reflect. I found it exciting (and a bit dizzying) to try and peel back the archival “layers” included in DeClue’s presentation. For one, there are the narratives collected by the Federal Writers Project — these testimonies themselves comprise a kind of “transatlantic archive,” as DeClue put it. There is then the archival repository represented in “The History of the Negro People,” now over fifty years old. From there “An Ecstatic Experience” was born, further commenting on and repurposing the “raw material” collected by the Federal Writers Project in the 1920s. Finally, there is DeClue’s own analysis of these “layers,” which has already been digitally archived on Vimeo, in addition to my own commentary on her recent discussion, now archived on WordPress. These various “layers” enliven my understanding of archival “provenance” as introduced in the Caswell reading assigned earlier this semester. They show how records and archives are far from static, but rather unfold over decades and in conversation with the past and present.

Works referenced / cited:

Bly, L., & Wooten, K. (Eds.). (2012). Make your own history: Documenting feminist and queer activism in the 21st century. Los Angeles, CA: Litwin Books.

Caswell, M. L. (2016). “’The Archive’ Is Not an Archives: On Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies.” Reconstruction, 16 (1), 1-12. Retrieved from: https://escholarship.org/uc/item/7bn4v1fk.

Schwartz, J. M., & Cook, T. (2002). Archives, records, and power: The making of modern memory. Archival Science, 2(1–2), 1–19. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02435628

[1] Side note: DeClue mentioned during her introduction that she is currently working on a book titled “Visitation: Towards a Black Feminist Avant-Garde Cinema,” which focuses on black women filmmakers who use archival documents and avant-garde filmmaking techniques to encourage different ways of perceiving black women. This project brought to mind Alana Kumbier’s article “Inventing History: The Watermelon Woman and Archive Activism.” Kumbier’s article analyzes Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, in which Cheryl — represented as filmmaker but also a character in the film — traces a fictional persona named Fae Richards largely in order to “create a documentary heritage for black lesbian cultural production to enable future products” (Kumbier 103). Thus, both women use archival materials and the medium of film to encourage nuanced and feminist depictions of black women.

Event in Review: NYC Media Lab Summit ‘19

Photo: Janet Liu 2019

My event in review is on the NYC Media Lab Summit that I attended on September 26, 2019. Organized by the NYC Media Lab, the summit brings together people from various industries and universities in NYC to discuss the emerging technologies of today and the future. The event was split into a morning and afternoon session that was held from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM at the New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

Media 2030 panel led by Justin Hendrix, Executive Director of NYC Media Lab.
Photo: Janet Liu 2019

The morning session began with an innovation panel discussing the challenges and future vision for Media 2030. The list of speakers includes Yaël Eisenstat, R. Luke Duois, Desmond Upton Patton, and Tony Parisi. It was inspiring to hear different professionals’ takes on what they thought will be the most critical challenges facing institutions in 2030. Even though the speakers come from different industries, it was surprising to hear all of their responses towards AI and algorithm bias. This made me think about Posner’s discussion on the inefficiency in having a binary mindset to make sense of the world, and how binary groupings in digital humanities projects are causing further marginalization of groups (Posner, 2016). It is concerning to learn of all of the bias we have in our society today, and how it will remain a critical challenge ten years later.

Following the panel were two keynote presentations given on AI and storytelling. The first was from Amir Baradaranand, an artificial artist and art-based researcher at Columbia University. The second was from Heidi Boisvert, CEO & Founder of futurePerfect Lab and Director of Emerging Media Technology at CUNY. It was fascinating to see AI creating immersive storytelling experiences and artworks. This made me think about Norman’s argument of machines as ‘rigid, inflexible, and fixed’ (Norman, 2018). We can see these traditional views shifting, as innovators like Baradaranand and Boisvert show us a vision where artists, creatives, and AI technologies can work together. Perhaps, as Norman imagined, humans and machines will form a complementary team and take on both a human-centered and machine-centered approach to learning.

The afternoon session began with a Demo Expo that included 100 student prototypes. I was looking forward to this event the most as I wanted to see what kind of emerging technologies students were currently working on and excited about. It was immediately evident that there was a big trend in VR. I saw many VR products used for prototypes such as designing an online retail store, an immersive travel experience, and a chemical lab. One project that really stood out to me was the Hip Hop data visualization project, ‘Mapper’s Delight’ designed by Rap Research Lab. Instead of showing a list of lyrics, the lab explores the “global distances traveled by the lyrics contained in each rap artist’s career while exploring the secret flows of Hip-hop’s spacetime through a panoptic interface.” (“Mappers Delight VR,” 2017). It was cool and clever to see over 2,000 lyrics connected by geography and transformed into a virtual platform, which also brought an emotional engagement as I was able to find lyrics connecting me to Hong Kong. Projects like these make us think about new possible ways to provide meaning and context to big chunks of data.

Stuart Trafford’s workshop, “Magic Leap in the Enterprise: How Spatial Computing is Revolutionizing Education, Media, Entertainment and More.”
Photo: Janet Liu 2019.

The last part of the summit included a hands-on workshop where attendees had the choice of picking one out of the fourteen to attend. I decided to go with Magic Leap, a leading VR company presenting on extended reality, spatial computing, and how it is transforming the industries. I wanted to attend this workshop to understand why there is such a big fascination with these types of products. Stuart Trafford, the Education Lead of Magic Leap introduced its newest product called Magic Leap One, a mixed reality product that creates immersive experiences. One point that stuck with me was when Trafford said the experience of information is changing as technology has allowed these online experiences to be personalized instead of appealing to the masses. It was fascinating to see how MR products can be applied to future industries such as in hospitals and construction sites. This workshop inspired me to write my research paper on VR and understand if there will be a demand for such a product in future museums, as I still find VR products to be very gimmicky.

Overall, I was very impressed with the structure of the summit. I expected more students to attend as tickets cost a hefty $200 but students can attend for $30. I loved the order of presentations. It started with broad topics discussing the challenges and future use of emerging technologies, to the current uses demonstrated by students, and then to workshops that show specific examples of how these types of technologies are used. Also, it is important to note that the event relied on the WHOVA conference app, which allowed you to keep track of the full agenda, learn more about sessions, take notes, chat, and most importantly, sign up for workshops. Even though the app was really convenient, it made me think about the accessibility of information. How will the experience change for people who don’t have the app downloaded and can’t sign up for workshops? Will their experience be different since the event heavily relied on the app to connect with other attendees and speakers?

I appreciated how the summit not only showcased all the fancy cool products but also emphasized on the downsides and challenges technology brings. By doing so, the summit did a good job of providing transparency. One thing that really stuck to me was when Boisvert spoke of her research findings at Limbic Lab that shows how technology is rewiring our brain. As Boisvert comments, it will be important for us to take a human-centered approach to reverse the harmful effects caused by technology. This seems to be a central theme in the summit as well as our discussions from class. As Norman, and what other speakers have repeated throughout the summit, future designers and technologists will not only need training as technicians but will also need to receive training to learn what it means to be ‘human’ (Norman, 2018).


Mappers Delight VR. (2017). Retrieved from: https://rapresearchlab.com/#portfolioModal2.

Norman, Don A. (1998). Being Analog. Retrieved from: http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/being_analog.html.

NYC Media Lab ’19. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://summit.nycmedialab.org/

Posner, Miriam (2016). What’s next: The radical, unrealized potential of digial humanities. Retrieved from: http://miriamposner.com/blog/whats-next-the-radical-unrealized-potential-of-digital-humanities/.

Event Review: The Evolution of the Black Queer Archive

On Thursday, October 17th, I attended several panels for the three-day conference Black Portraiture[s] V: Memory and the Archive Past. Present. Future. The stated purpose of the conference was to “explore the making of visual archives, the narratives they tell, and the parameters that define them as objects of study.” I listened to presentations and discussions about the particular difficulties of archiving when it comes to the records and materials of populations that have been historically oppressed, marginalized, and excluded from official archives.

I was especially interested in the panel I went to titled “Representation Matters — The Evolving Black LGBTQ Archive,” featuring speakers Jennifer DeVere Brody, Thomas Allen Harris, and Steven Fullwood, with moderator Katina Parker. All black, queer professionals with backgrounds in the arts, their particular experiences and expertises lent to a vibrant discussion about intersectionality and the importance of identity in archiving.

Identification badge with event information and logo on one side and a photograph of a black woman taken by Adama Delphine Fawundu on the other side.
The identification badge allowing access to Black Portraiture[s] V: Memory and the Archive Past. Present. Future. Photo taken by Shivani Ishwar. The photo on the back of the ID badge is “Pecola’s Blues #2: Blue Eyes, Cocoa Brown,” taken by Adama Delphine Fawundu in 2012.

Throughout their presentations, the speakers each emphasized the importance of maintaining a personal archive. When belonging to a community that has been suppressed from the “official” archive, especially when that community is a doubly-disadvantaged one like the black queer community, personal and “informal” archives are often the only way to preserve information about those communities. Something as simple as a family photo album can be a valuable resource in learning about the history of black queer people and communities, because when no one else is invested in the preservation and retelling of black queer stories, people in that community have to take charge of that preservation themselves.

The speakers presented many different examples of the way black queer people have been erased or understated in official histories: like Edmonia Lewis, a 19th-century sculptor brought up during Brody’s talk, “Out of the Future: A Black Queer-Femme Archive.” Lewis’ well-known aversion to dresses and probable affairs with women lead many to label her as a queer figure; but Wikipedia calls no attention to her preferred style of clothing, and simply describes her as having “never married.”

History is rife with these sorts of discrepancies, situations in which people’s identities aren’t fully acknowledged by formal archives. For people at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities—in this case race, sexuality, and sometimes gender—often the narrative prioritizes one identity over another. One might be a black historical figure, or a queer one, but rarely both. It’s in situations like these, Harris argued, that personal archives are most important. His presentation, “Queering the Family Album,” discussed how personal archives can be a powerful tool for families to better understand their pasts.

In black households in the U.S., Harris noted, homophobia and transphobia are common sentiments. But many family photo albums contain evidence of queer ancestors: an aunt who dressed like a man, a cousin in drag, a great-uncle who never married. These stories are suppressed on one level, but the physical evidence of a photograph is difficult to refute. In this way, personal, informal archives can provide an important link between the present generation and past ones; and, by extension, between future generations and the current one.

Harris’ discussion of the intersection of black and queer identity reminded me strongly of Sasha Costanza-Chock’s article “Design Justice” (2018). The importance of intersectionality is discussed in depth in Costanza-Chock’s article, where they argue that especially for people whose identities are marginalized on multiple levels, like those of race, gender, and sexuality, it’s important to recognize all of those identities as interlocking parts of the person. Without acknowledging the way that different identities interact with each other, one is left with an incomplete picture of an individual.  

Steven Fullwood presents black queer historical figures Joseph Beam, Raven Chanticleer, and Stormé DeLarverie.
Steven Fullwood’s presentation, “Notes on Archival Visual Representations of Black LGBTQ Life.” Photo taken by Shivani Ishwar.

Personal archives, though, are often difficult to access specifically because they’re so informal. Fullwood’s talk, “Notes on Archival Visual Representations of Black LGBTQ Life,” touched on this challenge, discussing the way that so many personal archives are “collections doomed to the waste bin of history.” Whether it’s the destruction of records, an incomprehensible system of organization, or the inevitable damages of time, these personal archives are more often lost than they are preserved.

The themes of Fullwood’s presentation reminded me of several readings, including Michelle Caswell’s “‘The Archive’ is not an Archives” (2016) and Marcia J. Bates’ “Fundamental Forms of Information” (2006). Fullwood’s discussion of how personal archives are often poorly preserved speaks to Caswell’s point on the power of the archivist. Because information degrades over time, the decision of what gets preserved is left to whomever has access to the personal archives in question. Even if those records won’t be included in an official narrative, their continued existence is a far better fate than total destruction.

Even when information has degraded, Bates’ discussion of “embedded” information can illuminate why those damaged records can still have value. A water-stained photograph, for example, may speak not only to the great-grandmother in the picture, but also the flooded house her descendants lived in. In this way, personal records continue to accumulate and communicate information even beyond the “recorded” information, in Bates’ terminology, that was initially intended. This is why Fullwood advocates for people to maintain catalogues of their own archives—photos, documents, home video, and so on—so that they may still be interpreted and shared generations later, with all the added information that comes with time.

Also related to Caswell’s discussions of the power of archiving was Parker’s short presentation on the communicative potential of archives. She talked about the way archives create community and identity for a collective group of people: whether it’s of a society, as in official archives, or of a family or a group of friends, as in personal archives. In being excluded from archives, marginalized groups are excluded from their communities, which is what makes their own personal archiving so powerful. It’s a way to reclaim their narratives, their lives, from those who would rather their stories not be shared with the broader consciousness.

Parker emphasized that archiving is an important way to communicate across time and space; whether a photo is sent to friends hundreds of miles away or discovered in a dusty attic after decades, this communication acts as a touchstone for black queer people to connect with one another. As Caswell acknowledges that the archivist has power over how the story is told for future generations, Parker’s discussion presented the potential of having marginalized people as the archivists, the tellers of their own stories.

All of the speakers, in their discussions of intersectionality and power, time and space, came around to the same concept: that of legacy. Ultimately, being able to preserve and share personal archives is a way for marginalized groups to share their own legacies with the world. In times when official archives would exclude black queer stories, causing future generations of black queer people to doubt their own existence and history, the offering of an alternative archive allows the black queer legacy to live on.


Bates, M. J. (2006). Fundamental forms of information. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(8), 1033–1045. doi: 10.1002/asi.20369

Black Portraiture[s] V: Memory and the Archive: Past. Present. Future. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.blackportraitures.info/.

Caswell, M. (2016). ‘The Archive’ is Not An Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies. Reconstruction, 16(1).

Costanza-Chock, S. (2018). Design Justice: towards an intersectional feminist framework for design theory and practice. Proceedings of the Design Research Society 2018. doi: 10.21606/drs.2018.679

Edmonia Lewis. (2019, October 16). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edmonia_Lewis.

Henderson, A. (2012, February 17). Edmonia ‘Wildfire’ Lewis: A black lesbian who sculpted freedom and independence. Retrieved from http://gayhistoryproject.epgn.com/historical-profiles/mary-edmonia-wildfire-lewis-a-black-lesbian-who-sculpted-freedom-and-independence-read-more-pgn-the-philadelphia-gay-news-phila-gay-news-philly-news-mary-edmonia-wi/.

Intersectionality. (2019, October 18). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersectionality.

Jackson, N. (2010, November 12). Taking Care of Your Personal Archives. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/11/taking-care-of-your-personal-archives/66425/.

Blog: Person, Place, and Thing

Heidi Klise

Cultural Heritage Preservation

Cultural heritage and heritage preservation are significant components of information studies. A beautiful line from the movie The Monuments Men does a good job of explaining why it is important to preserve heritage. George Clooney’s character Frank Stokes declared, “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.” (1) The protection of heritage has been tasked to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO divides heritage into two categories, tangible (physical items, monuments, geography, etc.) and intangible (oral stories, traditions, events, etc.). My research paper will delve into examples of heritage preservation by refugees in new communities. For this assignment I want to highlight non-refugee related examples of tangible heritage: the Hawaiian mountain Mauna Kea, the journal of a WWII prisoner of war, and Swiss archaeologist Paul Collart.

Person: Paul Collart 

This coming Wednesday at NYU there is a talk called, “Heritage in Peril: Digital Approaches to Preservation.” I will be unable to attend due to class but I wish I could as it is a topic of particular interest. The keynote talk will be presented by a professor from the University of Lausanne (Unil), which, according the the event invite, “is home to the Collart Collection, the world’s most comprehensive archaeological archive of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria.” (2) The temple was destroyed in 2015 by ISIS. The collection is named in honor of Paul Collart, a Swiss architect and professor at Unil, who UNESCO entrusted with the inventory of the cultural property of Syria and Lebanon. (3) Collart also led the excavation of the Baal Shamin temple in the 1950s, which was classified as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1980. It’s a mark of the 50s that a Swiss man and not a Syrian was entrusted with the cultural property of two Middle Eastern countries. However, the photographs that he took during the excavation are even more important now that the real temple has been destroyed. In a video from Khan Academy, Dr. Salaam al-Kuntar and Dr. Steven Zucker discuss Palmyra. Dr. al-Kuntar says, “[A]nd then we start asking ourselves, what is the meaning of a world heritage site if that site cannot be protected?” (4) This brings up an interesting point about heritage sites, they are protected from development but what resources does UNESCO have when sites are at risk? And if militaries are entrusted to protect sites, that leads to a larger conversation that is somewhat addressed in The Monuments Men, is a life worth sacrificing for art or architecture?

The image of Collart is from archnet.org. (5)

Place: Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is the peak of a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. From base to top, it is the highest mountain in the world at 32,696 feet, of which 4,205 rise above sea level. (6) The summit is sacred to native Hawaiians and is believed to be a home to the gods. There has been a long-standing struggle between builders and locals since the first telescope was built by the University of Hawaii in 1970. (7) This past summer, protests stopped construction of the proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), which would be the 14th built on the summit. 

Since mid-July, native Hawaiians, transplants, celebrities such as Jason Momoa, and others have set up camp and blocked the access road to the telescope area. Organized largely on social media, the “we are Mauna Kea” protests have even taken place in cities such as Las Vegas and New York City. I read an instagram post from actor, local, surfer, and business owner Kala Alexander that said something to the effect of, ‘we’re not anti-science or against learning more about the stars, what we’re against is the further desecration of our sacred Mauna Kea.’ What’s interesting is that the University of Hawaii has largely been at the forefront of observatory construction. Information about a lawsuit by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs explained, “the state and the University of Hawaiʻi have continuously neglected their legal duties to adequately manage the mountain. Instead, they have prioritized astronomical development at the expense of properly caring for Mauna Kea’s natural and cultural resources.” There have been rumors of another equally appeasing TMT location in the Canary Islands of Spain, but not much has been reported. 

(image from Kala Alexander’s instagram page)

What is also interesting, is that two of the other volcanoes and sacred locations on the Big Island, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, lie in Volcanoes National Park and are under protection due to their dedication as UNESCO world heritage sites. Why was Mauna Kea not included? Remember the ‘S’ in UNESCO stands for ‘scientific.’ Mauna Kea Observatory is listed in the category of astronomical heritage, “The smooth shape of the isolated mountain, along with its high altitude, produces astronomical image quality that is among the best of any location on Earth.” (8) So, who decides for what purpose something should be preserved? In this case it was the UN, but in other cases it could be information professionals and archivists. I am reminded of Shwartz and Cook’s article about archives and power, “records are also about power,” they wrote, “They are about imposing control and order on transactions, events, people, and societies[…]” (9) The discrepancy between the Hawaiian volcanoes’ protection is an example of the potential bias within preservation, and how the bias can be directed by the controlling body that funds preservation. The “We are Mauna Kea” movement 

Thing: Secret Journal

            During research for my undergraduate thesis about my grandpa’s WWII story, I found a unique and rare book: a collection of journal entries and sketches by a man who was in the same prison camp as my grandpa. I use the word rare because the only new copy on amazon.com is selling for $860 (there’s also a copy for sale on Etsy.com). In the archives of the Air Force Museum on Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, I also found scans of the pages, and other drawings and handwriting, in a folder about my grandpa. 

            Prisoner of War: My Secret Journal, (10) was written by Squadron Leader B. Arct from 1944-45, during his time as a POW at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany. It is a compilation of artifacts including handwritten journal entries by Polish Air Force Officer Bohdan Arct, hand-drawn maps, a detailed list of the contents of Red Cross parcels, weekly rations from the German guards, and an illustrated chart of how those rations and parcels depleted towards the end of the war. There are also lines written by the other men in Arct’s bunk room that include poems, journal entries, songs, and notes much like those at the end of a school yearbook. The many instances of cartoons and different men’s handwriting alone make this book a precious source for preservation. Sure, this book exists but who knows how many copies were made, those that I’ve found are difficult to acquire, and as the 90-year old former POW’s pass on it becomes harder to find more information. For example, one man wrote his Canada address for Arct to find him later, it’s doubtful if the man or his family still live there. There’s also a note from a New Zealand soldier named Kai Ora, all of the time I’ve spent researching WWII over the years and I had forgotten that New Zealand was involved. 

The image seen here is from my Grandpa’s folder in the archives and is similar to the drawings in Arct’s book.

I feel the heavy sense of information overload from this one book alone. It is such a unique and precious resource, but I don’t know what to do with it. In the spirit of information sharing, I’ve wanted to create a website to upload research from my thesis and bits of my interview with my grandpa so that others searching for information about their ancestor might find a little more. However, the copyright for this book is strict and I don’t know how to contact the rights holders-Arct’s descendents. The following poem is from the book and was also written in a small notebook that my Grandpa made while at Stalag Luft I (covers from butter tins and pages from cigarette packages). I remember that he became choked up when he read it to me during our interview. 

High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr., 1922-1941

“Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings, Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sunsplit clouds and done a hundred things you have Not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and spun high in the sunlit silence. Up, up the long, delirious burning blue I’ve topped the windswept heights with ease Where never larks or even eagles flew, Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting winds Along the footless halls of air, And while with silent lifted mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

1. Clooney, George (Producer & Director). (2014). The Monuments Men [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox. 
2.  Heritage in Peril: Digital Approaches to Preservation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from http://as.nyu.edu/ancientstudies/events/fall-2019/heritage-in-peril–digital-approaches-to-preservation.html
3.  Paul Collart. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://archnet.org/authorities/8232
4.  Palmyra: the modern destruction of an ancient city. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/palmyra/v/palmyra-destruction
5.  Exhibition from the Archive of Paul Collart Includes Previously Unpublished Images of Palmyra | Aga Khan Documentation Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from https://libraries.mit.edu/akdc/2018/02/07/exhibition-from-the-archive-of-paul-collart-includes-previously-unpublished-images-of-palmyra/
6.  Society, National Geographic. (2013, April 8). Mauna Kea. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from http://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/mauna-kea/
7.  Mauna Kea. (n.d.) Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from https://www.oha.org/maunakea/
8.  UNESCO Astronomy and World Heritage Webportal – Show entity. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2019, from https://www3.astronomicalheritage.net/index.php/show-entity?identity=44&idsubentity=1
9.  Schwartz, Joan M. & Terry Cook. (2002). “Archives, records, and power: the making of modern memory,” Archival Science 2: 1–19.
10.  Arct, B. (1988). Secret Journal: Life In A World War II Prison Camp. Great Britain: Webb & Bower.

Event: World Interaction Day hosted by IxDA

Interaction Design Association (IxDA) celebrated World Interaction day on September 24, 2019. World Interaction Day is an annual event hosted at various locations around the globe where designers come together to show how interaction design improves the human condition. Presented in partnership with Adobe, the theme for this year was Trust and Responsibility. I attended this annual event hosted by IxDA in New York.

The event kicked off with an introduction by Scott Belsky, the Chief Product Officer at Adobe. He spoke about how good interactions build trust. As designers, we get to influence a crucial part of the user’s experience therefore when we design we need to take responsibility for the interface we create. Users trust the design. Whenever you click a button on a website you expect a result but when you don’t obtain what you expect, you feel deceived. People are more likely to determine the trustworthiness of a website based on its design than reading the website’s privacy policy. How likely are you to close a website because of the number of click baits on the home screen? Have you ever felt cheated when an ad doesn’t look like an ad? Belsky says that as designers our core obligation is to be the voice of the users. Designers should understand their users well especially their needs and concerns and create interfaces that fulfill these needs and concerns. 

Mark Webster the Director of Product at Adobe spoke about Trust and Responsibility in Voice Design. The adoption of voice technology in virtual assistants is rapidly growing, especially with the emergence of Alexa and Google Home. Most users of voice enhanced technology claim that voice improves their quality of life( 94%). Although more than half of them (around 49%) find using voice technology unintuitive. This reminded me of the last time I used Alexa and asked her to find the English equivalent of ‘dhania’ and she responded with “I don’t understand”. Did I not articulate enough or was she unable to find what I asked? Webster talked about how designers can play an important role in eliminating problems like these. Voice technology can improve the human lifestyle in many ways. It is an opportunity to allow illiterate people access information, it can help the aged and most of all help people with motor disabilities with their day-to-day activities. The only issue is because voice interaction is so unintuitive it results in uncertainty about all of these things. How is voice going to help people with motor disabilities if the user doesn’t know what the virtual assistant has understood? Voice processing works in three parts – The technology senses speech, the speech is processed according to the various algorithms(natural processing) and then and output is delivered. Current technology has been able to implement the first and last part pretty efficiently but ‘natural processing’ still has a lot of limitations. This is where the role of a designer would be crucial as the designer can understand these limitations, combined with the knowledge of the user’s intent, decide on how to make the experience more intuitive thus enable users to build trust with these technologies. 

What do we really mean when we say ethics? Dr. Molly Wright Steenson, Senior Associate Dean for Research in the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University elaborates on how designers can incorporate ethics in their design process. Since designers are good at investigating the context of the problem and use human-centric methods to understand the needs of the users and stakeholders, they should be directly involved with data. Framing the design problem is not the only task of the designer but how and what data to collect and use is also a design question. Dr. Steenson emphasizes how the ethics framework should stop looking like a checklist and be a vital part of the product life cycle. This reminded me of the PERCS chart we read earlier which talked about the ethics of fieldwork which according to me can be applied to the design process. Even Costanza-Chock and Sasha’s reading Design Justice talks about how designers should warrant a more equitable distribution of the design’s benefits and burdens and be aware of the cultural and traditional implications of designs.

This talk was followed by Milena Pribic the Advisory Designer of Artificial Intelligence Design at IBM who addressed the issues of ethics in AI. She talked about what it means to build a healthy relationship between two people when one of them is AI. She defined a framework for AI ethics used at IBM that can be incorporated by designers while designing interactions for AI. Trust and transparency are important when it comes to designing for AI. She provides a guideline on how to handle client data and insights to ensure they are protected. They include: 

  • The purpose of AI is to augment human intelligence
  • Data and insights belong to their creator
  • New technology, including AI systems, must be transparent and explainable

The event concluded with questions from the audience regarding the topics discussed. This was an eye-opening event for me because I realized as a designer there are numerous factors I should consider when I create my design. Design is not just about solving a problem but also considering its impact. Am I protecting my client/user information? Am I being inclusive of the different communities affected by my design? Am I able to build trust with the users of my design? As a designer have I successfully addressed the needs as well as the concerns of my users? This event made me realize what my responsibility is as a designer and what measures I should take to ensure my designs are trustworthy. 


  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, & Costanza-Chock, S. (2018, June 28). Design Justice: Towards an intersectional feminist framework for design theory and practice. Presented at the Design Research Society Conference 2018. https://doi.org/10.21606/drs.2018.679
  2. Pribić, M. (2018, September 6). Everyday Ethics for Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved October 15, 2019, from Medium website: https://medium.com/design-ibm/everyday-ethics-for-artificial-intelligence-75e173a9d8e8
  3. What We Really Mean When We Say “Ethics”—Molly Wright Steenson | Open Transcripts. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2019, from http://opentranscripts.org/transcript/what-we-really-mean-when-we-say-ethics/
  4. How Good Interaction Design Builds Trust. (2019, September 18). Retrieved October 11, 2019, from Adobe Blog website: https://theblog.adobe.com/how-good-interaction-design-builds-trust/
  5. IBM’S Principles for Data Trust and Transparency. (2018, May 30). Retrieved October 15, 2019, from THINKPolicy website: https://www.ibm.com/blogs/policy/trust-principles/
  6. Voice Assistant Statistics & Trends, 2019—UX Survey. (2019, July 22). Retrieved October 11, 2019, from Adobe Blog website: https://theblog.adobe.com/voice-assistant-statistics-trends-2019

Libraries and Information Access in New York State Prisons (Working Title)

by Jay Rosen

For this paper, I will examine the current state of prison libraries and offsite library services across New York State, with an eye towards recommending best practices and identifying critical issues in the provision of prison library services. I will begin with an overview of New York State’s prison libraries as they exist today, reviewing their structures, services offered, and apparent limitations. I will also examine outreach services offered by library systems including New York Public Library’s Correctional Services Department, as well as efforts by grassroots organizations such as Books Through Bars NYC to deliver books and other materials to incarcerated people. I hope to speak with library staff who help coordinate these services, including NYPL Correctional Services staff Emily Jacobson and Sarah Ball, and will also reach out to fellow students in Pratt’s Prison Library Support Network to learn more about their volunteer efforts and their thoughts on these issues.

In examining library services in New York State’s prisons, I will look at the funding structures and bureaucratic and legal hurdles that enable or limit them, and suggest ways that these services might be strengthened going forward. In seeking a theoretical grounding for this paper, I will explore whether Critical Librarianship might usefully inform work being done in prison libraries. I will also seek out research on the relationship between prison library services and recidivism rates, the role of public libraries for individuals re-entering society, and any publicly accessible feedback from incarcerated people on existing prison library services in New York State.

Throughout the course of this paper, I plan to rely on literature review, government information, and actual conversations with local library staff and volunteers working in relevant areas. I anticipate a couple possible challenges. The first is scope. Focusing on prison library services across New York State might prove to be too broad; if this is the case, I will limit my inquiry to prisons libraries in and around New York City. The second is the potential dearth of research on the impact of library services on incarcerated people. If I am unable to find much information on this, I might consider how such research could be successfully designed and carried out in the context of New York State. I will also emphasize research that outlines relationships between higher education programs in prisons (such as the Bard Prison Initiative) and recidivism rates, as well as research concerning the impact of Pell Grants in prisons. In recommending best practices, I will look to the efforts of Scandinavian prison libraries.