Monday, March 3, 2014


Today I have a wonderful opportunity to discuss my research with a room full of really clever people who have extensive experience in qualitative research.  My lovely supervisor SR has offered to come along to take notes for me so I can concentrate on what is being said.

I had to submit a two page summary of my topic to give them all background to my interests and plans.  This is what I wrote:

Prison Libraries – Jane Garner

What are you exploring as your topic?

My topic will be based around library services provided to the inmates of Victorian prisons.  I want to know how prisoners are using their libraries, what value they place on their libraries and how well their libraries are able to cater to their needs.

Why this topic? – where are you in it?

I am starting this study with the belief that libraries are valuable and have the potential to change lives for the better.  I am also of the belief that trying to improve the lives and outcomes for prisoners is important.  The vast majority of prisoners will re-join our communities.  Any measures we can take to improve their employment opportunities, their sense of empathy and belonging and their views of themselves and their potential are valuable steps in assisting them.

I want to study this topic because I believe that libraries represent freedom: freedom of choice, freedom to share ideas and knowledge, freedom to take the ideas and stories of others into our own consciousness and allow us to reposition our impression of ourselves.  I am interested in this representation of freedom in a place where the removal of freedom is a primary goal of the environment. 

 I am also starting with the assumption that the libraries provided to prisoners may be inadequate in providing their potential benefits due to funding, physical access, staffing and institutional support issues.

What’s known and written about this area and how would you want to improve, challenge etc. that material?

There are publications on how prisoners respond to the books they read, how literacy effects crime rates and recidivism, the history of libraries in prisons, award winning prison libraries throughout the world and bibliotherapy to create change in lives.  What I have failed to find is the prisoners’ view of the libraries that serve them.  We know they value books and reading, but what do they think of the places that can provide them with these items and services?  How do they use them?  Are they permitted to use them as they would like? Do the collections provide them with the reading they want and/or need for recreation, learning and legal advice? Are they comfortable places that optimise their use? Do prisoners find them intimidating or inviting?  Do prisoners feel they can exercise their freedom to choose the ideas that they wish to expose themselves to, or are there restricted opportunities to read as desired?  Do prisoners recognise the value of their libraries, or are there factors that inhibit this recognition?  Are the libraries able to be a representation of freedom in an otherwise restricted environment?

How are you thinking of approaching it?

I would like to do the following:

Learn about the libraries:
·       Gain access to the prison libraries to study their physical presence in the prisons.
·       Study any rules regarding access to the libraries
·       Study the collections to judge their coverage, omissions, currency etc within three categories of reading: recreational, educational, legal
·       Look for any restrictions/censorship of materials available
·       Study collection development, funding.

Learn about the prisoners’ views and uses of the libraries: (lots of ethical issues to consider)
·       Borrowing records?
·       Interviews?
·       Observation?
·       Written responses?

What are you aiming for?

I am aiming for an understanding of how prisoners use, view and value their libraries and an estimation of how well their libraries cater to their needs.  I am also hoping to discover and represent the views of a population that have not been heard before.

The questions came from the convenor.  Since writing this, I have been over it with my supervisors and can see many of its weaknesses. I have been working on finding data to back up the assumptions that I have made in the summary.

I am feeling a little nervous about the session, but it is a wonderful opportunity to pick the brains of some really clever and experienced people. 

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