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I came across some information on the programme for the LIANZA (Library and Information association of NZ Aotearoa) conference which opens in Christchurch today. The paper by Susan Smith and Judith Wenborn caught my eye. Entitled ‘Take a walk on the wild-side’: library service at the margins: the challenges of prison librarianship it discusses prison library services and how these and other libraries can engage with marginalised users.

This is something I hadn’t thought too much about before. I am well aware of the huge importance of books for children and adults. How they can even play a redemptive role – similar to education. The help people arrive at life purposes and the appreciation of reality and our participation in it.

So it’s obvious, really. The provision of good books in prison libraries should be seen as important to their role in correction.

Now, I don’t have a prison experience so I am unaware of how adequate our prison libraries are – or even how widespread they are in our prisons. But it does appear that, if they exist, they are under pressure similar to educational and literacy programmes. Apparently they often rely on donations of books from the public. The fact that a Books in Prison Trust has been formed as a charity to provide support indicates that there is a need (see  Written off because they don’t know how to read or write).

There are also a few religious groups who work to get religious literature into prison libraries. Interestingly, this became a bit of an issue in the USA after 2001 when the prison service there restricted some religious books they considered likely to promote violence or terrorism. The other side of this, though, is that the assumption that religious books promote rehabilitation may not always be warranted. And what about other non-religious books which may actually be far more effective?

I imagine Richard Dawkins’ books Unweaving the Rainbow and The God Delusion could have a positive effect. Many of the excellent books on evolution and other science are presented in a popular and uplifting style. They should be valuable.

So here is my idea for some good secular charitable activity. What about raising funds to finance the purchase and placement of good secular books in New Zealand’s prison libraries? Books on humanism, rationalism, “new atheism”, reason and science.

Now, that’s a charity I could support.

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See also: Reading and Prison Libraries

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