Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:
As we were reminded in a recent module by Professor Stephens himself, many technologies and services we read about in this course and beyond it really aren’t emerging, they’re already here. In light of that realization, the question shifts from “should the library be spending its time and focus on shiny new tech toys?” to “who gets first access to rapidly changing technology and the education surrounding it?”
With no tangible barrier to access, public libraries should be a natural choice for emerging technologies and services, as they can not only provide access to tech for those who can’t afford it, but also offer direct assistance and even formal classes to the public on such tools.
Beyond the vague and oft-heard “libraries are for everyone,” though, it is critical that libraries analyze and interrogate both who they already serve well, and who the community at large often overlooks. Are we reaching out to those micro-communities? If not, why not? How can we change that?
Certainly, libraries are for everyone. But who isn’t part of that “everyone” right now? It is our responsibility to find out, and to do our part in providing access to resources and empowering our communities.
A growing number of individuals in America are joining the number of incarcerated or formerly incarcerated people. And yet, incarceration often seems like the elephant in the room to those who are aware of the issue, and like nothing to worry about to those who aren’t. Libraries are uniquely situated to bring up this pervasive but oft-dodged issue and normalize it in the public eye.
I am seeking to launch the library initiative Next Steps, forming a community collaborative for this group, comprised of local nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and public and private partnerships. This collaborative will un-silo services and resources to pool them together in a targeted manner. The goal of starting this service is to empower incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, and their families to access the resources they need and the education to utilize them. Another primary goal is to provide a strong link between local community organizations serving this demographic in order to create more tailored and effective services.
Description of Community you wish to engage:
The community the Next Steps initiative will reach has been touched by the shadow of incarceration in some way: whether they themselves are currently incarcerated, formerly incarcerated, or family of someone incarcerated.
This group of people often needs access to either technology or technology education, whether that is offering digital literacy courses for formerly incarcerated people, or video and teleconferencing services to families of incarcerated people. However, finding free access to such resources, especially without having the technology or skills to look in the first place, can often be overwhelming. Enter the “middle person”: the neutral ground of the library.
The public library can and should serve as a community hub, but it cannot do so without targeted effort from the institution itself. While local services exist for formerly incarcerated people and their families, they are hard to seek out alone. Disparate organizations and agencies need a missing link to connect to each other and the people they serve more effectively. In order for this program to target those affected by incarceration, it must first reach those organizations already providing services.
Action Brief Statement:
For community partners:
Convince community partners that by forming a community collaborative, they will pool together resources such as staff, contacts, and funding which will make them more accessible to their clients. Further, this will better publicize their services to the general public and de-stigmatize the conversation around incarceration.
For incarcerated individuals and their families:
Convince those affected by incarceration that by attending Next Step fairs and other planned events, they will more easily access the resources they need. This will empower them to have more social currency and effect social change because of the support they receive as a result of the program.
For library staff:
Convince library staff that by housing Next Steps collaborative and future programs in our space and spreading the word to patrons, they will be reaching existing patrons with new resources as well as creating new positive impressions for yet-unreached community members, which will foster good will and better relationships with patrons. This effort will aid in making the library a safe space for all.
Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service:
Why focus on those affected by incarceration?
Incarceration and Libraries-
Starting a Community Collaborative-
Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:
The mission, guidelines, and policy for Next Steps will be determined by a community collaborative organized and guided by a vertical team as outlined by Casey and Savastinuk in Library 2.0: A Guide to Participatory Service. Local grassroots organization chapter of All of Us or None, Kern County probation department, local job centers and legal assistance organizations will be represented in this collaborative specifically geared towards offering services for incarcerated individuals and their families.
Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service:
At the start of this initiative, Next Steps will require staff time in the form of a vertical team, as outlined in Library 2.0. This team will work towards integrating a community collaborative and coordinating with Friends of the Library and county jails and prisons to give book donations. In-kind contributions will be sought from those prisons equipped with teleconference systems as these are typically charge-to-use for families and we will be asking for free access during Next Steps programming. Additionally, organizations such as local tech startup Bitwise Industries can be reached out to for partnership on providing their coding courses to formerly incarcerated people free of charge. However, these are considerations to be made later on. The true goal of this program at its start is a synthesis of local organizations to work together towards aiding this community, in providing inroads to connection throughout incarceration and beyond: for families seeking visits with incarcerated family members, for incarcerated people to engage with loved ones and prepare for reentry, and for formerly incarcerated people to transition to reentry equipped with the resources and skills to do so.
This project will be largely guided by the community collaborative once established, which means further funding in the form of grants and donations may be sought out. But the goal first and foremost is to establish the collaborative comprised of those who already work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals.
Action Steps & Timeline:
This is a program that can certainly be replicated at other branches and for other library systems. Because the initial step is to involve a smaller group of people that will form the community collaborative, this can get off the ground in 2-3 months and grow from there. This initiative will need the approval of the library director and buy-in from at least three community partners, but with the library’s past track record of working with these specific community partners and given their communicated desire for more, that aspect should be fairly quick and easy to solidify. While the beginning phases of planning will be intensive for one staff member, the lessening of involvement once the program is underway will undoubtedly appeal to the director.
Phase 1- Securing Administrative Approval (1-2 weeks): This will involve meeting with the library director, sharing the plan for the initiative, and receiving approval as well as input on who should comprise the vertical team.
Phase 2- Internal Staff Planning (3-4 weeks): Establish the vertical team, present plan to team and share contacts for community outreach. Primary staff member should familiarize themselves with the process for starting a community collaborative, as well as prepare surveys for evaluation.
Phase 3- Community Outreach and Collaborative Building (4-6 weeks): Reach out to and secure 2-3 community organizations as core team for the collaborative and begin building the collab. This should involve weekly meetings to brainstorm the core tenets and structure of the collaborative as well as initial goals. Once established, core team can reach out to more contacts and begin regular collaborative meetings.
Phase 4- Involving the Wider Community (5 weeks): The building blocks for this collaborative and early goals having been laid in phase three, this collaborative should hit the ground running at its start to begin working towards its first community program. This phase involves marketing at other community collaboratives, collab members reaching out to their clients, and spreading the word to staff about the services provided at the upcoming event, as well as the general planning around the project (i.e. setup, takedown, securing additional event-specific partners or funding if desired).
Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service:
Though the Kern County Library has offered many programs that this particular community could benefit from, and one resource fair specifically for formerly incarcerated people, no ongoing, targeted service has been attempted to engage this demographic. This new service will initially require more staff involvement at the beginning, but once the collaborative is established the responsibilities of library staff will lessen.
One primary staff member will serve as the project leader, establishing a vertical team whose sole responsibility will be to disseminate information about the initiative to their staff. The primary staff member will conduct outreach to begin and nurture a community collaborative. The primary staff member will also develop surveys for each evaluation stage, with input from the vertical team as well as the community collaborative once established.
Training for this Technology or Service:
This will require training time for the primary staff member responsible for beginning the community collaborative. This staff member will read the New Community Collaboration Manual as training, and report on their plan for implementation to the vertical team composed of library staff. Once approved, the primary staff member will move ahead with reaching out to community partners and beginning the process of forming the collaborative.
It is the responsibility of the remaining members of the vertical team to inform library staff of this new initiative. While this is not formal training per se, it should be included in the training aspect. Front-facing staff need to be aware of this new service and constantly be updated in its development. This does not have to mean a special meeting for each team, but it should be a part of team huddles and general updates.
Collaborative members will be initially led by the primary staff member through the process learned in the New Community Collaboration Manual (listed above in Evidence and Resources).
Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:
A distinct advantage of forming the Next Steps collaborative is that these organizations are in direct contact with the demographic the service is endeavoring to reach. Word of mouth between these partners and their clients will be key in ensuring incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, and their families are made aware of resources provided by the collaborative and new initiatives they take on.
Because those affected by incarceration are often members of different demographics, outreach for this collaborative and its services should be done at other local collaboratives such as the Kern County Network for Children’s collaborative, the Homeless collaborative, and more. The attendees of these collaboratives also have clients who could benefit from the resources of the Next Steps initiative.
Internal promotion for this service will include:
- posting flyers within the building
- informing other branch supervisors of the initiative and keeping them apprised of progress should they want to start a similar chapter at their branch
- ensuring circulation staff, who interact with almost every patron who enters the library building, are well-informed of the service
It is important to keep in mind that while we want this initiative to thrive and reach as many people as possible, much societal stigma exists regarding incarceration. This program seeks to undermine and work against such stigma, but an approach that “shouts from the mountaintops” might cause those seeking these services to shy away. Discretion and sharing where appropriate is key.
This initiative has many stages and will flourish best with multiple points of evaluation. Surveys should be drawn up by the primary staff member for phases 3 and 4, and approved by the vertical team as well as the core team of the collaborative. These surveys will be distributed to the collaborative for feedback on its running, and different surveys will be given to community members and community partners at events. Surveys should be taken into account by the collaborative, encouraging the possibility of change both for the collaborative itself as well as the events they organize.
Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today.
Salles, J. (2020, March 6). For people leaving prison, adapting to modern technology is a daily challenge. NY City Lens. http://nycitylens.com/blog/2020/03/06/people-leaving-prison-adapting-modern-technology-daily-challenge/
Stephens, M. (2017, April 20). Libraries in balance: Office hours. Library Journal. https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=libraries-in-balance-office-hours
Trends in U.S. corrections (2020, August). The Sentencing Project. https://www.sentencingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Trends-in-US-Corrections.pdf