Libraries are crucial to providing both recreational and educational resources for all our residents, and an expanded county partnership ensures that residents at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility (RCCF) will have access to Ramsey County Library (RCL) books. The opportunity to learn new things, improve literacy skills, or discover a new book is one eagerly sought by many RCCF residents, yet access to public library materials during incarceration has not been available.
Over the years, in order to remove barriers, this partnership has taken on several forms ranging from helping organize and build an internal library to librarian visits. Librarians from both Saint Paul Public Library and Ramsey County Library made monthly visits to RCCF to help residents record CDs of themselves reading for their children and provide information about library services and programs.
In 2019, with the help of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, the Library was able to strengthen the connection by providing books and list selections that were informed by RCCF resident requests. The impact of providing recent and resident requested books was motivating and RCCF education staff and RCL staff began working together on ways to expand access to more materials. Under the direction of Meg Robertson, library manager at New Brighton, librarians Ann Wahlstrom, Alyssa Stevenski, Carly Sanft and Rebecca Cooper, as well as the school instructors at RCCF, Britt Gulstrand and Abby Roza, the program made changes to its approach in order to help residents get access to the current Library collection.
“One of the limitations of the internal library was that materials were made up largely of discarded books from the Ramsey County Library, providing a limited collection that doesn't often match what residents are looking for,” says Robertson. “The books funded by the LSTA grant were used and passed so often, the books are now in need of repair or replacement. We were trying to find a way to provide access to the public library book collection.” While some residents requested popular authors or titles, others wanted more current non-fiction for research. A few residents have had specific requests such as a book on Hmong folk tales or an English-Russian dictionary that could not be fulfilled, but these books were available through RCL’s main collection.
Working with the county's Information Services department, the current program uses a secure kiosk that residents can use to send requests for books. The librarians fulfill the requests and outreach librarians make a delivery once a week. If the book is not available, the librarians can give suggestions for similar books or authors. Librarians also offer recommendations for specific genres to help residents new to the idea of book requesting.
“The new model started in January 2022; it’s working great and is more equitable. It really is a joy to see books that residents have requested get dropped off by the librarians,” says Roza. “Books that Brit and I weren’t able to fulfill in the past. Our plan for next steps is to make the books from the internal library available for residents to browse. This will supplement RCL’s service by offering a few reading choices in between library deliveries.”
Residents are given temporary library accounts that will expire when they leave the facility. This process allows residents the opportunity to start fresh at a public library during re-entry. The program is off to a great start–in the first delivery under this program, 99 items were requested. In the first five weeks of the program, there were 60 new library cards holders and 417 items were checked out. Currently, librarians have delivered 939 books to over 100 residents!
"I love the fact that just about any resource we need, the librarians do their very best to accommodate us. They stay professional and are always willing to help when asked." says Eugene, a current resident.