Becoming a Corrections Librarian: My Interview with Jill Grunenwald

Working in a prison library is an experience that most people would not picture when
considering a career in library sciences. But Jill Grunenwald was more than happy to accept a
job at a corrections facility when she graduated with her MLIS degree, because she was just
happy to attain a librarian job. But how does a prison librarian job fluctuate from the jobs most
librarians associate with that title? Grunenwald shared with me her experiences with working in a prison library and how it differs from working in a public library.

Grunenwald explains that the best classes to focus on for working in this field are
cataloging and collection development courses. You are essentially managing your own library
when you work at a prison because you have to handle all the different aspects rather than just
specializing in one particular department such as technical services. She also recommends taking courses in reference.

Prison libraries do not have access to funding their collection the way that academic and
public libraries do. They have to rely on either ILL or repairing the materials they currently have in their collection. Prisons also have a large law collection. According to Grunenwald, “I quickly had to come up to speed on the various legal paperwork we provided, and while I couldn’t offer any legal advice directly, I could help them navigate the resources.”

You can read more about prison libraries in Grundewald’s book “Reading Behind Bars”.

One of the biggest differences between a prison library and a public or academic library
is the patron culture. For the most part, Grunenwald said, “I had a banter with the regulars and
joked around with them like I would with any frequent patrons at another library.” But there
were minor differences in how she interacted with the patrons. She had to be more firm when
any problematic situation arose. She couldn’t let even minor situations slide like she would at a
public library. She also adopted a more sarcastic tone with the patrons that she wouldn’t
normally have had in a typical customer service environment.

The stress to work as a corrections librarian can be overwhelming. In order for
Grunenwald to overcome this stress, she relied heavily on a strong support system both at work
with her coworkers and at home with her friends and family. Grunenwald spoke to her coworkers about the job because she felt she “could openly talk to them about what was going on in a judgment-free space was paramount to trying to keep my mental health in check.” On the other hand, “having a good solid group of friends on the outside was important, too, because that gave me an outlet when I didn’t want to think about work and could go blow off steam.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Grunenwald’s experience working as a corrections librarian, check out her book Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian.

–Lindsay Miraglia


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.