There is a Lack of Standardization in the Collection Development and Circulation Policies of Prison Library Services


  • Michelle Dalton University of Limerick Limerick, Ireland



prison libraries, collection development, ethics


Objective – To explore how collection development policies currently support the role and purpose of prison libraries, and to explore if the accessibility of circulation records impacts on patron privacy.

Design – Online survey questionnaire and a case study analysis of the existing policy statements of selected correctional institutions.

Setting – The prison library sector in the United States.

Subjects – 17 librarians and library staff across ten states in the United States.

Methods – An eight-question online questionnaire was used to explore the existing collection development and circulation policies in prison libraries, and the level of adherence to the guidelines of the Association of Specialized and Cooperative Library Agencies (ASCLA) and the American Correctional Association (ACA). In addition, participants were encouraged to forward any circulation or collection development policy statements for more detailed analysis. Each policy was then reviewed to assess the degree of alignment or otherwise with the American Library Association’s (ALA) Prisoners’ Right to Read guidelines (2010).

Main Results – The results of the survey found that 24% of libraries had no formal collection development policy, and at least 53% of libraries had no circulation policy statement. In these instances, the libraries were typically subject to the local policies and procedures of the correctional institution. The purpose of the library and its collection was primarily viewed as: providing recreational reading material; maintaining contact with the outside world and enabling re-entry into the community; and supporting vocational skills and lifelong learning. In selecting materials, the results indicated that a broadly similar approach to that of public libraries was adopted by most institutions, with the exception of any material that may pose a safety or security threat to the institution. In one institution the use of library services or resources for legal purposes or to provide legal assistance was also clearly prohibited in the collection development policy, although approximately half of the libraries did state that providing legal material was one of their roles. The lengthy and arduous approval process for ordering books and other materials (up to ten months in one instance) was reported by several participants due to the layers of bureaucracy and controls inherent in the prison setting. With regard to circulation records and confidentiality issues, 35% of libraries deleted such records instantly upon return of the items, compared with 30% that archived them. A further 29% only retained information from the current and most recent patrons for the purposes of assessing and charging for damaged items.

Conclusion – The author found the prison library sector to be a relatively challenging environment. In this context, following the existing guidelines and best practice as recommended by the ALA and others, and establishing clear and ethical policy statements can help libraries to support the needs and rights of patrons more effectively.


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Author Biography

Michelle Dalton, University of Limerick Limerick, Ireland





How to Cite

Dalton, M. (2013). There is a Lack of Standardization in the Collection Development and Circulation Policies of Prison Library Services. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 8(2), 248–250.



Evidence Summaries

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