A Rite of Passage: New York Public Library Passages Academy

A Rite of Passage: New York Public Library Passages Academy

Lindsy D. Serrano (New York Public Library, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-387-4.ch011
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Abstract

In New York City, over five thousand young adults are taken in to custody by the city’s department of juvenile justice. (Fenster-Sparber, 2008). While in detention, they do not have easy access to books, and literacy is not always a priority. Although attempts have been made to incorporate library sites throughout New York City’s juvenile correctional facilities, students there have limited access to educational materials. Research shows that a higher literacy rate in such facilities can play a vital role in an incarcerated teen’s rehabilitation process. The New York Public Library (NYPL) saw an opportunity to reach students who might otherwise not be able to get access to information and build a long-lasting outreach program with Passages Academy, a multi-site correctional school run by New York City’s Department of Education and the Department of Juvenile Justice. This case study describes New York Public Library’s mission at Passages Academy, which started shortly after Passages was established in 1998 and continues to be a strong community partner today. The author, who also participated in the project, interviewed NYPL librarians and Passages Academy librarians and educators to gain a better understanding of their challenges.
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Background

NYPL has a long-standing tradition of service for incarcerated patrons. Its Prison Library program started in the mid 1970s with the help of state funding. It was coordinated through the office of special services and became an integral part of the library’s outreach program. Today, there is a department established solely for the support of New York’s incarcerated adults. This outreach is three-fold. First, there are regular visits to Riker’s Island where the Correctional Services volunteers deliver books that have been donated for the inmates and run four mobile libraries throughout the Island. Second is the reference work. Each week the Correctional Services Department receives about 60 letters from inmates who are usually looking for information that they will need after their release. The demand for this information is so great that NYPL started a publication called “Connections,” an annual guide for recently released inmates that can be downloaded from NYPL’s website for free. Most library branches also have a printed copy available at the reference desk. The third and final component are the various programs, one of which is the recently implemented “Daddy and Me” program at Riker’s Island. There, fathers take literacy classes and then record themselves reading popular children’s books. The recordings are then sent to their children.

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