A Second Chance

A Second Chance

Kathleen Houlihan (Austin Public Library, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-387-4.ch010
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This chapter describes the history of the Second Chance Books Program, a partnership between the Austin Public Library and the Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. It covers the initiation of the partnership in 2002, through the early days and challenges, the growth of the partnership in 2007, and the maturation of the program in 2010. The focus is on the challenges encountered by a maturing community partnership and the resolution of those challenges. Topics include coordination of administrative tasks, transitional leadership, maintaining partnerships through staffing changes, strengthening partner buy-in, and funding concerns for long-term partnerships. The goal of the chapter is to help librarians with established or budding long-term partnerships strategize ways to prepare for and resolve problems encountered along the way.
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Second Chance Books has a vision of decreasing the recidivism of incarcerated youth in the Austin community through increased literacy skills and an engagement with reading for pleasure and personal betterment. The goals of the Second Chance Books Project are to improve the literacy levels and literary engagement of incarcerated youth in Austin and to increase incarcerated youths’ awareness of the library and librarians as beneficial resources to their lifelong success once they re-enter society. We do this by intercepting at-risk youth at a critical juncture in their lives, introducing them to reading for pleasure through sustained relationships with librarians skilled at working with reluctant readers. We also provide special programs to enhance residents’ engagement by hosting author visits, writing workshops, art and technology programs, and other special events.

The youth that we work with often have not read much outside of school and very rarely for their personal enjoyment. Their reading levels are low for teens— often on a fifth grade level— and their experiences with reading have been a dreary struggle, when they attempted to read at all. Incarceration cuts youth off from both the personal interactions with friends and family, as well as the hyper-connected outside world, where those with similar experiences are only a click or text away. Denied nearly all personal and virtual connections with people outside the facility, the solitary experience of incarceration becomes doubly isolating. For these youth, a character in a book with a similar history to their own can become a lifeline, and a friend.

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