A Different Kind of Reader’s Advisory: iServe’s visit to Books to Prisoners
By Becky Kuglitsch
On March 4th, iServe sponsored its group event of the winter quarter with a trip to Books to Prisoners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to getting reading material to prisoners nationwide. Founded in the early 1970s and sponsored by Left Bank Books, a fixture in the Pike Market, Books to Prisoners has been going strong since in various locations around Seattle. Currently housed in the Central District, the program is open for volunteers to choose, bundle, and pack up books for mailings two nights a week.
On the Tuesday iServe’s group helped out, we sorted and bundled books for prisoners across the nation, with particularly many going to Texas. Request letters ask for specific items or list general areas of interest, and a Books to Prisoners administrator notes any restrictions prisons might have—no hardbacks, not more than three items, and so on. Volunteers then do their best to match requests with the resources in Books to Prisoner’s donated collection. Dictionaries are a common request, as many prisoners writing in are attempting to make up gaps in their past education or improve their skills in preparation for eventual release. Others, though, are just seeking some fiction to distract and get them through tough times. In either case, as several letters testified, the books sent out have a big impact. Each letter was a challenge, as the collections are necessarily limited and prison regulations add another limit, but now and then we got a chance to experience the incredible satisfaction of finding just the right book for the right person—the precisely right novel, or a long-awaited manual of auto repair. As a student and someone who is surrounded by literal piles of books, it was sobering to think of how much a single volume could mean to the recipients of these books, and it was an experience I hope to repeat.
Fortunately, Books to Prisoners will be moving to the University District in May. At the University Christian Church building, the organization hopes to keep on expanding their services. Once they are closer to the UW campus, we hope to set up a low-key recurring volunteer schedule, so if you’d like to join us, consider joining the iServe listserv to keep up with what’s happening. If you’d prefer to volunteer on your own, or would like to donate much-needed materials, see Books to Prisoner’s Volunteer Page.
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