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Prison Library Coordinator Helps Educate Inmates

Glennor Shirley discusses her experiences as prison Library Coordinator on her blog Prison Librarian.

After immigrating to Maryland in the ’80′s, Jamaican born librarian Glennor Shirley took on a night job at a prison library to supplement the menial public library jobs she worked at during the day. Decades later, Miss Shirley, as she is called by all prison library patrons, is now the Library Coordinator for Maryland Correctional Education Libraries and oversees 17 prison libraries. Many of the inmates that frequent her libraries are serious felons, some convicted of murder. But, this does not deter the affable Shirley from her goal of helping to educate the prisoners in order to reduce recidivism and help those who get released to build a better life. “I am basically a person who believes in justice and what is right,” she states in an interview with the Washington Post. “I saw these needs behind bars.”

The Library Coordinator has gained national prominence as a champion of prison reading and discusses her experiences on her high-traffic blog Prison Librarian. During her tenure, she has created several educational programs including one that allows inmates to read to their children. But, recent budget woes have whittled down Shirley’s already slim resources, which leaves no money for new books. She now depends on donations to replenish her shelves, leveraging her charm and professional connections to tap new donor pools. “I run my mouth a lot,” she admits.

Praise from her peers, as well as the respect of prison patrons, prove Shirley’s hard work and commitment has paid off. “Her libraries have been devastated in the last few years,” comments colleague Diane Walden, a Library Coordinator for Colorado prisons. “She doesn’t complain or vent or whine. She is very focused on what she can do. She’s an amazing person and advocate.”

For those who would like to donate books to Shirley’s prison libraries, please visit her blog Prison Librarian for contact information.

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