On any given day, the New York City Jails have a population of almost ten thousand inmates.* The Brooklyn Public Library, along with the New York Public Library, have dedicated outreach teams that provide library services through a partnership with the NYC Department of Corrections. In addition to offering library lending services inside the facilities, the library has attempted to create ways to connect the people who are detained to their families and communities. This includes the library Televisit program, which allows families to visit select library locations in order to communicate to incarcerated individuals via video chats, and the Daddy & Me Program that takes place in the jail facilities.
Recently I joined my colleague Nick Franklin, the coordinator of Jail and Prison Services for the Brooklyn Public Library, on a bus trip to the NYC Jail located on Rikers Island. We were on our way to Family Day, the culminating activity for the Daddy & Me program. Nick and his team had been conducting the program for several weeks prior to my visit. Daddy & Me is an innovative program, initially started in 2008, that aims to promote early literacy skills and bonding between the incarcerated fathers and their families. During the five sessions, the fathers are given the opportunity to learn from library staff about the importance of reading, singing, playing, and talking with their children. Librarians demonstrate how to read books aloud to children, and help the fathers make age appropriate book selections. Each participant is able to choose a book to practice reading and make into an audio recording. After all of the recordings have been created, and transferred to CDs for each family, there is the final session which is called Family Day. This is the time when the families of the fathers involved in the program are able to visit the facility. At the Family Day event that I attended in July, the families were given time to catch up with each other, while a DJ played music and food was served in the background. One of the fathers had volunteered to read to the group, and we all listened to his selection of Dragons Love Tacos, while his toddler ran circles around his legs. Afterwards, we signed up everyone for library cards and casually chatted about other library services, including the summer reading program. At the end of the afternoon, as everyone kissed and hugged their loved ones goodbye, each family was given a bag with the book and the audio recording of their father reading the story aloud.
Partnerships like this do not come without challenges. For example, the day we visited, there was a lockdown procedure, and we were delayed entry. It takes a lot of paperwork and patience, but in the last year, with the work of our outreach team, there have been almost two hundred audio recordings and books given to families through the Daddy & Me program.
*New York City Department of Correction (May, 2018) DOC At a Glance Report, Information through the first 9 months of FY2018, PDF file retrieved from http://www1.nyc.gov/site/doc/about/doc-statistics.page
Leigh Fox is the Assistant Manager at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Youth Wing. She is a member of the Building Partnerships Committee and can be reached at email@example.com.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.