I’m going to ask you to do a little thought exercise with me here. Think about something that you would like to know. How would you go about learning more about it? If you’re reading this blog, there is a good chance that you would turn to the internet. But what about if you didn’t have access to the internet? The public library (of course) is a great place to go in those situations. But what about if you can’t get to a public library?
This is the situation that many incarcerated Texans find themselves in. While some prisons and correctional facilities may have libraries on-site, they are often significantly smaller than the ones we are used to using. Plus, internet access is often extremely limited, if it is accessible at all.
But just because someone is incarcerated doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that they need to know. Incarcerated people need information on how to find housing, healthcare, and transition into the workforce after they are released. Many are looking for legal resources to help them navigate the complex justice system. And many are looking for the same things as the rest of us: song lyrics, celebrity biographies, and even information on how to get started playing Dungeons & Dragons.
Here at the Harris County Public Library, we truly believe that the library is for everyone, which is why we are proud to participate in the Research by Mail program. When we aren’t running programs and helping you find the information you need, HCPL librarians receive reference questions by mail from people incarcerated in Texas prisons, and we answer them just the same as we would answer reference questions from anyone who would come up to our desks here at the library.
Shane Harris, Branch Administrative Services Manager, who coordinates HCPL's Research by Mail project, has this to say about it:
“I think Research by Mail is a great example of a service that fulfills our Library mission and vision. Our mission emphasizes providing information and resources beyond our walls. [Research by Mail] primarily [serves] those in prison so this service reaches not only beyond our walls but beyond prison walls too. In most cases, especially for those in prison, we are their only pathway to knowledge. They do not have access to the internet and library resources are scarce. We're helping people who are often forgotten or overlooked. There's no room for judgement with Research by Mail, only service.”
You may be wondering why I am telling you about this. One reason is because it is one of the services I am proudest to provide here at HCPL, and I want to share that pride with you. But another is to provide the assurance that we are really here to help you find what you need no matter where you are in life. This is truly the public’s library, no matter where that public might be, and we are here for you every step of the way.
Research by Mail
c/o Harris County Public Library
5749 South Loop East
Houston TX 77033
This blog was written by Elizabeth B. and first appeared March 2022.