Posted by: cyndera | July 13, 2010

Letters from prisoners and other cool stuff

It’s Tuesday, which means it is my fourth day at LoC.

First and foremost I need to say the following: I have realized by now that most librarians here do not wear suits and costumes … yes, I know it sounds funny, but that’s what I have always imagined. I mean, after all, members of Congress dress up, right? 😛

Okay, now that I got that out of my system, here is what I have been doing so far. LoC received inquiries from the public. That is a no-brainer, but I was surprised that they actually receive letters from inmates and prisoners (1). How convenient that I have dealt with this clientele in the past, so my supervisor gave me three letters to answer. So I went and researched a specific public law, read up on bills regarding inmates/prisoners/sentencing that are pending in congress and gathered information about housing/food assistance as well as substance abuse programs in the area.

For people who are familiar with the correctional facilities in Virgina: I received a letter from someone at Red Onion (2) … that was a real surprise.

I have been introduced to a small variety of what the librarians here research every day, and I am impressed. These people know what they are doing. They refer back to sources that I have never heard of. Or sources that a “normal” library would not even have. LoC has a HUGE collection of national (and international!) yellow pages and white pages, business directories and all kinds of other stuff. I have been told that some of the captured documents from Germany are housed here, at least the ones that have not been deemed classified. For good reason … who would want to present documents to their patrons that describe the cruel experiments that were going on. Of course, if you are curious like me, you would LOVE to see those. I have been watching enough Zombie movies to keep my countenance.

I have also learned that the material accessible to the public is housed in a fraction of the building space. The stacks occupy most of the floors. Actually I should say decks, because for some reason the building resembles a ship … the lowest floor has the highest deck number. Also the building is separated into the north and the south side, so if you are referring to a floor, you have to know which side it is on.

Last week my mentor, Ellen, took me on a tour, and for some reason we managed to get from deck 32 to 14 … without changing the floor once oO

So far most of the tunnels and hallways here are still a blur. I know how to get to the reading room, the ref desk, the cafeteria, and the restroom (most important, of course). And I am able to find my office. I still have a few more weeks to find my way around.

2pm now, we are having (another) welcome reception for the interns (me and the others). I’ll go and see if there is more of that divine pecan pie.


(1) Yes, there is a difference … inmates usually refer to people that are in the custody of a jail, whereas prisoners are (duh) in prison. Which leads to the conclusion that jails and prisons are not the same thing. In short, jails are local and short-term facilities, whereas prisons are state and federal facilities and hold people that receive more than 12 months incarceration time. Just thought you might want to know …

(2) The only super-max facility in Virginia. If you are curious about the facility, here is a post from that describes a normal day at Red Onion: Please be aware that HRW is partial to inmate opinions. They can only report what inmates tell them, and -having a background as jail librarian- I can tell you that inmates do not always tell the truth (and this is nicely said).

The Washington Post also featured an article about it:

Both texts are from 1999.


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