Scottish Prison Libraries

Prisons and prisoners have been much in the news recently. At the end of June 2010 Scotland’s prison population stood at 7897.  Often those who offend will have been in care, exhibit low levels of literacy and numeracy, have drug and alcohol problems and mental health difficulties.

Over the last decade or so SLIC has worked with the Scottish Prison Service and other partners to raise the profile of prison library services by funding consultancy, innovative projects and participating in working groups to help achieve this.  Where they exist, library services in Scottish prisons can be of variable quality.  Still there are examples of positive work being carried out by committed information professionals. Some years ago SLIC’s Innovation and Development Fund enabled the development of ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ a project which encouraged offenders to share books with their children through recording themselves reading a book to video.

Yesterday, sister organisation CILIP, awarded Saughton Prison Library,  the prestigious ‘Libraries Change Lives’ award for its impact on prisoners at that institution. As well as providing opportunities to improve literacy, the library has study desks and laptops for use in education, hosts family events and works hard to improve the transition from prison to outside community life.

Cornton Vale Women’s Prison has run a very successful ‘Reader in Residence’ Project with Stirling Council for several years which have contributed to the raising of literacy skills, confidence and self-esteem among women prisoners. The Reader promotes creative reading, the development of reading and the use of the library, creating links between the inmates and community libraries outside.

If you’d like to learn more about how a prison library works, Celia Jenkins, Chair of the CILIP Career Development Group in Scotland, has reminded me that a group visit to Cornton Vale Women’s Prison has been arranged to take place on the afternoon of Tuesday 20th July. Places are still available and you can find out more or book a place by  e-mailing


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