Incarcerated readers get help from Kitsap-based book donation campaign

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Washington Corrections Center for Women incarcerated readers need new books, and Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo is raising funds this holiday season to purchase new materials for Gig Harbor Prison.

This is the second year that Liberty Bay Books has run a campaign, providing hundreds of new books to the prison library last year.

The library plays a vital role in the lives of many of these incarcerated women, said Ken McDouall, branch librarian at the Washington Corrections Center for Women. It is a place that is both educational and recreational.

“People come in here and feel like it’s a separate space, they feel like they’re not really in jail for the time they’re here,” he said. “Because they have this whole universe at their disposal in the books that are here. “

The COVID-19 pandemic closed prison libraries last year. The WCCW library was the first in the state to reopen because the prison was able to keep infection rates low and avert an outbreak. However, some transactions, including interlibrary loans, remain on hold.

This makes it difficult for the library to meet the needs of patrons. This is the first year in which incarcerated women can earn a bachelor’s degree under the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound, McDouall said, and the lack of interlibrary loans is having an impact on students in the program.

Normally McDouall said he has no trouble providing incarcerated women with the materials they need to graduate. Now he has to rely on journal articles that he can find online and print for students.

There is no Internet access for those in prison, which McDouall would like to see changed in the future.

The WCCW Library hosts guest lecturers.  In 2018, professors from UW Tacoma present for Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Plus, many women just want new reading materials.

“Our budget for buying books is never big enough, at least as far as I’m concerned,” McDouall said.

McDouall is compiling a list to send to Suzanne Selfors, owner of Liberty Bay Books, who will work with donors to complete the list.

Selfors and McDouall said it was important for those in prison to have access to new material.

“Ken has a really, incredibly important job on my mind,” Selfors said. “It’s important that they get new books, right off the shelves, spotless books. ”

“On a very basic level, it helps connect people to the outside world,” McDouall said.

The new books can keep women in touch with the changing culture in the society from which they are being expelled, especially in popular non-fiction subjects.

The most popular genre in circulation is paranormal romance, McDouall said, and it will include a few such titles on its list.

“There are a lot of studies that show that reading in general, even reading fiction, will promote greater social integration, promote empathy,” McDouall said.

The WCCW recently started a program that provides public library cards to those who are released. McDouall said women leaving prison are much more important readers than women entering prison.

“I hear a lot of people say that they’ve never been to libraries before, that they’ve never enjoyed reading before,” McDouall said. “But in prison, they really, really, really started using a library.”

People can help the library by donating to the Liberty Bay Books campaign on its website, libertybaybooks.com, by phone at 360-776-5909, or in person at the bookstore at 18881 Front St. in Poulsbo.

The WCCW Library is a branch of the Washington State Library, sharing the public benefits of statewide donation programs, but Liberty Bay Books is the only campaign that exclusively and directly assists the WCCW.


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