Hartford Public Library books being sent to incarcerated people across the country

Hartford Public Library books being sent to incarcerated people across the country

Managing extensive collections of print and non-print materials is something that goes on every day at libraries around the world. At the Hartford Public Library, trained library employees are continuously assessing and reviewing new and old materials to keep the collections current, make room for new materials, and make sure our valuable shelf space is being used to its best advantage to provide the information our users want and need.

Deaccessioned books are either sold to raise funds for the library, or distributed throughout the community from the Library on Wheels, Community Collections or Little Free Libraries.

Carol Pugh, a library assistant, has found yet another way for those discarded books to find a good home.

Pugh, a HPL staff member since 2019, has been taking deaccessioned books from the collections and sending them through the Connecticut Prison Book Connection, to people who are incarcerated. Each month Pugh receives about 20 to 25 requests from prisoners, most coming from her home state of Texas, and Florida. There are occasional requests from Connecticut based inmates, she said.

“It’s a great feeling. I absolutely love doing it,” Pugh said.

“Knowing how difficult it can be for prisoners to get their hands on books, let alone books they are interested in, makes what Carol is doing even more meaningful,” said Marie Jarry, HPL’s director of public services.

Depending on what the request is, Pugh is able to send two or three books to each person. She does face some restrictions on what she can share. Hardcover books, for instance, can be banned. Prisons will also limit certain kinds of content.

Despite the roadblocks, there is a desire for books that Pugh can help fulfill.

“A lot of these guys and women don’t read unless they’re locked up,” Pugh said. “With COVID putting most facilities in 24/7 lockdown, this is a way for them to get their mind off of being enclosed in a small cell. They can use their imagination and escape through these books.”

Pugh gets requests for a little bit of everything, but true crime, romance, and self-help books are the most desirable. Some inmates will request thesauruses and rhyming dictionaries to help with their poetry or rap lyrics.

She makes an effort to make sure every request gets fulfilled. For example, the works of author James Patterson are popular, but Pugh might not have access to his titles that particular week. So, she’ll substitute, replacing Patterson with an author likeDavid Baldacci– a read-alike, as she described it. If an inmate’s letter is filled with spelling mistakes or grammar errors, she’ll send along a dictionary too.

Her interest in working with the incarcerated goes back to her days in Texas volunteering at the Travis County Correctional Complex’s library. She saw how the prisoners craved the written word and treated the materials and the library staff members with respect. Pugh also noticed that the library often didn’t have the books the incarcerated people really wanted.

“These people are usually forgotten about. Sending books to them is a is a way for them to know that people really do care. Not just their physical being, but their minds,” Pugh said. “It’s important to me to help them learn and grow and use the time behind bars so they don’t make the same mistakes that got them in there.”

Pugh’s long term aspiration is to work in a prison library. “I’ve always loved libraries. I find them peaceful and you can learn so many different things. You can escape from reality in a good book,” Pugh said.

– By Steven Scarpa, manager of communications and public relations

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