Libraries have been called the cornerstone of democracy. They are sources of information available to anyone, regardless of background, wealth, or social status. For formerly incarcerated people reentering society, they can provide a way to search for jobs and learn skills in a world that can seem to have passed them by. But libraries are also a valuable resource for the more than 2 million men and women still imprisoned in the UnitedStates.
While providing libraries within prison walls is not a new idea, their quality can vary greatly. Often incarcerated people are looking for legal tomes, researching possible ways to appeal their sentences. Religious and self-help books are popular, too. And like other librarygoers, people in prison just thirst to learn something new. Last year the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation announced it would spend $5.3 million to distribute microlibraries of 500 books each to prisons in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C.