Incarcerated Patrons Enjoy Library Cards, Other Services

Incarcerated Services Librarian Melody Kinnamon fervently believes Library services are for all Johnson County residents, including incarcerated individuals who can’t visit the branches. This year, Johnson County Library has expanded its outreach to Johnson County Corrections Department facilities on the New Century, KS, campus. Library staffers also assist Adult Residential Center clients serving alternative work-release sentences, and clients receiving intensive substance abuse treatment at the Therapeutic Community Center.

Kinnamon and other members of the Library’s incarcerated services team resumed in-person visits to the campus in April 2021. They’ve seen an uptick in the number of Library cards issued, called “justice cards.” And a pleasant Library space at the Adult Residential Center has been enhanced with additional books and more office hours. “The justice cards are Johnson County Library cards that are issued to the Corrections Department clients who reside within that system,” Kinnamon explained. “We are focusing more on this population and serving their specific needs better. I can see [the initiative] continuing to grow.” Kinnamon says about 100 new justice cards were issued in 2021, an increase over 2020. Clients can continue to use them at Johnson County Library locations even when they no longer reside at Corrections facilities.

Before the pandemic, Kinnamon and others offered in-person Library office hours on campus one day per week. From March 2020 through April 2021, they provided services virtually via Zoom. But they are now able to offer in-person Library office hours every Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. As many as 40 clients visit each time. “The Corrections Department is so amazing,” Kinnamon said. “They have welcomed us and accommodated us.” The department provides a lovely, sunny room with comfortable chairs. Johnson County Library arranges for local artists to display their work, and Johnson County Library Foundation grants provided thousands of dollars to purchase books, which clients can check out on site. ARC even added several children’s books in late 2021, after a client shared that they wanted to read to their child during their weekly video visit.

Library staffers also help clients find and check out up to three books each time from throughout the Library system, which are delivered to the campus by Johnson County couriers. “I really enjoy our conversations,” Kinnamon said. “We get to do a lot of readers’ advisory work.” Library staff and clients discuss favorite authors and books of all genres. Kinnamon recalls one man who visited the Library every Wednesday. He told her it was the best part of his week. “He could just be a Library patron for those 30 minutes and he said it meant a lot to him,” Kinnamon recalled. Other clients are equally appreciative.

Kinnamon and Information Specialist Scott Stone also lead a lively book club gathering with 8-10 clients once a month on campus. She said she learns so much from the clients, who are thoughtful and well-read. “It’s wonderful. I love that it’s voluntary,” she said “It says something that we have a waiting list. We have great, wonderful discussions.”

This partnership between Johnson County Library and county government is visionary and very worthwhile, Kinnamon emphasizes. “We are one of the few public Library systems in the nation that has an Incarcerated Services Librarian, that has realized the importance of serving that community,” she said. “We are very progressive and I just really appreciate both the [Library] Board’s support and Corrections’ support, and the partnerships within the County. The Library, Corrections, Johnson County Mental Health Department, Johnson County Library Foundation, everybody getting together to serve these people. We’ve got a lot of great people working to serve this population.”

You can find this story featured in the Spring 2022 Guide. The Guide is your source for Library news, upcoming events and programs, service highlights, Friends of Johnson County Library and Johnson County Library Foundation news and more. Pick up your copy at a Johnson County Library near you.