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Reference Question of the Week – 2/27/11

   March 5th, 2011

KDOC logoAbout once or twice a year, we get reference questions via USPS from a prison inmate somewhere in the US. One came in a week or so ago - the question itself wasn't difficult, but I laughed when I addressed the return envelope:

[inmate name] #[number]
Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex
200 Road to Justice
West Liberty, KY 41472

Good job, Kentucky Department of Corrections.

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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 2/27/11”

  1. Langdon Says:

    Is it your library’s policy to answer questions from anyone that sends you one through the mail? Can you decide not to answer the prisoner’s question? Is it your obligation to?

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Langdon: our policy says that we attempt to answer pretty much any question, but within reason. Our out is that the policy says staff can’t devote more than 15 minutes to any one question.

    If a prisoner/genealogist/anyone asked something really inappropriate or difficult, mail or otherwise, we wouldn’t/couldn’t do it. But usually, the questions we get in the mail are very Chelmsford-specific, and I feel that if we don’t help them, no one else can, so I really do try to accommodate them when possible.

  3. Erin Apostolos Says:


    I helped a prison inmate in Arizona with some genealogy work from the late 1800′s. I had never really thought about a policy for dealing with reference questions from inmates specifically, but had his question been for more recent information on a person I would have been more hesitant. I wonder if there are libraries with prison inmate policies?


  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Erin: I’m actually kind of curious about that too. I don’t know that it’s necessary, because I don’t think we can treat them any differently than any other patron. For one guy who was asking for a ton of stuff, I did call the prison to find out what their rules were about what I could send to him – and that significantly cut down on how I could answer his question. Beyond that though, I think anything that is publicly available would be okay, and hopefully the guards will keep away from them anything they shouldn’t be allow to have – but I don’t know how prisons work.

  5. Swiss Army Librarian » Reference Question of the Week – 7/8/12 :: Brian Herzog Says:

    [...] I've gotten reference questions from prisoners in the past, we've always just answered them like any other mailed question. But, I have noticed that they [...]