I have a question for you. In your opinion, do we have to answer reference questions from inmates? I received a letter from an inmate in Iowa Park, TX which is like 600 miles away and has it's own library.
As far as I know, this person isn't from here (which I guess shouldn't matter, either). It's just so creepy. The good thing is I can barely read his writing. From what I can make of it he wants a list of addresses of billionaires and occult something or other.
What would you do?
- legitimate research (which is great)
- asking for contact information for a number of specific people, or for groups of people (like "millionaires" or "reporters")
I've never not answered a question from an inmate, but I usually don't correspond with follow-up requests (which, every time they've come, have strayed widely from the original question). In those cases, I suppose the inmate could be just bored and looking for a penpal. I figure that if the question doesn't have anything to do with the local area, chances are the inmate sent the exact same question to lots of other libraries just hoping someone will respond.
I was curious if this was the right approach though, so I contacted Jackie Weddle, Librarian at the Maine State Prison. She said that inmates in her prison always start with her first - but because of the environment and their topics, she can't always help them. Perhaps those are the questions that then get sent out to public libraries.
If I ever have concerns about a question from an inmate, I contact the prison to find out what can and cannot be sent to inmates. But based on Jackie's answer, I think in the future I'll try to get in touch with the prison librarian, instead of a guard or administrative person. Chances are, the librarian will have a history with the inmate, and should be able to provide good advice on how to handle the request.
I'm curious though - do other libraries have policies about responding to questions from inmates? Does it matter if the inmate or topic isn't local?
And thanks to Jackie for providing some inside information!