SCALA’s Spring 2017 Tour in Colorado saw 8 SLIM students battle snowy morning weather to take on the libraries of Denver!

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Our day began by touring the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF) and library.  Stacy McKenzie and Bailey Wallace led us through the day of a prison librarian (spoiler alert: there is no average day!) and answered our many questions regarding intellectual freedom, privacy, censorship, collection development and programming in such a different setting.  Library users in the prison are “hungry for stimulus and so appreciative,” Stacy told us.  Bailey agreed.  “It’s the most appreciative community I’ve ever worked with,” she admitted.

Besides reading books, women can also work at a puzzle table, listen to music, watch DVD’s, partake in crafts and more.  Their most popular guest speaker so far has been Malala, who visited the book club group in 2015.  At DWCF, Stacy and Bailey try to make the experience as much like a public library as they can.  As Stacy says, there’s “not another place in this facility where they get this customer service experience.”  The library at DWCF is a refuge indeed.

It’s not always an easy job.  You have to “have some attitude” and “be able to puff yourself up and project authority,” Stacy said.  But it’s also very rewarding.  “We often become librarians because we want to make a difference and we care about these things… and this is the top of that.”  Bailey concurred.  “I came from being a small cog in the wheel to learning and running everything,” she said.  “It’s a cool job.  After doing this, I can do everything.”

Our group also donated 79 books to support the Read to the Children program, a project which seeks to keep incarcerated parents connected to their children.  Bailey considers this one of the best services the library offers.  Parents, after getting approval from their caseworker, select a book from the RTC shelf to read on camera.  The footage and book is then sent on to their family.  It’s a great opportunity to teach parents about early literacy skills and support reading in the home.  Our help couldn’t come at a better time, given that this project is primarily supported by IMLS funds.

“I seriously think it was a bit of a life changing experience.”

-Laura Broderick, 2016 Student

Our next stop was with Melissa VanOtterloo, Photo Research & Permissions Librarian of the Stephen H. Hart Library and Research Center at History Colorado.  Their collection includes many newspapers (at least 1 from each county), including the complete run of the Rocky Mountain News.  We were amazed by the sheer quantity and variety of materials the librarians manage, from rare autochrome photographs to maps, manuscripts and other artifacts.

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“I’m in archive heaven!”

-Jennifer Scroggins, 2016 Student

Our day ended with a visit to Denver Public Library’s Central Branch in downtown Denver.  We spent extra time in the Reference and Western History & Genealogy Departments, as well as exploring the ideaLab with LaShay Peterson, a fellow classmate.  Once again we were treated to a “behind the scenes” look at the closed stacks, which contain flammable silver nitrate film negatives, signs from the recent Women’s March and the fabled Denver Police Intelligence Files.

We were also impressed by the way DPL is committed to serving their most vulnerable populations, from the homeless to immigrants and refugees.  Reference questions commonly include staff being asked for help finding free food, where to get a shower, etc.  “It’s a charge that we take seriously,” Robin Filipczak shared.  DPL made headlines in 2015 for being one of the first public libraries to hire a social worker, Elissa Hardy.  Since then, Hardy has been joined by a second full-time social worker, Kristi Schaefer.  They have had an enormous positive impact on the community, which you can read more about in this recent Colorado Public Radio post.

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Thank you to all our library hosts and students for making such a special day!

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