DLIS Alumni Publishes Book as ‘Jailhouse Librarian’

Marybeth Zeman, MLS'09
Marybeth Zeman, MLS’09

Marybeth Zeman began to pursue a Masters in Library and Information Science in 2007. She was awarded a Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian scholarship, which supports early career development of librarians with promise of strong leadership in the field. During the program Zeman worked closely with Professor Kevin Rioux, Ph.D. focusing on coursework that emphasized community outreach to disadvantaged populations.

Upon graduation in 2009, Zeman began working at the Nassau County Correctional Center. A jailhouse librarian, Zeman has recently shared her professional experiences with St. John’s University Office of Marketing and Communications to promote her recently published book, Tales of a Jailhouse Librarian: Challenging the Juvenile Justice System One Book at a Time.

Zeman worked as a high school ESL teacher and adjunct collegiate professor prior to pursuing a career as a librarian. Currently at the Nassau County Correctional Center, she works with young men aged 16-21 transitioning them to continued incarceration at an upstate prison facility or re-entry into their communities. The transitional program is coordinated in partnership with the East Meadow Public School District, which offers these youths the opportunity to earn either a high school diploma or GED.

As a transitional counselor, Zeman notes that the incarcerated teens’ greatest struggle is with the excruciating boredom of imprisonment. These boys are intellectually imprisoned at a time in their lives when the mind needs mental stimulation to promote positive intellectual growth and creativity. Consequently, Zeman began offering the young boys books to read from a tiny collection of donated materials from a squeaky wooden cart.

Introducing the book cart to the facility allowed Zeman to both utilize her MLS degree and establish a means of connectivity to the individuals for transitioning. Reading began to open the minds of these young boys for the transitional period, thus opening a portal to rejoin the community outside.   The book cart has facilitated learning in an environment of youth that had previously dropped out of school.

Zeman built her small collection of young adult series, comic books and some advanced materials from the ground up. She now works in cooperation with other public libraries in the area to bring outreach services to the jail. Zeman notes the excitement of these teens when a librarian from the Freeport Memorial Library visited the prison. Zeman emphasizes the need for the public library to establish a presence in the lives of the incarcerated so that they feel comfortable visiting the library upon release. An advocate for library service to these disadvantaged, Zeman often cites how these boys have already been shunned by society, deeming their return to the system inevitable. The library should be a place free of judgment and welcoming to these boys, enabling them to obtain community services and programs offered by the community for livelihood empowerment and for a better future.

Zeman works tirelessly with these boys in the hopes of never seeing them again. However, the sad truth is the majority will return. Zeman fights vehemently for the role of the public library in saving these troubled youths from a life of imprisonment through her current roles in advocacy groups, Think Outside the Cell, Education from the Inside Out, and Juvenile Justice Exchange Group. She is also a member of the ALA sub-committees American Special Collection Library Association (ASCLA) and Library Services to Incarcerated Individuals and is a member of the Prison Librarian’s Group and YASLA. Zeman contributes regularly to the blog, Public Librarians Online.

 Find out more about Zeman and her work by visiting her website, here.

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