The Bookmobile That Went to Prison


Jane Swenson with a couple of the BRCC inmates, 1990.

Starting in June of 1990, the Winding Rivers Library System based in La Crosse, WI, began visiting the Black River Correctional Center. The BRCC is a minimum security prison that at the time housed about 75 inmates, average age 19. Most of these young men were working on their GED or some other type of education. The prison library consisted mostly of outdated paperbacks and magazines. The bi-weekly bookmobile visits, then, were a hit with both the inmates and staff. While many bookmobiles bring materials to prisons, the one coming out of La Crosse was one of the few to allow inmates on board like any other group of patrons. Many of the grateful inmates, who commonly brought treats for the bookmobile staff, reported never having been in a library before. The books the inmates tended to select varied in genre. African-American authors were sought out (Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim), along with such topics as true crime and the occult, drawing, current music, body-building, dream interpretation, and parenting. Westerns, mysteries and romances were also popular topics. The prison’s teacher/librarian, Jane Swenson, reported being asked at least ten times a week, “When’s the bookmobile coming, Ms. Jane?”

Swenson, Jane. “When’s the bookmobile coming, Ms. Jane?” The Unabashed Librarian, number 96, pg. 17. “Bookmobile Service at the BRCC.” Ibid, pg. 18 Marcia Sarnoski.

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