Books beyond bars: The transformative potential of prison libraries


© Photograph taken by "Pajarx entre púas" at the literacy workshop "Escribe, cuenta y vuela" ("Write, count and fly") in the library of the women's prison in Valparaíso
26 January 2022

The UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) publication Books beyond Bars: The Transformative Potential of Prison Libraries, highlighting the contribution of prison libraries to the educational and personal development of incarcerated adults and youth, is now available in Spanish. 

Una lectura más allá de las rejas: El potencial transformativo de las bibliotecas penitenciarias examines the experiences of various prison library systems around the world and identifies examples of good practice as well as challenges. The book demonstrates the potential of prison libraries to be spaces for intellectual escape, discovery and learning. It also examines the essential role that libraries within prisons play in preparing inmates for their reintegration into society, an important function of penal institutions. Most prisoners come from difficult socio-economic backgrounds and often have low levels of education with limited literacy skills. It is therefore particularly important to give them access to educational resources.

Various examples from Spanish-speaking countries are highlighted in the publication. In Chile, for example, the public library service implemented a prison library plan with an aim to promote better reading habits among the inmate population and to make the prison library a ‘cultural centre’ in all correctional facilities in the country. Book collections were extended and the prison libraries were upgraded into welcoming spaces offering various workshops and group sessions. 

Meanwhile, in Colombia, the District Network of Public Libraries in the country’s capital, Bogotá, provides prisons with a selection of their holdings through an interlibrary loan initiative called the ‘Travelling Suitcase’ programme. In Argentina, the ‘Sunflower Network’ documents and shares experiences of and about prison libraries. It includes a blog and a collection of prisoners’ works of art, including poetry, stories, drawings and texts.

The Spanish translation of Books beyond Bars is made possible by CERLALC (the Regional Center for the Promotion of Books in Latin America and the Caribbean). 

Download the publication: Una lectura más allá de las rejas: el potencial transformativo de las bibliotecas penitenciarias 

Policy brief on prison libraries