First Leg of the Fellowship: Netherlands

In three days I will be venturing to establishments in the Netherlands on a Fellowship provided by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. In February, I will also be traveling to Belgium to continue the research.

Access to literature for an estimated 100,000 prisoners in the UK is a contentious issue. In 2014 a ban (subsequently overturned) was imposed on prisoners receiving books by post. In 2016 newspapers carried headlines such as ‘Extremist’ books remain in prisons despite warning’. In a climate of digital technology, I propose to evaluate how e-reading (used successfully in other countries), could be used by prisoners in the UK to enable them to access safe, engaging and educational literature. The project length would be 4 weeks. I would also like to focus on tablet technology within prisons as well as e-reading as I feel a lot of potential lies in the future of tablet technology.

Companies such as Jpay and Edovo have introduced tablet technology into prisons overseas to provide daily access to educational, vocational and therapeutic programming. Tablets in prisons are emerging as a new tactic to ease a prisoner’s return to society, where technology is taking on an increasing role.

The overall aim of the project is to use the Fellowship opportunity to examine the viability of incorporating tablet technology within UK prisons to complement or replace the historical use of books, identify the tangible benefits of using technology (eg. if it could be cost effective) and the impact of using it for the prisoner and the wider prisoner estate.

This project complements key government initiatives to improve digital capabilities, prison education and to offer equality of opportunity. Access to libraries within prison is part of HM Inspectorate but it is an impossible challenge to meet the needs and interests of men and women of different ages, reading ability and language. On a local level, the prison in which I work uses in-cell technology and is working on introducing tablet technology. The research gained from the Fellowship would assist the prison in enabling a successful digital format to integrate into this technology. The results would be shared with other prison establishments.

Looking at how e-reading can be developed in HMP Thameside, I have liaised with Andy Bray (Custodial Estate IT Manager of Serco Home Affairs) as part of research for a recent MSc Library Science dissertation. Andy is responsible for implementing IT technology into Serco prisons. He and his team intend to pilot tablet technology in all six Serco prisons and are assessing the possibilities available. I have spoken to Andy about this opportunity and he would welcome the research from my findings as the topic is still very ‘up and coming’ in UK prison establishments.

The research I find from the Fellowship could be shared amongst higher management and the various departments within the prison environment to assess if they can link in content with the technology. It could also be shared on forums including Good-practice.net, JISCMail (an e-mail list for prison librarians) and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) Prison Libraries group.

I am very excited at being given this Fellowship and would like to thank the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust committee for allowing me to embark on these opportunities.

I will be updating this blog on a regular basis so please check back.

Friday 6th February: From Knowledge Economy to the Sharing Economy

Today’s Libraries and Publishing in an Information Society session aimed to inform students about the following:
An insight into key theoretical concepts: knowledge economy, sharing economy, disruptive technology/innovation.

Initial overview and understanding into the history and development of publishing.

Understanding of the impact of technological and political changes.

Insight into scholarly publishing in the 21st century in general and article level metrics in specific.

Implications for library and information services.

The lecture included the work of several philosophers and theorists, including the works of Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan. What fascinated me in particular about Mr. McLuhan was his predictions about the world wide web we rely on so heavily today more than thirty years before it was invented. Watching the video ‘1979’ on YouTube – a lecture recorded by ABC Radio National Network on 27 June 1979 in Australia – provided an insight into his theories. In this video, his famous term “The medium is the message” was explored in detail as well as statements deemed controversial such as claims that television promotes illiteracy. Reading further about the meaning of his famous term “The medium is the message”, writer Mark Federman explores some ways in how this famous quote – which is still recognised today – could be interpreted:
“Of all the Internet searches that end up at the McLuhan Program website and weblog, the search for the meaning of the famous “McLuhan Equation” is the most frequent. Many people presume the conventional meaning for “medium” that refers to the mass-media of communications – radio, television, the press, the Internet. And most apply our conventional understanding of “message” as content or information. Putting the two together allows people to jump to the mistaken conclusion that, somehow, the channel supersedes the content in importance, or that McLuhan was saying that the information content should be ignored as inconsequential. Often people will triumphantly hail that the medium is “no longer the message,” or flip it around to proclaim that the “message is the medium,” or some other such nonsense. McLuhan meant what he said; unfortunately, his meaning is not at all obvious, and that is where we begin our journey to understanding.”

Our lecturer encouraged us to obtain a copy of ‘The Woman Who Discovered Printing’ by T. H. Barrett. I intend to order a used copy for my library (the copy is now out-of-print, however I notice several secondhand copies for sale online) to gain an understanding about the history of reading, writing and print and how society has developed our means of publishing over the years. Feeding into this subject, the term “Disruptive technology” – coined by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen – was also explored in the lecture. There was emphasis that the term ‘Disruption’ must not be understood necessarily in a negative sense, but as the necessary thrust to make change possible. Examples of how “Disruption technology” has allowed us to make positive technological advancements were then presented (eg. Wikipedia disrupted traditional encyclopaedias). Watching Cecily Drucker discuss the meaning of disruptive innovation beyond incremental innovation on YouTube provided me with a further understanding of the subject (view at http://www.druckerinstitute.com/2010/08/innovate-or-die-cecily-drucker-on-disruptive-innovation/). Another title was recommended by a lecturer – John Feather’s ‘The Information Society: A Study of Continuity and Change’ – which I look forward to reading.