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Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian
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Reading Behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,303 ratings  ·  217 reviews
In December 2008, twentysomething Jill Grunenwald graduated with her master’s degree in library science, ready to start living her dream of becoming a librarian. But the economy had a different idea. Jill got a job was behind bars as the prison librarian at a men’s minimum-security prison.Over the course of a little less than two years, Jill came to see past the bleak surr ...more
Hardcover, 342 pages
Published July 2nd 2019 by Skyhorse
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Average rating 3.55  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,303 ratings  ·  217 reviews

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Kate Olson
Jul 10, 2019 rated it liked it
➕➗ Review math:
5 ⭐️ for the prison library topic
3 ⭐️ for the actual writing
2 ⭐️ for the voice
Overall = 3.3333 ⭐️ and worth reading if you are a MAJOR library nerd like me and want any library memoir you can get your hands on. If you only ever want to read ONE book about libraries, try THE LIBRARY BOOK by Susan Orlean.
I just didn’t love the super casual, irreverent and often profane tone and I think there could have been several more rounds of editing to eradicate some repetitions of content.
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
When I read the synopsis of the book trying to determine if it was worth checking out at the library (irony), I had thought it would be more about a real human experience with these inmates. Instead, I felt like I was just reading about someone's job, like, literally, anyone could write a book about their time on their job. Where was the meat? The real human experience? I didn't get it. I think her best writing was in the epilogue and wished that bit of deepness would have carried through the bo ...more
Kept my interest and I learned a bit about prisons. A little too much profanity out of the librarian’s mouth. Could have done without that and it certainly wasn’t necessary at getting the point across. Proof reading was lax throughout, but to a small extent.

I thought it was funny she said the most requested books were by JD Robb and Nora Roberts. Romance books were very popular even though this was a men’s prison.

Oh another tidbit I found interesting.. the prison library could only carry paperba
Jul 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Hard to finish, to be honest. The content was fine, but the writing style was irritating in that it definitely felt written from the perspective of someone who hadn't had a friend/loved one incarcerated or done enough anti-oppression self-work to effectively build a class/race narrative for solidarity with patrons. Prison libraries have a pretty incredible, revolutionary history and I just wasn't feeling that reflected in this. ...more
Christina Autumn
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Read a hundred pages. I'll read anything about libraries, but the author is a poor writer and she's obnoxious. I would love to read a book on this topic by someone else! ...more
Jill MacRae
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
Egad it was bad. The writing and editing are appalling. The whole book has the tone of a "what I did on vacation" essay. The author claims to have advanced degrees in writing yet her style offers no grounds to believe this. Some of the anecdotes she relates that show errors in judgement and action, are evidence of a serious lack of emotional maturity which she somehow shrugs off as standard for an introvert. Didn't like the book or the author. ...more
Dec 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I hope this book leads more people to donate to and support prison library programs.
Jenna Sargent
Jun 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this to be an incredibly enthralling read. I read almost all of it over the course of a weekend. I simply couldn’t put it down.

I'm a big library nerd. I've always been pretty active in my own libraries. One of the first steps I take when moving to a new town is getting my library card. I just love being in libraries.

But prison libraries are something that I never really gave much thought to. Neither did Jill prior to landing a job at one, it turns out. Throughout the book, you’ll learn
Dec 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
I provide library service in NYC's jails, so I was eager to read this book. But DAMN, this was...not good. It read slightly better than a first draft, so a long way from what a polished, published book should be. Given that the publisher is Skyhorse, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

While reading, the lazy writing and constant Harry Potter references annoyed me (it took me three weeks to finish this). But in the end, I just didn't get what the point of the book was. What were people supposed to
Allison Carmola
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for this advance copy.

I enjoyed this book. Full disclosure, I am a librarian so I like reading about librarians, but I do think this book has a wider appeal. It starts a little slow, and especially near the beginning there were things about the writing style that annoyed me. But the characters and situations are interesting, and I was fully engaged by the end.
Alexandra Robbins
May 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is not enough literature representing librarians – the guardians of books – or the incarcerated, who are under constant guard. Grunenwald amiably gives voice to both in an important, interesting memoir that celebrates the liberating power of literature and the right to the freedom to read.
Sep 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed Grunenwald's first book on running (Running with a Police Escort: Tales from the Back of the Pack) for her great sense of humor and just down to earth realness. I may have enjoyed this even more as I am not a runner, but I have worked in libraries for all of my adult life. Although I have never been employed in a prison library, it was really fascinating to see the ways that type of librarianship was the same as and different from my public and academic library experiences. ...more
Gisela Hafezparast
Dec 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very interesting read about the experience of a timid librarian with plenty of her own issues working in a prison. Would have liked to know more about the prisoners.
Kelly K
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
As a public librarian, I found this surprisingly tame. We've had all of these characters in and more on a daily basis without a panic button or correctional officer at our beck and call. When I worked at our main branch directly down the road from the police station, it would still take them 20-30 minutes to arrive if we called.
Anyways, back to the book. It was definitely entertaining and I enjoyed the insight as to what it was like working in a prison library, especially one I could easily pict
Kelly Magro
Satisfied my curiosity of what a prison librarian's job might entail. Interesting behind the scenes look at a low security prison. Definitely not a page turner and was slow and boring in a lot of areas. I wanted more from this. ...more
Jun 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Life in a prison library

It is a very interesting story. Not exactly what I expected. Books provide an escape for anyone, and especially for those behind bars. Hopefully, at least some of the inmates who utilize library services gain enough knkwledge to help them stay out of prison once they are released.
Eugenea Pollock
Jan 29, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookbub-buys
Within the confines of a prison, even a minimum security one, a library can provide a completely legal escape route. The conductor along the way is the librarian if, as Jill Grunenwald does, she sees herself as more than simply a custodian of printed materials.

Covering her first two years out of grad school, this book describes many experiences which are probably common to all librarians, be they academic or municipal. However, since these patrons are inmates, there is an added layer of securit
Rachel B
I should have just abandoned this one. Grunenwald spends 350 pages on the unimportant details of being a prison librarian. I was hoping to hear about the inmates and the impact that the library had on them, but very little is actually written about them.

The author repeatedly references Harry Potter, uses the word well to the point where, well, the point where it drove me nuts. She mentions a class in high school that gave a spoiler for a classic, then proceeds to spoil said classic herself. Ther
Oct 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book but I felt like at times (a lot if times) her stories were padded with words. The topic, while interesting, was covered very flatly. I nearly snapped the book shut twice when she described in detail how she was wheeling a cart with punch on it in great detail down a hallway and then again when she had to describe how her co-worker parked the van they took to a conference in the prison parking lot (she left space behind the van so they could maneuver it when they ...more
Lisa Hunt
Jul 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
3.5 stars. Mixed thoughts. on this one. On the positive side, I liked learning about the library within the prison system. That was interesting. As others have mentioned, it makes you want to donate to the prison libraries. On the minus side, I was expecting a lot more "human interest" and there didn't seem to be much of that. The author came across (to me) a bit holier-than-thou and maybe that is the attitude you have to have in that situation, I just don't know. I guess I was hoping for a litt ...more
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very interesting. I have been both a high school librarian and a teacher at a Job Corps center. This book refreshed many of memories about those places. Also, it made me want to donate books to the prison in my state.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book. Review to come in Booklist.
sonja Kreshel
Awful. Skip it
Myra Rodriguez
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is an extremely information book and quite easy to read, yet I did not finish this book. I love Orange is the New Black and Oz, so this book's title appealed to me. It shared a realistic view of prison life without all the drama that is needed in making a show but with from a unique point of view - the new librarian. This book starts at the beginning of her career as a young graduate searching for the perfect job, finding it and coping as a young female in a male prison while doing somethin ...more
Judith B. Cherry
Reading this book made me feel I was right there in the prison, learning the ropes with the author. Anyone who loves libraries would find this an entertaining and informative book. Jill put a lot of herself into this account.
Dec 26, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, 2019-reads
2.5 Stars
Jan 19, 2020 rated it liked it
A light, nicely written, easy-to-read memoir. There is a bit of language and discussion of situations found in prisons.
Jun 18, 2021 rated it liked it
I wanted to read this book because I graduated from library school at about the same time as the author and had a classmate who was a part-time prison librarian, and I wanted to know more about the experience. While this was interesting to read, I feel like I got more of the author's individual experience rather than particular insights into how prison libraries affect both prisons and inmates. ...more
This book was just ok for me. It was interesting learning about the important place libraries have in prisons, the difference they can make, and the rules and restrictions both inmates and those who work in prisons must abide by. I also found it interesting to get a glimpse of what it would be like to work inside a prison or to be a prisoner. I was disappointed in the language and some sexual content, and it only covered about two years worth of time. The author did, however, make some very inte ...more
Jun 06, 2020 rated it liked it
As someone who now works in a library and has also visited an incarcerated loved one, I enjoyed this glimpse into the inner workings of a prison library.

It turns out that a prison library is pretty much like any other library: a haven where people can escape from the rigors of everyday life through literature, and a dispensary of knowledge and education.

Of course, there are several things that set a prison library apart from its counterparts. Such as the red lines on the floor that inmates are
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