Librarian 2, Parkway Central Library,
Free Library of Philadelphia
MSLIS, Drexel University, Philadelphia, 2009;
M. Phil., 2007, MA, 2003, both Jamia Millia Islamia University, India
Photo courtesy of Titus Moolathara
When Titus Moolathara took a job out of library school as a library assistant at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, he learned that “the library is the most important place in the prison.” So when he joined the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) in 2013 and found no prison outreach in place, he launched a pilot library program at Philadelphia’s Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, a men’s prison that didn’t have a library. During the three-month initiative—with no budget—100 inmates accessed 600 books and visited the library 360 times. Inmates helped with checkouts. The pilot improved inmates’ reading levels—and also reduced the number of verbal and physical incidents.
After the success of the pilot, the Philadelphia Prison System approved library expansion to seven sites, plus one in a women’s prison. Now, inmates run the libraries with “minimal Free Library oversight,” says Moolathara.
The idea won FLP an Institute of Museum and Library Services Sparks! Ignition grant, implemented by Moolathara and launched in February, to “provide reentry assistance packets for [inmates] who have recently been released, including temporary library cards,” says nominator Sara Moran, VP of strategic initiatives at FLP. The program also includes Stories Alive, a shared reading and family “tele-visiting” program, with video stations in prisons and libraries. Now, Moolathara wants to bring ebooks to prisons and get inmates more access to tech for online courses. “We come to work each day to serve all residents, whether they live near one of our neighborhood libraries or in a prison cell,” he says.