February 17, 2018

Glennor Shirley | Movers & Shakers 2003

Connecting Inside

When Glennor Shirley came to the United States from Jamaica armed with an advanced library degree from an accredited British university, she was surprised and “humbled” to learn that she could not get a professional position in an American library. Now, two master’s degrees later, Shirley puts her unique experience and insight to work assisting the most humbled population of library users: correctional inmates.

In her current position, she oversees the service and programs for Maryland’s 25,000 inmates across 14 prisons and eight prerelease institutions. In today’s political climate, it’s hard to convince politicians to provide funds for prison libraries, but Shirley takes a longer view. “About 15,000 inmates go out every year,” she says. It costs about $27,000 per year to house a prisoner in Maryland. “I prefer my tax dollars to go toward programs that will help the prisoner become a taxpayer later on.”

Toward that end, Shirley is an innovator in preparing inmates for the library experience in the wider world. She has just produced and distributed a CD-ROM titled “Discovering the Internet @ Your Library,” which provides an offline simulation of the World Wide Web to train inmates (who are not permitted live access to the Internet) to use computers. Upon release inmates will be prepared to use public access Internet terminals in searching for employment, obtaining housing and health information, and helping their children with homework.

“If an inmate has been incarcerated for 20 years,” Shirley says, “he’s probably never touched a computer. He knows how to spell ‘Internet,’ but he’s never used it.” Shirley’s program has been a resounding success. It’s in all of Maryland’s prison libraries and is beginning to attract national attention. Librarians in ten states, including New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona, have requested copies.

In addition to helping the inmates themselves, the training also benefits inmate’s families. Most inmates come from communities where public schools are substandard and test scores are low. Having a parent – even an incarcerated parent – putting a value on education has a positive effect. “We’re trying to encourage them to help their children to use the public library,” says Shirley. “The comments are very heartwarming. After they have finished the course, they all say they want the real Internet.”


Current Position: Correctional Education Libraries Coordinator, Maryland State Department of Education

Degrees: MLS, University of Maryland, College Park, 1992; Master of Administrative Science, Johns Hopkins University, 1990