25 July 2019

“From Behind the Bars - To an Enriched World": Prison Library Development Project in Sri Lanka

By Dr. Premila Gamage, Standing Committee Member, IFLA Asia and Oceania Section

Prison Library service is a neglected area in Sri Lanka which needs more attention, resources and planned development. Though there are thousands of inmates from all strata of society in prisons in Sri Lanka, providing them with quality library and information service remains a distant dream. The main purpose of these institutions is to rehabilitate these people and send them back to society as quality citizen.

Through a Prison Library Development Project (i.e. Development of a ‘model’ prison library at the Welikada Prison), the Special Committee on Prison Libraries of Sri Lanka Library Association and the Friends of the National Library of Sri Lanka, laid the foundation for a quality library and information services for the prisons in Sri Lanka.

We believe that having a proper library service in place would be ‘the need of the hour’ to reduce the high level of recidivism which is currently at 57%.

What are Our Goals?

The goals for a quality library and information services for the prisons in Sri Lanka are to:

  • prepare inmates for re-entry into society as law abiding quality citizens - i.e. for a Re-entry as a Better Person
  • reduce recidivism - by improving prisoners’ knowledge, skills and attitudes
  • increase inmates’ use of time in an effective manner

How do we do this?

  • Initiation of a ‘Prison Library Development Project’ with Friends of Sri Lanka National Library:
    • collection and other resources development
    • conduct of programmes and workshops to improve literacy and artistic and literary skills
    • provide a network of volunteer librarians to serve in Prison libraries
    • translation of relevant literature such as IFLA Prison Library Guidelines and ALA’s Library Standards for Correctional Institutes
  • Appointment of a ‘Special Committee on Prison Library Services’ – Sri Lanka Library Association to:
    • formulate guidelines for prison libraries
    • set up a model prison library at the main prison
    • formulate of Standards for prison Libraries

What have we done?

  • Collected more than 5,000 books through two ‘book drives’
  • Translated IFLA Prison Library Guidelines into Sinhala
  • Arranged author visits to discuss on books
  • Conducted workshops to enhance creative writing skills of inmates
  • Allowed inmates to showcase their musical/dancing talents at programmes and workshops

What’s next

  • Introduce mobile library services and inter library loans through partnerships
  • Market the guidelines through all possible means and seek endorsement by an appropriate prison authority
  • Develop a model library at the Welikada prison for female inmates
  • Translate ALA Library Standards for Correctional Institutes
  • Formulate standards for prison libraries and obtain the endorsement

What are our challenges?

  • Approach tackling the rigid/regimental attitude of prison officers and higher authorities towards making changes
  • Lack of funds
  • Dependence on volunteers
  • Unstable political situation and unhealthy economic situation in the country

Dr Premila Gamage and Padma Bandaranayake made a poster presentation on the project during the Global Solutions Poster Session at the 2019 ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. The poster displayed the work carried out and services offered so far, how it has impacted on inmates, challenges faced and future plans.


We appreciate any assistance towards the development of prison libraries in Sri Lanka. If you would like to become a part of this valuable project, please contact - Dr. (Mrs) Nayana Wijayasundara, President, Sri Lanka Library Association. Email: slla@sltnet.lk .

Asia and Oceania

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