Prison library, Antwerp.
Yesterday we received our new interior brief...design a library within a prison for the inmates. For me I think that this is going to be a challenging project as I have strong views about the prison service. In my opinion, prisons are a place to be disciplined and for offenders to feel some remorse for the crime that has been committed so why should they be given luxuries as some are receiving such as televisions, Playstations, music, etc? Why are some people deliberately committing a crime just so that they can actually be in prison? Why should they still be allowed to enjoy hobbies such as reading and listening and watching to music and films from a variety of sources from the large collection that the prison has, surely this just defeats the whole purpose of punishment? As a designer though it is important for me to put my personal opinions aside and design neutrally, listening to what the client and users require from the space.
With a little more research into the whole topic, I understand a little more of the ideas and specifications surrounding the prison system (even if I still disagree with quite a large amount of things).
For one, the library may not have been as much as a privilege as I had first imagined for prisoners but instead acting as an aid in a bid to provide structuring for prisoners and a way to assist learning and skill development. It also encourages the inmates to make use of the libraries when they are released so as to help them reintegrate themselves into society.
As a designer it is important to understand the needs for each individual prison and the inmates that will be using the library. With a diversity of languages (sometimes 25 different nationalities), cultures, ethic origin and religion it is crucial that all of this is taken into consideration when deciding how the library will be laid out and the number of books that will be required. As this is in a closed environment it is important to consider again a number of things, are the resources suitable for prisoners? Are the materials within the library going to engage offenders into using the service? Can the space encourage inmates to use a similar service on the 'outside'?
The space in which we are to design within already houses a library but it is our job as designers to create a new innovative design that will encourage more prisoners to use the facility...considering aspects such as the opening hours, capacity, safety and size of the space will all have an influence on our final concept. How will a prisoner interact with the space? How will the way in which a guard and librarian interact differ?
Organisation of documents such as tracking stock levels and the books or other resources that each prisoner has must be designed within the space. These should only be accessible to the appropriate personnel so security issues should be considered. Also within the should there be helpful pointers to aid inmates in finding books, Dewey Decimal System...?
Safety probably is one of the main issues that I need to tackle within the space as some people who are coming to visit the library may not primarily be there to just pick a book... According to prison library specifications it is important to incorporate a number of elements such as formal and informal areas, general display areas, a separate staff area, etc.
The whole project ties in nicely with a topic I want to explore as a possible dissertation subject and as our tutors here in Mechelen keep reinforcing the point that space does influence the way in which we behave, it is important for me to use the data I have already gathered for my dissertation to aid me with this but also be prepared to discover new points that I can add to it too. In the case of this project the design we create should be aimed at trying to ease the stay of convicts and help them try and channel energies towards a positive outcome.
Basically what I am trying to say is that lots and lots need to be considered and after doing some research into the subject I now have a greater understanding. Although most of my original views remain the same, I have changed my feelings towards the library space within the prison. What I originally thought was just a place for the inmates to escape the area in which they are being disciplined in, now I understand to be so much more...a place to try and encourage learning and those who wish, an opportunity to prepare themselves for a new life outside the 4 walls of their cells.
Author unknown 2010, Prison libraries specification, Waterside Press, London.