Exploring the role of the library in the learning experiences of people in prison
: Insights from Northern Ireland and Scotland

  • Jayne Finlay

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The aim of this thesis is to better understand prisoners’ experiences of engaging with library services and to examine the relationship between library services and education provision in prisons. It uses a framework informed by desistance research, informal learning theories and critical librarianship to examine prisoners’ experiences and the potential impact of engaging with library services.
The study takes a two-phased approach to meeting the research aims. The first phase of the study focuses on staff perspectives of prison library provision and offers a contemporary overview of prison library services across the UK and Ireland. Data is collected through a questionnaire administered to prison library staff, and through follow-up interviews with a subset of these respondents. The second phase of research consists of two case studies carried out in prison sites in Northern Ireland (Hydebank Secure College and Women’s Prison) and in Scotland (HMP Barlinnie). Each case study takes a multi-method qualitative approach to examine prisoners’ engagement with the library space, resources and informal learning programmes within the context of the wider prison environment. Findings show that a well-managed prison library offers a positive social learning environment which enables individuals to voluntarily engage in a variety of learning experiences. It is a space which encourages both autonomy and intellectual freedom, as well as providing a temporary escape from the prison regime.
Findings also show differing levels of collaboration between the library and the wider education department across prison sites. This research postulates that stronger liaison between library and education staff can improve the overall learning experiences of people in prison. The study also argues for wider inclusion of library services within contemporary research and policy discussions on prison education.
Date of AwardJun 2020
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsDepartment for the Economy
SupervisorJessica Bates (Supervisor) & Tracy Irwin (Supervisor)


  • Prison library
  • Prison education
  • Desistance
  • Informal learning
  • Critical librarianship

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