Brooklyn Public Library Expands TeleStory for Children of Incarcerated Parents

TeleStory_Family Visit_ PC courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library

The Brooklyn Public Library was announced as a winner of the Knight Foundation’s most recent funding challenge for libraries. With the win, the library will receive just under $400,000 to expand its new TeleStory program, which allows children with incarcerated parents to visit the library and have their parents read them a story over video from jail.

According to Nick Higgins, the Director of Outreach Services for BPL, the library has been developing the project for the past two years and is ready to take it to the next level. “The library has a history of working with the correctional system here in New York to support reading programs and this was one way for us to get the families involved. It can be very hard to maintain relationships with young children when one of the parents is incarcerated,” Higgins tells CivSource. “It was challenging to get TeleStory in as part of that mix because we proposed an idea that had never been done before.”

Historically, in the New York prison system, video visitation was mostly used by attorneys visiting clients remotely. Higgins said expanding the service meant making sure that corrections facilities had children’s books to bring into the visitation to read and for the library, it also required providing rooms and technology for the visits to take place. “We wanted to make sure that the room didn’t feel cold. We wanted the children to be comfortable,” Higgins adds.

With the Knight Foundation award, TeleStory will be able to begin expanding the service to other library branches and will also be able to work closely with the Osborne Association, which helps individuals who have been incarcerated join educational and other programs aimed at reducing recidivism and improving quality of life.

Launched in February, the Knight News Challenge asked for ideas that serve 21st century information needs, recognizing libraries as vital institutions that can play an essential role in building more informed and engaged communities. The winning ideas highlight libraries as essential to addressing information challenges and creating new opportunities for communities to engage with ideas and each other. Five of the projects will receive investments of between $150,000 and $393,249 each, while nine will receive $35,000 each to test early-stage ideas.

The full list of winners is available here.  More about TeleStory, including a video from the library introducing the project is available here.