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There’s been much talk about the obsolescence of letters in the digital age, but for one population they still hold weight. Incarcerated people living in the gut of America’s prison-industrial complex are offered heavily restricted internet access, if any. The New York Public Library’s Reference Letter Program aims to fill this need with an added human touch: Adopting an older service of libraries, NYPL volunteers and librarians answer queries sent in by mail. Many inmates ask after personal interests: basketball statistics, song lyrics, book recommendations. Others seek resources for life after prison; to that end, NYPL Correctional Services, the division the Reference Letter Program operates under, publishes Connections, a resource guide for New York State inmates. Correctional Services provides a host of other programs aimed at improving information literacy for incarcerated individuals in New York State, but the Reference Letter Program piles up queries from all over the country. The popularity of the program signals a need for widespread information-access reform in prisons. Until then, the fact that inmates have someone to reach out to is a relief in itself. Alana Mohamed

nypl.org/help/community-outreach/correctional-services/volunteer

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