Day in the Life of a CDCR Librarian
By Krissi Khokhobashvili, CDCR Public Information Officer
Photos by Manny Davalos, TV Specialist
Elise Rotchford’s career hasn’t been what many would call “typical” for a librarian. But then again, she doesn’t work in a typical library.
The rock vocalist turned opera singer turned music librarian can be found these days in the library at Deuel Vocational Institution (DVI), where she serves as Senior Librarian.
After nurturing her musical talent early on, Rotchford enjoyed a career as a versatile musician – including singing, teaching, playing the flute and working for the Three Tenors – Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti. She traveled the world as their music librarian, organizing and cataloging collections, transposing music and answering reference inquiries.
It was that job that inspired her to earn a master’s degree in library science from the University of Arizona. She applied for a librarian job within CDCR and was hired at Wasco State Prison (WSP). She worked there for six months until her arrival at DVI.
“A lot of people don’t even realize there are libraries in prison,” said Rotchford as she gave a tour of the shelves filled with thousands of books.
Running a library inside a prison isn’t just about providing inmates with books for recreational purposes – the emphasis is on education and rehabilitation.
In addition to a big selection of fiction and nonfiction titles, each institution is required to give inmates access to an up-to-date law library, regardless of their classification or housing status. This means that not only do Rotchford and the rest of the library crew have to run a “typical” library, they also have to learn how to help inmates in the ever-changing world of legal research.
Volumes of case law, penal code and legal reference books line the shelves of the law library, where inmates research their own cases or past decisions that may be applicable. Rotchford said she is continuously impressed by how knowledgeable inmates become, in particular those who work in the library.
“He is a walking textbook,” she said, referring to a law library clerk who helps inmates find what they need to conduct their research.
In summer 2013, CDCR’s Division of Rehabilitative Programs tasked the Enterprise Information Services’ Recidivism Reduction Support Unit with developing a strategy to implement electronic law library systems at each institution. Thanks to the hard work of RRSU, the Law Library Electronic Delivery Systems were implemented within four months to replace the current legal print collections.
“Going digital” results in major cost savings to CDCR. With 611 LLEDS at 35 locations, CDCR will be able to discontinue ordering print collections for legal libraries – a savings of more than $1.5 million annually. CDCR will also save in space, as the legal documents at DVI lined the walls floor to ceiling before the digital upgrade.
Of course, inmate access to fiction is part of the job, too. Rotchford said science fiction and fantasy are some of the favorite genres, although nonfiction such as history and biographies are high on the checkout list, too. Library staffers emphasize the importance of literacy, posting word of the day posters and staff book recommendations.
“Reading is a passion for me,” said Library Technician Assistant Sandra Gonzaga. “This is my dream job. I feel like I’m making a difference.”
Library staff agreed that the library is a peaceful place in the institution, and several inmates said they enjoy their time reading and studying in the quiet library.
“I want to express how good of a job this librarian and her staff are doing,” said inmate Reginald Wheeler. “It’s a consistently positive atmosphere, and staff is helpful. One step in the library, and all the drama out in the prison seems to stop.”
In addition to the libraries, DVI’s book-filled rooms are also home to several educational and rehabilitative classes. Inmates participate in a Renaissance history class and study American Sign Language, and also have access to classes and tutoring through Coastline Community College.
Whether she’s helping inmates learn how to read, study for exams, research court cases, take a college class or just find a new genre to enjoy, Rotchford and the DVI library crew know they are making a difference.
“I’ve had inmates say that the library saved their life,” Rotchford said.