Rikers Island Prison Now Has An Unofficial New York Public Library Branch

The women of the Rose M. Singer Center (RMSC) now have reliable, weekly access to reading materials, being the recipients of the first permanent prison library opened at Rikers Island. The New York Public Library (NYPL) installed a 1,200-book collection — which includes Spanish-language titles, popular young adult series, comics, and classics — making the RMSC library its unofficial 93rd branch.

The NYPL has been distributing books to Rikers Island's thousands of inmates for more than 30 years. In 2015 alone, inmates checked out 22,000 volumes. The NYPL will continue to provide book carts and other mobile library services to Rikers' men's facilities.

The RMSC library is open every Tuesday. Inmates may check out two books for two weeks. According to amNewYork, the library aims to "serv[e] half of the prison one week and the other half the next." Prison librarian Emily Jacobson says that the collection is dependent on public donations, but that staff will try to locate requested items for patrons.

On Tuesday, authors Rayya Elias and Elizabeth Gilbert appeared to sign books for inmates at the grand opening of Rikers Island's first permanent prison library. Elias is a musician and filmmaker, and is the author of Harley Loco: a memoir named for the nickname she received during her time at Rikers.

Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, knows that the RMSC library is just what the facility's inmates need: "[T]hey deserve is a peaceful, safe space in which to let their minds expand."