UT libraries hold more than 2.7 million books.
The Knox County Public Defenders Community Law Office (CLO) is in the midst of a month-long book drive to collect titles for a much smaller collection: the inmate library at the Knox County Sheriff's Detention Facility.
Directed by Jessica Greene, an assistant public defender, and UT rising juniors Shivani Goyal and Chris Ludtka, the drive hopes to bring 1,000 new books into the detention facility in order to promote literacy.
Greene said the idea began in 2010.
"I had a client who told me about how bored he was in jail, " Greene said, adding that he had a serious charge. "When you are charged with some of the more serious offenses, you end up in a situation where you spend 23 hours a day in your cell and you're allowed one hour out of your cell each day. And during that one hour, you may be able to walk around, but the rest of the time you're in a very small space with very little to do.
"And he said that he really would like to be able to read."
After contacting the Detention Facility, Greene discovered that the preexistent library was short on books. She worked with Chief Pete Garza, the director of inmate programs, in order to find a solution, and the ensuing book drive has provided 2,700 books during its first three years.
Ludtka, who despite a major in chemical engineering has been volunteering at the CLO through a service program with the Haslam Scholars, said there are some restrictions on which books can be donated.
"The jail prefers books that are either Hispanic – because they have a lot of Hispanic inmates – or self-help books," he said. "And they did say they wanted us to screen out sexually explicit books and overly violent books."
Despite these guidelines – which also include a ban on hard copies, which could be dangerous – the project hopes to continue the holistic approach initiated at the Public Defender's Office by Mark Stephens, the district public defender.
At the CLO, summer programs in art and music provide underprivileged children and parents a respite from the heat, and a small basketball court offers year-round recreation programs; the accompanying stage provides space for both speakers and performances.
"By treating each client as an individual person with specific needs, the goal is to decrease recidivism rates and break the positive feedback loop of socioeconomic disadvantagement and incarceration," Ludtka said.
Greene suggested that this approach, especially in regards to the book drive, has given her clients a welcome opportunity to better themselves.
"There's a librarian at the detention facility who has a schedule where she goes around each one of the pods and switches the books in and out," she said. "I've yet to have a client who is able to read who didn't tell me that he was reading."
In order to donate to the drive, Ludtka has arranged for books to be accepted at the Honors Office, located in the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy on Cumberland Avenue.
Those interested in volunteering at the CLO can find out more at pdknox.org.