The first state library for incarcerated youth officially opened at the Echo Glen Children’s Center in Snoqualmie on Dec. 12, 2022.
Created in partnership with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF), the Secretary of State’s Office, and Washington State Library Institutional Library Services (ILS), the Echo Glen State Library has been used by approximately 92% of the resident population since its opening.
Most of the visitors have returned multiple times, according to DCYF. Since its opening through the end of February, the library has served 83 visitors and circulated 853 items. Most of the items checked out were books, in addition to some magazines and DVDs. Thirteen of those items were checked out by staff.
Echo Glen Children’s Center, a residential Juvenile Rehabilitation (JR) facility administered by DCYF, transitioned its on-campus library, which was previously managed by the Issaquah School District, to a full-fledged ILS branch.
“I am so excited for the young people at Echo to have access to a librarian, to discover their love of reading and learning, and for them to benefit from all of the activities that come with a full-time librarian, increased resources, and a thoughtfully curated collection,” said Felice Upton, assistant secretary of Juvenile Rehabilitation at DCYF.
Offering a state library provides a better selection of resources to support youth residents’ information, education, recreation and vocational needs, according to the DCYF.
“Youth have really valued the new library. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Jason Wettstein, director of communications for DCYF. “There are lots of requests for books and they are enjoying being able to check out five books at a time.”
Visitors have shown particular interest in poetry and novels in verse, science fiction and fantasy, romance, and pretty much any graphic novel or comic, he added.
On Feb. 9, the state library hosted a poetry evening with DCYF, Pongo Poetry, and Seattle Arts & Lectures presenting Reginald Dwayne Betts. Sixteen resident patrons attended and received a signed copy of Betts’ book, “Felon”.
“I want young people in our care to have every opportunity to grow in their capabilities and broaden their perspectives on what is possible, and a robust library is fundamental to that goal,” said Upton.
After many years working for the Department of Corrections (DOC), Upton began working at DCYF and wondered why staffing and resources of the juvenile libraries differed from those of the DOC. She reached out to ILS, which agreed these were gaps both agencies felt were critical to fill, according to the department.
From there, Upton worked with Issaquah School District to transfer the existing Echo Glen library to DCYF, which brings “more of the world into this facility by tapping into the professional capabilities of ILS,” Upton said.
The new library offers a collection of new books and high-quality programs, more time in the library, and library services for youth who cannot visit the library in person.
Youths are scheduled for at least two hours of visiting time each week. As of Feb. 28, the library has been open for more than 200 hours in total.
To support the library, the Secretary of State is presenting a request for sustained funding of the Echo Glen State Library to during the 2023 legislative session.
“We are grateful for the opportunity to partner with DCYF to help bring the joy of reading and learning to young people at Echo Glen Children’s Center,” said Washington State Librarian Sara Jones. “This facility will enhance the quality of life and educational opportunities the state is able to provide young people, and help them to learn about the wider world during their time in the facility.”