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Brooklyn Public Library Wins Knight News Challenge Award to Expand Innovative Telestory Program

Video Visitation Service for Families Separated by Incarceration Will Expand to 12 Branches with Support from Knight Foundation.

Brooklyn Public Library will expand its Telestory program, bringing virtual story times, sing-alongs and other bonding activities to incarcerated parents and their children in a total of 12 libraries, BPL announced today. Today, the program was named one of 14 winners of the Knight News Challenge on Libraries, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Since its launch in 2014, Telestory has connected hundreds of families via video link from Central Library to Rikers Island. With $393,249 in support from the Knight News Challenge, Brooklyn Public Library will host Telestory visits in 12 libraries beginning in the fall of 2016. Through a partnership with the Osborne Association, a nonprofit organization serving families in the criminal justice system, BPL will offer the Telestory program in prisons throughout the state, including facilities located in remote northern areas a full day’s drive from New York City.

“In expanding the successful Telestory program to new neighborhoods and new correctional facilities, including several outside of New York City, Brooklyn Public Library hopes to develop a model of service that will become a core function of libraries throughout the nation,” said Linda E. Johnson, BPL president and CEO.  “Libraries, with broad reach into their communities and experience serving patrons from all walks of life, are perhaps better prepared than any other civic institution to strengthen families and encourage literacy—for children and adults—in even the most difficult circumstances.”

“Libraries are essential in building more informed communities and closing the literacy gap. This unique project taps into this opportunity, positioning public libraries as places to connect and learn,” said John Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for media innovation.

Studies have shown that the impact of having an incarcerated mother or father can be as painful to children as the loss of a parent—and that the combination of trauma, shame and stigma unique to incarceration can have a particularly detrimental effect on a child’s development. The Telestory branches, located in neighborhoods with high rates of incarceration, will host family “video visits” in warm and welcoming video visit rooms filled with toys, stuffed animals and coloring materials. The children and their incarcerated parents will have access to the same books, allowing them to read together.

Telestory is an initiative of BPL’s Outreach Services Department, which serves veterans, seniors, immigrants and other Brooklynites with unique and often overlooked needs, including those in the city’s correctional systems. The Library’s services to incarcerated patrons include its provision of books and materials in five correctional facilities for adults. BPL also offers a number of resources for incarcerated adolescents: the Robert N. Davoren Center on Riker’s Island is home to 21 small reading rooms established last year to serve incarcerated adolescents, and Library staff launched a reading club for adolescents at Riker’s last December.

Thanks to the support of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, her fellow council members, and the administration, video visitation services will now be offered at a total of 22 library branches in all five boroughs.

Telestory Program Fast Facts

  1. Since its launch at Central Library in 2014, Brooklyn Public Library’s TeleStory program has served more than 80 families.
  2. Approximately 86% of those families had at least one child under the age of 12, while the rest had older children or were parents/grandparents visiting incarcerated adolescents.
  3. While most of the participants live in Brooklyn, there is clearly demand for the service citywide: 25% of TeleStory families come from outside the borough.
  4. Families who participate in the program for at least three months attend an average of one televisit per week.
  5. BPL works with community partners to reach families, including the New York Society for Ethical Culture, the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, the Osborne Association, and CAMBA.