Harvard University is a venerable and storied institution whose alumni have gone on to achieve a variety of notable positions and accomplishments. Eight U.S. presidents have graduated from Harvard, and some fifty Nobel prize winners have been associated with the university. Not all graduates move on to such prominent appointments however. After Avi Steinberg graduated from Harvard, he took a job as a prison librarian.
Not the most glorious occupation, perhaps, but certainly an interesting one. Steinberg chronicled his time at the Suffolk County House of Correction near Boston in a recently published memoir entitled Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian. In it he describes encounters with a variety of inmates, including a Shakespeare-quoting pimp; details sometimes poignant interactions with students in his creative writing class, and gets a nickname bestowed upon him: Bookie. He also shares tidbits about prison life as it relates to the library, including the prisoners’ attempts to communicate with members of the opposite sex by leaving notes called “kites” hidden in books (males and females are segregated, but both populations have access to the library) and relates some of the more popular titles requested by inmates (including The Diary of Anne Frank, The 48 Laws of Power, and anything by Sylvia Plath or James Patterson). Steinberg’s memoir has been favorably reviewed by a number of different publications, including the New York Times and National Public Radio, where you can also read an excerpt from the book.