I am thrilled to share with you a new JSTOR Labs report, Supporting the Academic Research Needs of Incarcerated Students: Building JSTOR's Offline Solution for Prison Education. This report documents our work, beginning in 2018, to develop and pilot an improved, offline version of JSTOR for use in prisons and jails. It is hard to overstate how much the world, and the specific setting for this work, has changed from the one in which this project launched just four years ago. The context for this project has changed dramatically due to a tangle of external factors, including: Second Chance Pell and Pell Restoration, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the evolving and fraught territory of prison technology. This report traces the impact of these factors on our work, and they are reflected in the recommendations for how to proceed in providing JSTOR’s materials in support of education in prison, recommendations that we hope might also be relevant to others providing library and educational resources in carceral settings.
While the project to pilot this offline solution, which this report documents, is complete, JSTOR’s work to provide support for higher education in prison (HEP) is far from over. We continue, through the JSTOR Access in Prison Initiative, our effort to make JSTOR available to every HEP program and incarcerated learner. This paper represents only a portion of what we have learned on that broader effort; we will have more to share with the HEP community as the Access in Prison initiative develops, about opportunities for mediated and online access, about designing media review systems that encourage access to library materials, and about scaling solutions across the diverse technical and bureaucratic landscape of our nation’s carceral system. We look forward to sharing what we learn as we do this work; in the meantime, I invite you to read what we have learned during this first phase. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us with any questions or reactions you may have. If you are interested in staying informed about the JSTOR Access in Prison Initiative, please consider joining our listserv.
Incarcerated students often lack access to the resources and conditions, both physical and digital, that make self-directed research and research skill-building possible. Due to technical constraints – most notably the lack of internet access in most prison environments – few incarcerated students have access to research databases commonly used by students to discover scholarly content that is relevant to their coursework, research projects, and broader learning pursuits. Not only does lack of research experience have an impact on students’ ability to engage with academic work, but it also leaves students without the fundamental information and digital literacy skills that are increasingly essential for future work and continued learning. Since 2007, JSTOR, a digital library of scholarly resources, has been making strides to amend this gap in available scholarly resources and research tools by providing JSTOR access to incarcerated learners. This paper describes the work undertaken by JSTOR Labs, an experimental product development team at JSTOR, to develop an offline index of scholarly resources designed to serve the research needs of incarcerated students. Supported by the Mellon Foundation, this project yielded lessons regarding how to scale access to digital scholarly resources given the changing landscape of technology in prison, and continues to shape JSTOR’s work to help improve higher education in prison and reduce barriers for student research.