Digital Libraries and Prison Labor: A Preliminary Inquiry




Logsdon, Alexis

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In 2015, Mother Jones shed light on the Mormon church’s use of prison labor to index genealogical records and digitize government records. A 2016, book published by ALA lauded the affordability of having one’s yearbook collections digitized by prisoners in Oklahoma. A number of state prison industries have microfilm and document digitization services listed on their sites. While not epidemic, libraries and researchers have relied on prison labor to build digital collections and projects for at least two decades, quite often without knowing it. Most reporting on prison labor and library digitization has presented it as a uniformly positive phenomena, even as discussions around exploited and invisible labor in libraries grow in popularity. My research will bring the lens of critical prison studies to the outsourcing of library labor to incarcerated workers. What are the ethical implications for digital scholarship? Can we lay claim to a liberatory praxis while relying on digital objects created by workers making significantly less than the minimum wage? Does using these materials for a greater good cancel out the harm of perpetuating an unjust system? These are some of the questions I hope to pursue in this research and poster presentation.


Digital Frontiers Poster Session


digital libraries, labor, prison labor, prisoners, digitization


Logsdon, A. (2019). Digital libraries and prison labor, a preliminary inquiry. [Conference poster]. Digital Frontiers Annual Conference, Austin, TX, United States.


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