“Banned Books Behind Bars” is a social justice project that aims to shed light on the complex problem of information access in prison and to explore potential prototypes for possible solutions to some of these obstacles, in particular access to books and printed information. The United States is home to five percent of the world’s population but a staggering twenty-five percent of the world’s total prisoners. For many incarcerated individuals, access to information is a struggle: censorship, book banning, and lack of adequate library facilities or collections are common. Over the course of conducting preliminary research, this project evolved through the research process of ideation. Through the participatory action research method, qualitative interviews with volunteers from banned books organizations helped to identify potential digital tools meant to aid in the fight against the First Amendment violations that incarcerated individuals face daily. Furthermore, the interviews clarified that the first step toward creating an impactful digital project involves converting various forms of unstructured data, including newspaper articles, prison censorship forms, and state published banned book lists, into structured data. Through this discovery, “Banned Books Behind Bars” became an endeavor to standardize practices of data aggregation amongst banned books organizations throughout the country. Gathering concrete data about the practice of banning books within prisons requires an elevated level of transparency. Incarcerated individuals, their families, and prison reform activists need a platform for reporting data on censorship practices, and, ultimately, for bringing awareness to the arbitrary application of censorship guidelines within the complex world of incarceration. The final prototype is a digital repository, created with Airtable software, which offers authoritative dataset consolidation for activists and organizations working to deliver books to prisoners.
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