Finding Freedom on the Library Shelves

Finding Freedom book cover

Photo Credit: K.F. Shovlin

“The public library is the last bastion of democracy in this country.”

That quote is from the 2018 movie The Public, written and directed by Emilio Estevez, about a public library in Cincinnati becoming a sanctuary for the homeless. Recently libraries have been in the news again as sanctuaries, not for people, but for the books themselves as there are a new crop of banned books getting attention.

Our libraries are made up of our collected stories, both fiction and nonfiction alike. Recently a book came through the Processing and Preparation Section that isn’t on any of those banned lists, but may be controversial nonetheless.

Finding Freedom: How Death Row Broke and Opened My Heart by Jarvis Jay Masters was originally published in 1997 in limited release. In 2020, it was re-released with two additional chapters, a new afterword by the author, and a foreword by Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetan Buddhist nun and author.

Masters was arrested in 1981 for armed robbery and sent to San Quentin State Prison, where he remains today. In 1985, while imprisoned, he was charged and convicted for conspiracy to murder a prison guard. He was placed in solitary confinement, where he remained until 2007. In 1990 he had been sentenced to death for a crime he says he did not commit. As of 2019, Masters had exhausted his appeals in the California state courts and his case was being taken to Federal court.

He used his time in prison to convert to Buddhism as well as to read and write. His first book, That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row, won wide acclaim. A poem he wrote, “Recipe for Prison Pruno,” won the PEN award in 1992. Finding Freedom was published by Shambhala Publications and distributed worldwide by Penguin Random House, Inc.

Though Masters remains imprisoned at the time of this writing, his words have found freedom among the stacks of libraries like our own. It was acquired by the Library on February 20, 2020 through the Cataloging in Publication, or CIP, program. This program allows publishers to start the cataloging process before the book is published. As you peruse books in your personal library, you may find the record created in the program, known as CIP data, on the backside (or verso) of the title page. This allows these titles to be more easily found by libraries everywhere, speeding its arrival to their shelves

In Fiscal Year 2021, CIP and its partner program PCN (Preassigned Control Number) obtained 61,141 printed books and 39,204 e-books. CIP alone has 2,619 publishers they partner with, while PCN has 5,483. Those include all major trade houses as well as university presses, medical and scientific presses, and multinational publishing houses. There are also 12,350 author/self-publisher accounts, and 2021 saw an increase in E-book publishers in the program to 1,046.

Those books, along with Masters’ collection of essays, poems, and correspondence, form a preponderance of stories on the shelves of the Library. Catalogers in the U.S. Arts, Sciences, and Humanities Section completed its arrival at our Capitol Hill facility. From them it came to Preservation, through PPS where it has been assigned to our fixed location shelving. At present, the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress can house over 7 million books. The General Collection, which is served by the Main Reading Room at the center of the Jefferson Building, comprises 25 million, so space is at a premium. A unique storage process was created in former office space throughout the Library last decade. New items are being stored by height on moveable shelves from specific collections (General, African and Middle Eastern, and Asian) allowing a more efficient organizational plan.

The binding style (double fan adhesive or “perfect” binding) and the width of the spine (over 6 mm) make Finding Freedom a candidate for this program. So, Finding Freedom will remain unbound and unencumbered, unlike thousands of other items on the locked security trucks delivered from the catalogers to the processing technicians. It will be given a unique identifying number for easy retrieval, and regularly reviewed for condition and long term viability. If it proves to be in high demand, additional copies may be purchased, and bound for long term preservation as part of the Library’s constantly growing collection of stories. By following this item through our process here at the Library, you see how it can tell three new and different stories just through its existence. As our reading rooms have reopened and the days of the COVID-19 pandemic move into the past, these stories will continue to be available and shared freely to all who wish it.

For more about Masters’ story, feel free to visit his publisher’s page www.shambhala.com, or his own page freejarvis.org. You can find out more about banned books from the ALA and other organizations promoting literacy. To read Masters’ words for yourself, visit your local library or you’ll find Finding Freedom in the General Collection of the Library of Congress in the Thomas Jefferson Building, across from the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court.

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