Tag Archives: prisons

Women in Prison and Their Information Needs: South – South Prison Libraries Perspective

Reviewed By: Traci Willard, Maida Paxton, Amanda Mellor, Maria McCord, Alyssa Key, and Annie Andrew

Link to article: https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/1640/

Article synopsis:

In their 2018 article “Women in Prison and Their Information Needs: South – South Prison Libraries Perspective,” authors Sambo and Ojei investigate incarcerated women’s information needs in Nigeria’s South-South prisons. The study used a descriptive survey and interviews by prison staff to determine incarcerated women’s information needs in the South-South prison system and how those needs were being met. Sambo and Ojei found that the incarcerated women had generally not received education beyond secondary school. Previous research studies demonstrate the importance of educating prisoners so they can lead productive and fulfilling lives in prison and especially upon release. This study determined that the prisoners faced multiple problems including, but not limited to, sexual abuse, lack of access to healthcare and medical information, and lack of time for interaction with family and friends outside the prison. The women did not feel their information needs were being met. The incarcerated women were especially eager for more medical information and information about prison security; and most women surveyed found the prison’s library was not adequately meeting their information needs. Thus, the authors conclude that there are various improvements that can be made to the conditions in women’s prisons in Nigeria to ensure prisoners’ information needs are being met; especially when it comes to incarcerated women’s needs involving better and more comprehensive medical information, contraception, and people and resources outside of prison.

Description of how this article represents an international perspective:

This article provides an international perspective from outside of the United States by focusing on incarcerated women’ information needs in Nigeria at South-South Prison, among other regional prisons. It offers an opportunity to observe how this population’s information needs are impacted by their marginalized position within their country, as well as their country’s unique position in the world. Although Nigeria is considered a developing country, the universal information needs and personal challenges identified by respondents likely mirror those of incarcerated women in developed countries like the United States (Investopedia, 2019). Consequently, the international perspective this research offers can point to new ideas for providing programs and policies that meet incarcerated women’s information needs in the U.S.

Core research questions:

The authors identified the following research questions they sought to answer through their surveys and interviews:

1. What are the information needs of the women in prison?
2. What are the condition of the South-South prison libraries?
3. To what extent are the South-South prison libraries meeting the information needs of women prisoners?
4. What are the challenges confronting women in prison?

(Sambo & Ojei, 2018, p. 3)

Combined, these questions point to research that will lead to a broader understanding of the information landscape in the prisons profiled as well as the corresponding information needs, behaviors, and challenges of the women in this setting.

Methods used to answer the research questions:

The research methodology involved the researchers providing a descriptive survey questionnaire to 356 inmates in six prisons throughout the country. The option for an interview was available, led by three research assistants who were also employed as prison staff. However, it is unclear which prisons the research assistants were located at or how many interviews were conducted. Survey respondents were selected using purposive sampling, which according to Babbie (2016), is when those selected are anticipated to “be the most useful or representative” of the research goal (p. 187). Data collected from the 306 completed surveys were analyzed using inferential statistics, which suggests the findings derived from the sample are representative of the general population of incarcerated women in Nigeria. The researchers were successful in attaining a high response rate of 86%, determined using percentages, which reduced non-response bias.

Findings and conclusions:

The questionnaires and interviews Sambo and Ojei (2018) conducted indicate the top information needs of women incarcerated in the prisons were medical, education, and security information, with nearly all respondents (98%, 97%, and 97%, respectively) selecting these topics as information needs (p. 8-9). Other information that was prioritized by respondents related to life after prison, spiritual and moral information, and financial information. Respondents indicated they most frequently accessed information through counselling (73%), family and friends (67%), church or mosque (67%), and physicians or nurses (58%). Prison libraries were counted as one of the least used ways of meeting information needs with only 14% of respondents claiming to use the library as an information resource (p. 9-10). This finding is unsurprising considering that 70% of respondents indicated their prison library was “inadequate” for meeting their needs (p. 9). Respondents reported several problems facing them in prison. The most frequently reported problems were congestion and lack of hygiene, poor funding, and lack of medication and healthcare (p. 10).

Sambo and Ojei (2018) drew several conclusions based on the comprehensive data from their study. They concluded that there was a need to improve information access in these prisons, including a need for improved prison policies and programs by federal, state, and local governments, particularly those that are “specifically tailored to the needs of women” (p. 11). They recommended equitable access to health care and resources, confidentiality, preventative medicine, and vocational training. They acknowledged that if prison libraries could meet more of these needs, women would be more prepared to integrate into society upon release.

What American libraries can learn from global practice about designing services for diverse populations:

American libraries can obtain a greater understanding of the issues other libraries face and learn about global practices by reading about research conducted in other countries. By learning about issues with prison libraries and prisoners’ needs in Nigeria, American libraries can expand their research to determine whether their prison populations have the same information needs and library resource deficits. Sambo and Ojei found that incarcerated women in Nigeria had many unmet information needs and the prison library resources were inadequate, which may overlap with prisoners’ experiences worldwide. By working collaboratively, librarians worldwide can identify universal issues, share creative solutions, expand their professional network, and work to improve services for incarcerated women desperately in need of high-quality, accurate, and timely information resources.


Babbie, E. (2016). The practice of social research (14th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Investopedia. (2019, August 2). Top 25 developed and developing countries. Retrieved from https://www.investopedia.com/updates/top-developing-countries/.
Sambo, A. S. & Ojei, N. L. (2018). Women in prison and their information needs: South-South prison libraries perspective. Library Philosophy and Practice, 1640, 1-14. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/1640/