Information seeking behaviours of prisoners

Group member: Dr Jane Garner

Project Description:

The project seeks to understand the information needs of incarcerated Australian adults. To date, no formal work has been done to understand the information needs of prisoners in the context of the Australian justice system. Such an understanding will enable our correctional institutions to provide appropriate legal, educational, and recreational information resources to inmates through their library services and tablet devices. This research will provide correctional institutions with the knowledge needed to build library collections that meet the actual needs of prisoners, and to identify the need for resource-sharing partnerships with external university or public libraries.

Corrections NSW are generously supporting this project by providing access to six NSW correctional facilities and their residents. 200 people living in these facilities will be surveyed to understand their information needs and practices, and 20 participants will take part in semi-structured interviews to allow more indepth exploration of these needs and practices. Corrections NSW have recently introduced tablet devices into some of their facilities and this project offers an opportunity to evaluate their effectiveness and the suitability of the resources to which they provide access.

Fieldwork for this project was completed in July, 2022. Reporting of the results of this project fell into two main categories – official reports to each research site, and to the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, and Corrective Services NSW.

A second category of reporting is through scholarly publishing. One paper is currently under review with the Journal of Documentation. This paper looks at Elfreda Chatman’s theory of information behaviours in ‘Life in the Round’ in light of the data gathered for this current project. Chatman’s theory states that people who live in ‘small worlds’ such as a prison are not interested in information from outside that world. My data tells a different story, so this article explores and challenges Chatman’s theory. It should be published in 2023.

A second scholarly paper examines the project as a whole and reports on the information needs of Australian adult prisoners, along with their information seeking practices. I have reported on these two elements, and have explored gender differences in information seeking – an element that has not been studied before. This paper is in an advanced draft form and my goal is to also have this published in 2023.


Garner, J. (2023). The information needs and practices of Australian adult prisoners. Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, 09610006231179521. Online First.

Garner, J. (2022). Taking Chatman back to prison: rethinking the theory of life in the round. Journal of Documentation, 79 (4), p.973-987.