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Brooklyn Public Library Launches Video Chat Program For Inmates and Families

The Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) wants to make it easier for incarcerated New Yorkers and their families to stay connected. In order to supplement expensive phone calls and sporadic in-person visits, the BPL is launching a free video visitation program in 12 of its libraries. The Verge reports that TeleStory will provide cozy spaces for family members to talk to inmates.

The BPL launched TeleStory at its main branch in 2014, and was recently awarded a $393,249 grant from the Knight News Challenge to expand the program to other locations. While TeleStory will benefit all friends and family of incarcerated New Yorkers, it’s specifically geared toward children. In addition to creating video chat facilities, the BPL will fill video chat rooms with books and toys, and inmates will also receive a set of children’s books during their call so they can read to their kids.

TechMic explains that, while some jails already offer video chat services, these are often low quality and can cost up to $1.50 for each minute of glitchy, low resolution video. Meanwhile, visiting loved ones incarcerated on Rikers Island often involves a grueling and time-consuming commute involving multiple buses and trains, which can be difficult for many to make on a regular basis. By contrast, BPL video chat will be local and free, and the BPL will specifically prioritize neighborhoods with higher rates of incarceration to make it as convenient as possible. The idea, according to Nick Higgins of the BPL, is not to replace other visitation services, but to supplement them.

The Brooklyn Public Library is just one of the many libraries across America that have expanded their community services far beyond book-lending. Many libraries provide employment services, computer classes, food, and even job interview attire for community members. But the BPL’s TeleStory program doesn’t just provide services to library patrons, it also addresses some of the problems with the prison visiting system, seeking to provide a more positive visiting experience.

"It's an intentionally human experience," Higgins told TechMic. "Anything that we do in jails or marginalized communities, we want to create a sense of belonging and inclusion. How life should be."

[h/t The Verge]

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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literature
How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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Tim Boyle/Getty Images

If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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