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© Allison Usavage

Alternatives Cafe

The Durland Alternatives Library is a small independent library located in Anabel Taylor Hall at Cornell that circulates through the Finger Lakes Library system. Serving as a sort of bridge between campus and the community, the library offers materials that are normally not found through mainstream channels. This week, we attended the first of a weekly public event called the Alternatives Cafe which encourages people to connect over coffee and tea about new materials at the library.

A Q&A with Alternatives Library Director Ryan Clover-Owens.
© Allison Usavage

What is the Alternatives Cafe?

The Alternatives Cafe is a weekly popup cafe here at the library for sharing coffee, tea, and discussion and highlighting some of the new items and new materials that we have to offer here at the library. Sometimes we’ll have a theme, or a guest speaker or author, or one of our volunteer curators talking about some of the items they’ve chosen and why.


Who is it good for?

I’d say that the cafe event is for anybody who’s interested in what’s new at the Alternatives Library and for anybody who’s curious and wants an opportunity to come here when we’re all hanging out and open for conversation about the topics that we have here.


© Allison Usavage
What kind of change are you trying to make?

By proactively releasing new materials and by having an event around their release puts a little more emphasis on what’s new and what’s relevant and what we, here at the library, are offering and thinking about.


How did it start?

It started because I was reading some of the really helpful self-help books that we have here at the library and realizing that a lot of principles of personal change are similar to principles of social change and environmental change. If you look at the methods of successful environmental restoration or permaculture, you want to acknowledge what’s working and then expand that principle into other areas. So I was doing an exercise and setting some goals. What works is having deadlines and I know that. I was looking at my personal life and as long as I have people over for dinner, I have a clean house. So, we need to have some kind of event on a regular basis at the library that gives us some incentive to release new materials!


What impact does this have on the community?

Libraries are an institution in our society that is inherently cooperative and sharing and accessible to everybody, regardless of all the variable things that divide us, so anybody can come here.

Politically, this library takes a lot of different issues that are important to people for different reasons and puts them in the same room. You might be here to find a book about gardening and while you’re looking for it, you’re interacting with other topics. You might be able to draw some connections. There’s a lot of emphasis on connecting the dots here between different issues.


How has the community supported the program?

Well this is our first cafe! Over time I hope it’ll be recognized and start to build up.

What struggles have you encountered?

The way that media is changing offers a really interesting challenge for us. It’s also challenging to be part of a public library system serving the community and being housed on campus. It’s not very accessible. Those are two big challenges.


What should we be celebrating?

I think we should celebrate what happens when people cooperate with each other. Collective power is really exciting and when we create things that nurture our community and nurture cooperation, collective resource sharing, and collective development, not only does it give us a stronger sense of place and purpose and fulfillment, but it also is more sustainable. It builds a resilient foundation for us to thrive.


How can we participate?

Folks can access all of our materials through the Finger Lakes Library System, so no matter where you live in the region there are over 30 libraries that you can go to to get materials from Alternatives Library. Folks can also come here and check out our open hours. We stay open late so people can park here for free after 5, and we’re open Saturdays and Sundays. And check out our programs!


© Allison Usavage


Connect with our community at Alternatives Cafe every Thursday at 2:00, or learn more about Alternatives Library at The Durland Alternatives Library is a project partner of the Center for Transformative Action.


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