Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

The Durland Alternatives Library closes amidst COVID-19 chaos.

March 18, 2020

Durland Alternatives Library, Prisoner Express Close Doors in Response to COVID-19

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Titles such as Blasphemy, Paths Toward Utopia and Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System line the shelves of the Durland Alternatives Library in Anabel Taylor Hall waiting to be read. However, as of Friday, the library, along with its Prisoner Express Program, shut its doors until at least April 13.

On Wednesday, Ryan Clover, library director, sent an email message to community members regarding the library shutting its doors during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting exodus of Cornell students before spring break.

“This will impact delivery of Prisoner Express programs, and operations of the library. You can still return library items to drop boxes at any member library in the Finger Lakes Library System,” the email read. “Because Anabel Taylor Hall is closed, you cannot return items directly to the library.”

The Prisoner Express Program, coordinated through the Durland Alternatives Library, offers reading, writing and educational programs to over 4,000 incarcerated individuals across 49 states.

“Through our newsletters and programs we step through the isolation and alienation of prison life –– our goal is to bring hope and foster a sense of community among the prisoners who participate,” the program website read.

Driven largely by Cornell University and Ithaca College volunteers, the program suspended many of its services due to a lack of available volunteers and the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic.

“Since Prisoner Express relies on hundreds of volunteers and weekly events to operate at full capacity, we are scaling back services for the time being,” Clover’s email said.

The Durland Alternatives Library was founded in 1974 to provide a source of alternative literature in the Finger Lakes library system. Its collection focuses on alternative perspectives often ignored by the mainstream media on issues from race to environmental justice.

The closure of Anabel Taylor Hall will also impact the Cornell Lending Library, located within the Durland Alternatives Library. The Lending Library offers free textbooks and other educational materials in order to remove financial barriers to students’ academic success.

According to the group’s Facebook page, the Lending Library is allowing students who have loaned items to keep them for the duration of the semester, returning them once physical classes resume in the fall.

The closure of these programs is in accordance with the closure of other facilities on campus, following the University’s decision to cancel classes until virtual instruction starts on April 6 in order to increase social distancing among the limited number of students left on campus.