Alumni Programs

Redeeming Value

It's hot outside. But inside downtown Olympia's Last Word Books, people gather, discussing politics, music and the trials of daily life. Bookshelves stretch overhead, easily eight feet high. From the couch, a black cat named Baz presides with wry indifference.

Through a window in the far corner, you can see the free Internet station. Store owner Sky Cosby '03 demonstrates the new press, while co-owner David Accurso, also a Greener, reads quietly behind the counter.

photo of books at last word In addition to commerce, this Evergreen-inspired bookstore hosts the Olympia "zine" library, provides a venue for musical and literary events, and perhaps most importantly, serves as a "third place" - encouraging public association away from home or work, facilitating grassroots politics, and offering psychological support to individuals and communities.

The books come mainly from the collections of Olympia residents and the overflow from Evergreen's Daniel J. Evans Library. This eclectic inventory reflects Cosby's and Accurso's particular social, political, artistic and scientific interests. Their ethics - community engagement, theory to practice, and place-based wisdom - echo Evergreen's, especially the expectation that alumni will "participate collaboratively and responsibly in our diverse society."

These values also figured prominently in the recent remodeling of Evergreen's library, according to former library dean Lee Lyttle. Today's libraries, he says, must be dynamic, integrating digital resources with the in-depth information available in books. In the new space, conversation nooks and access to multi-media resources encourage social learning. The Evergreen library welcomes the local community, offering membership to all residents.

For several years, the non-profit Friends of the Evergreen Library (FOEL) raised funds for the library through their Super Saturday book sale, featuring outdated and duplicate materials from the Evans Library collection. Local booksellers were some of the best customers, buying books by the box-load. But when the library remodeling started in 2004, the book sale went out of business.

Good books could have ended up in the dumpster; however, FOEL and the library signed a contract allowing FOEL to purchase library materials and give them to Last Word Books which, in turn, sells the books online and donates a portion of the proceeds back to FOEL. Profits quickly exceeded those of the Super Saturday sale, funding projects and events that benefit the local community.

Part of the Evans Library's mission is to "seek community-wide solutions to information needs." This intent lives on through the economy of its arrangement with Last Word. "When folks think about their own interest they see barriers," says Lyttle. "When [they] think of a common interest, they see paths."

Find Last Word Books at 211 4th Ave. E, Olympia. (360) 786-9673.