Dear Members of the FAL Task Force
That we need a task force to settle the issue of the Fine Arts Library is in and of itself extraordinary. Reorganizing and repurposing FAL without consulting those most affected is mind-boggling. The university is not a corporation, nor are deans, presidents, and provosts CEOs. Faculty members are not supplicants, pitifully pleading for enlightenment and mercy. What happened and is happening with FAL is wrong. It is the equivalent of a dean repurposing Steven Weinberg’s lab without consulting Weinberg in the first place. Dismantling and repurposing the FAL library will simply be the end of the Art History Program as a leading national program. What would closing the Benson represent for UT’s global prestige in Latin American Studies? Or repurposing the Ransom? Their buildings are also prime real estate; their collections can also be digitized and stored and retrieved. I wrote a chapter on 19th-century Mexican landscape painting for my Nature, Empire, and Nation (Stanford 2007) using the resources of Fine Arts Libraries, first Harvard’s and afterward UT’s. It was only after roaming on the open stacks of both that I found new sources, new studies, new perspectives. No online catalog would have ever replaced the serendipitous encounter with little-known publications in open stacks. Moreover, libraries like FAL establish the reputation of a program and the university as a whole; they are the labs of faculty and graduate students in certain disciplines. These libraries cannot be substituted by digital copies. Their buildings cannot be considered available real estate for bolder new pedagogical initiatives. Thinking otherwise is tantamount to mismanagement.
Alice Drysdale Sheffield Professor of History