“Dear Dean Dempster and Vice Provost Haricombe,
We write as museum professionals deeply engaged in the academic life of The University of Texas at Austin. Having timely access to the collection of the Fine Arts Library is essential to our mission of providing intellectually rigorous and engaging museum content to our audiences at the University and in the wider community. We are extremely concerned about the impending changes to the Fine Arts Library and the threats they pose to the quality of the work we do— growing our collection responsibly, planning exhibitions, and producing innovative scholarship.
Some may think that the vast array of human knowledge is readily available at one’s fingertips on a computer. This is simply not true. Much of our knowledge is still held in the vast troves of printed matter that have so beautifully stored it since the first presses went into use centuries ago. Printed books are still the cornerstone of academic scholarship in our field. In fact, art history books and exhibition catalogues are rarely published or reproduced in digital format. Though these could be scanned, clicking back and forth between images of dubious quality on a computer screen is not an acceptable substitute for the ability to array our sources on large tables in order to make visual comparisons. Most art books are essentially reference books and by putting them in storage, you render them useless.
There are striking similarities between our curatorial practice with works of art and the benefits offered by a robust, open-stack library. Just as we periodically enter our storage spaces to re-evaluate in person objects outside of our knowledge areas, and have recently made some surprising discoveries in the process, we glean important insights from books which have fallen out of favor or escaped the notice of current scholars. Repeating the same old story, either visually or in scholarship, is a pitfall that occurs when one does not return to the sources—objects and books.
Having ready access to all our art works in one building enables us to make creative connections between works of art which have not been displayed together before, and question accepted narratives through the innovative presentation of our objects. Similarly, by having all the fine arts books in one location, we become curators of ideas—collecting, researching, evaluating, and presenting. This process is seriously impeded when we have to wait days to receive books and cannot physically see them alongside books on related or unrelated topics. The curation of objects and ideas cultivates visual literacy and critical thinking skills.
All university students, including those studying design, need training in visual literacy. At the Blanton, we contribute to this goal by putting art on our walls and engaging over 10,000 UT students every year as part of their academic curriculum. The library does this by having books accessible to scholars and available as an active and growing resource.
The library’s reputation for excellence has already been affected by the removal of many essential resources. For example, the fact that many of the Hollstein volumes, fundamental reference works on European prints, were sent to off-site storage demonstrates how space saving measures impact our ability to do basic research. Libraries are important recruiting tools in competing for the best art history graduate students and professorial talent, as well as to retain museum professionals. All of us are proud to work at a public university that aims to provide an exemplary and affordable education. At the Blanton, we employ undergraduate and graduate interns whose training will be negatively impacted by reduced access to scholarship. Our curatorial activities will similarly be adversely affected, and with 160,000 visitors a year, the consequences are multiplied, and so too with the international impact of our program.
In short, we hope you will consider the wider ecosystem of which the Fine Arts Library is a part.
Carter Foster, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs
Veronica Roberts, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Beverly Adams, Ph.D., Curator of Latin American Art
Holly Borham, Ph.D. candidate, Assistant Curator of Prints and Drawings
Rosario I. Granados, Ph.D., Carl & Marilynn Thoma Associate Curator of Spanish Colonial Art
Claire Howard, Ph.D. candidate, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art
Jeongho Park, Ph.D., Assistant Curator of European Art”