To: Dean Douglas Dempster, Provost Maurie McInnis, Vice-Provost Lorraine Haricombe,
Director of UT Libraries
Cc: President Greg Fenves
From: The Art History Faculty
Re: Future of the Fine Arts Library
A number of letters have already been sent to you, but we want to consolidate our concerns about the possible loss of the Fine Arts Library in one document and, at the same time, provide additional information. We hope that this summary can serve as a platform for further discussion, including by the newly appointed Task Force.
Ten Reasons an Onsite Functioning Fine Arts Library is Essential to the College of Fine Arts and to the University of Texas
1. Art libraries are at the core of the discipline. Unlike the sciences, which rely on journals reporting the latest research, Art History is a culture of ideas and images that do not circulate primarily in journals but rather in exhibition catalogs and books. That is why publication of a major book is the standard for every level of promotion at R1 universities, including the University of Texas. Because of image copyright issues with museums and rights organizations, catalogs and books are rarely ever produced in e-book form. Further, exhibition catalogs, in particular, are often very specifically and complexly designed, so that critical artistic effects are lost in digitization. An art library that is actively collecting and shelving catalogs and books is essential for meaningful original research in the field—it is the equivalent of an up-to-date laboratory in the sciences.
2. Negative effects of a possible move of FAL to smaller space in PCL. It has been suggested that some proportion of the Fine Arts Library holdings could be transferred to a space in PCL. Not only would space limitations in PCL reduce the FAL to a shadow of its former self, there would be no room for the library to continue to collect and grow. And once the Fine Arts Library was no longer an official branch of the General Libraries, the door would be open for budget cuts that could drastically reduce the library’s support for the acquisitions that keep it evolving as an organic, up-to-date research center. At the same time, such a move would place a geographical barrier between both graduate and undergraduate students and the resources that remained in the token “fine arts library.”
3. Graduate program. Without a fully functional, on-site Fine Arts Library (comparable to our major competitors—Yale, Harvard, Princeton, etc.), it will be impossible to recruit graduate students to UT. The library has been a critical component of recruitment (helping to counterbalance our lack of major funding packages), and it is central to the high quality of the research done at UT and the respect our program has earned. Moreover, ready access to the library and to spaces for student study are vital to the community of graduate students and their efficient access to materials.
4. Faculty recruitment and retention. An up-to-date and readily accessible Fine Arts Library is also a crucial element of recruiting and retaining excellent faculty. Why should faculty come to or stay at UT if resources for research and teaching are no longer readily available or purchases have been radically curtailed? That five of the Hamilton Book Award grand prize winners (and several other winners of secondary Hamilton awards) are members of the Art History faculty documents both the quality of library support and the scholarship that has been possible to date. That would definitely change with the library’s reduction in the future. And the idea of a “star” hire for Art History suggested by the Provost’s office becomes completely unrealistic. Why would anyone of stature leave a major center with museums and libraries to move to UT, where their ability to conduct research would be so seriously hindered?
5. Undergraduate education. In line with the University’s emphasis on undergraduate research, the Art History faculty two years ago established a new sophomore level course, “Problems in Art Historical Research,” which is squarely grounded in the Fine Arts Library. That course joins the junior-level Art Historical Methods and the senior Thesis capstone course, all of which are centered on library research. The FAL is the laboratory for these courses, just as it is for the many undergraduate classes with a research paper assignment. As of this year, a librarian is being “embedded” in certain Art History classes to support undergraduate research directly. To dismantle or downgrade the Fine Arts library would be akin to removing or downsizing laboratories in the sciences. And it would have a similar negative impact on the ability to recruit strong undergraduate majors to UT.
6. “Global Cultures” and diversity. The Fine Arts Library has long been a major repository of the “Global Cultures” that are now a required Flag in the UT undergraduate education for all majors. The library is a ticket to those world cultures and can open students’ eyes in a way that no internet search could ever do. The FAL supports diversity in education in cultures both within the U.S. and beyond, and downgrading it would negatively impact our commitment to global art education and research.
7. Users from across campus. The Fine Arts Library is not solely a facility for the College of Fine Arts. There are patrons from all over campus, including the staff of the Blanton Museum of Art, for whom it is a vital resource for research on collections, exhibitions, potential acquisitions, and education programs. Faculty and students from many other programs on campus are regular users of the library, including, in particular, American Studies, the School of Architecture, the Plan II Honors program, and the English Department as well as UGS Signature Courses and the UGS Bridging Disciplines Program.
8. Visual Resources Collection. Another crucial resource for our teaching of Art History is the Visual Resources Collection, housed within the Fine Arts Library, which does the high-quality scanning necessary for our teaching. That staff needs ready access to multiple images of a given work to assure the best quality images, and faculty work closely with them in this process. Their proximity to books and catalogs and to faculty is vital to their operation. Their assistance with undergraduate and graduate presentations is also critical to student success in the classroom.
9. Circulation and delivery issues.
A. Circulation. The circulation figure of 100,000 has been cited as evidence that library usage has “crashed.” While with streaming technology circulation of CDs and DVDs has naturally declined from the over 200,000 figure of the past, 100,000 items is still robust circulation and does not by any means include all of the library usages that occur without a book being checked out. The demand for these resources will continue, and a move of further materials to remote storage, which would be necessitated by the reduction required by displacement of the library to PCL, will require considerable more staff numbers and time to fulfill such requests, which will not cease.
B. Problems of delivery from the Joint Library Facility near College Station.
As you know, 55,000 books and 20,000 bound periodical volumes were removed from the Fine Arts Library during 2015-2016 and transferred to the Joint Library Facility in central Texas. According to the Texas A&M libraries website, the volumes have now gone into joint ownership status with A&M and have been “deduplicated.” Upon hearing this news, surprised faculty were assured that a simple interlibrary loan request would bring books and journals to Austin in 3-5 days. In reality, however, undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty are now regularly experiencing delays on the order of 10 days or more to receive books. As several worried undergraduates declared this week, “How can we finish our papers in time when we can’t get the books we need?”
All this is to say that no more books can be lost from the FAL to remote storage. Further demands on library staff time and further serious obstruction of student and faculty research, along with an even larger carbon footprint from trucking books back and forth from the JLF, are additional negative effects that reducing or dismantling the Fine Arts Library would produce.
10. Designers need libraries—like visual artists, performers, and historians of art, music, and theater. Along with these arguments from Art and Art History, you have received powerful written testaments to the importance of the Fine Arts Library from faculty members in Music as well as Theatre and Dance. Just as Studio Art faculty rely on exhibition catalogs and books for their own creative research and for educating their students, in order to assure that they are not reinventing the wheel, teachers and students of Design in the new School of Design and Creative Technologies will need the support of an actively collecting Fine Arts Library for their creative endeavors. There is a great deal of sophisticated literature on digital design, for example, and UT students in this field will be sorely out of date without ready access to a library that covers the history of design up to the present moment.
We as faculty, along with students and other faculties across the College, are deeply concerned at the prospect of any reduction or moving of the Fine Arts Library which is, in so many ways, at the heart of the College and its mission. We hope that creative consideration of space options within CoFA can produce an alternative solution. For example, a considerable part of the space in the Doty Fine Arts Building basement, where the lounge is often largely empty, might be reconfigured for the use of the new School. Similarly, there is also quite a bit of unused space in the IT office outside the Fine Arts Library entrance.
The prospects for the new School are exciting, but they do not merit the destruction of the excellent programs in place in the College now, which would be the inevitable result of the dismantling of the Fine Arts Library.
John R. Clarke
Linda Dalrymple Henderson
Joan A. Holladay
Jeffrey Chipps Smith