We, the undersigned faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance, would like to add our voices to those in the College of Fine Arts and from across campus in support of keeping the Fine Arts Library. We realize you are faced with a series of very difficult choices and competing demands, all of which have a legitimate claim to college resources. The library, however, is one of the few resources and sites that unites us as a college and is an essential foundation to all that we do—scholars and practitioners alike.
You have received a number of letters from various stakeholders across campus and we have no wish to repeat their excellent points (although we do support them). What we would like to do is give some examples of how having the library close at hand and filled with books is crucial to our teaching and research.
All of us assign research projects to our undergraduate students every semester that necessitate browsing in the library. The number of books they look at and decide among will never be reflected in circulation statistics. We require that they look at multiple books as they identify which ones are key to their projects. The focus on books teaches them sophisticated research skills that they will need no matter where they end up in life—in the arts or elsewhere. We encourage undergraduates to read actual books for their final projects. Their tendency is to consider quick Google searches and internet materials as “good enough.” We know, however, from our own work that much of what exists out there in books has not been digitized and does not exist on the internet. Our students are most successful when they have access to the book collection in theater, dance, and performance studies.
It goes without saying that graduate students in all degrees—MA, MFA, and PhD—are heavy users of the library. They inhale books for classes and their research, and generally cannot afford to purchase them. Additionally, we have found that our most successful PhD candidates, meaning those who finish most efficiently, are the ones with carrels in the library. The dedicated working space and quick access to books means that they can focus rigorously on their work. Given the College’s recent dedication to efficient time to degree, we think that any reduction in this resource will make it even harder for our PhD students to focus on their work.
Historically, the FAL has been a study space, where students go in quiet reflection or gather with each other to work. As our students have told us over the years, some of these meetings fall between those two options. They are productive chance encounters, where two or more students assigned a research project find each other at a critical moment of inquiry. Together and with the assistance of dedicated librarians the students are able to generate research, demonstrate scholarly proficiency, and build knowledge. Given that our field is social and collaborative in nature, we prize these outcomes and the conditions that allow them. Over the past year, construction in the FAL may have contributed to a decline in these practices and encounters. Who could hear, much less focus, above the din? There has been no decline in need for such a space. A coffee house may be the market’s answer to communal learning space, but it does not fulfill the university’s core values of Learning (“A caring community, all of us students, helping one another grow”), Discovery (“Expanding knowledge and human understanding”), and Individual Opportunity (“Many options, diverse people and ideas, one university”).
All of us have worked closely with Theatre and Dance librarian Beth Kerr to insure that the latest and most current works in dance, theatre, and performance studies are in our library. These books aid our and our students’ research. Many of us have worked across years to ensure that the library’s holdings reflect the most important work in our various fields. To have those books moved to storage or dispersed across campus would decimate years of dedicated work.
It is also important to note that the library’s resources are not just books. We use a lot of media in our classrooms, so we are heavy users of the library’s DVD collection. This collection is incredibly important because the majority of these materials are not available on line. Students need to see full performances to evaluate them (not just clips) which are rarely found online. Historical work (that is anything before 2010) is not accessible on line.
Most dance and performance artists do not share their work on line, so we have worked with Beth Kerr over the years to buy the most up-to-date media materials (some directly from artists). As you may know, theatre makers are often prohibited by Actors Equity from videotaping or sharing work, so the documentaries we purchase of plays are absolutely essential, and similarly unavailable on line. Resources we find on-line are not stable—they disappear from week to week and semester to semester—so when we can find and purchase those items, we insure our students have stable, permanent access to them.
When books and media are housed in remote storage, this limits access to those materials which can be crucial to teaching. While faculty certainly aims to order everything in advance, teaching is fluid and responsive to student needs, and thus, we may require access to materials which are not immediately accessible due to their placement in remote storage. Our current ability to run over to the FAL has allowed our pedagogy to be responsive to student thinking and inquiry.
This summer Charlotte stopped in the library to get a book she needed for her research. She was on her way to LAITS for a meeting about her Fall 2017 online class. The book she needed was published on 1917. That these two ways of creating knowledge were a 100 years apart is a coincidence but it is also illustrative.
Universities are unique institutions and resources in our culture. Universities are always pressing forward and creating new knowledge that transforms the larger world. They do so, however, without relinquishing the past. Past knowledge and knowledge yet to come have equal value.
Please help us preserve the Fine Arts Library so we may all keep working together to create the new knowledge that starts here and changes the world while we keep a vital hold on the knowledge of the past.
Sincerely (in alphabetical order),
Charlotte M. Canning
Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Centennial Professor in Drama
Clinical Assistant Professor
Jeremy L. Cudd
Clinical Assistant Professor
Theatre for Youth Chair
David Bruton, Jr. Regents Professor in Fine Arts
Richard M. Isackes
Joanne Sharp Crosby Regents Chair in Design and Technology
Kirk Lynn Associate
Susan Menefee Ragan Regents Professor in Fine Arts