October 15, 2017
Dear Dean Dempster:
You might not remember me, but we met briefly during the College of Fine Arts Scholarship Luncheon in October 2015. My name is Allison Kim, and I introduced myself as the soon-to-be first Lead Teaching Assistant for Ann Johns’s Art History SMOC (Simultaneous Massive Online Course). At the time, she and I were working diligently to construct a unique course that would implement technology efficiently and seamlessly and, most of all, have a positive impact on the undergraduate student body. We were optimistic forward-thinkers, and we were eager to make the visual arts more accessible to undergraduates through these methods. I am confident that you share this sentiment, because our goals do not seem so removed from what you intend to do with the Fine Arts Library.
To say that Ann and I learned many things from the first iteration of that course would be a drastic understatement. Above all, we learned that a push for new technology was not always the best solution for the undergraduates, namely the iBeacon technology that was used in the Blanton Museum of Art. The iBeacons proved to be cumbersome and frustrating, and they created more headaches than rewards on the part of students and everyone involved. This is an exemplary instance in which the push for expensive cutting-edge technology was not met with success; rather, it hindered academic progress.
As I serve as a regular Teaching Assistant for the same SMOC this semester, I have seen significant improvements in the form of simplified but effective use of technology. The trendy iBeacons have been replaced, and I am amazed by how well the humble and unimposing card swipe reader functions, the same technology used on our public transit systems and in our libraries for checking out books and printing papers. As someone who is constantly finding new and current ways to better engage the undergraduate student body with the arts, I discovered that a measured approach to integrating technology was met with positive response. The much- improved version of the Art History SMOC this semester should be sufficient proof of that balance.
Books might seem like ‘out of fashion’ dusty tomes at the moment, but they will never be irrelevant. It is tempting to throw tradition out the window, cater to the demands of the now, and to embrace the latest technology to keep students interested and engaged. However, change does not always equal progress. Hard numbers and statistics might be your primary indicator of success, which is most evident considering how the Fine Arts Library has been keeping fastidious records of foot traffic and the number of books utilized. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that the information gleaned from a single book cannot be measured. Knowledge cannot truly be quantified. As a holder of a doctorate in Philosophy, you already know this.
I am not writing to you to argue over the definition of a library. I have not even begun to speak about their significance to the graduate student community, of which I am a part. My colleagues can and will represent us successfully, eloquently, and passionately through their individual and shared experiences; that of which I have no doubt.
Speaking to you as a doctoral candidate, graduate student, teaching assistant, and educator, I implore you to exercise a measured response to implementing new technology. There is still so much value in physical books and their being located in an easily accessible and physical space. For undergraduates, graduates, and faculty alike, physical books spark intellectual curiosity and encourage exploration. If you still feel that the numbers do not demonstrate a sufficient use of books by undergraduates, please consider directing part of your resources to educating them on how to better navigate the library and use physical books more effectively. Instead of supplanting books altogether, please consider balancing the incorporation of new technology with established, but efficacious, systems. Doing so will foster a more unified college that simultaneously looks forward and respects tradition.