October 23, 2017
Dear Dean Dempster,
We write to you today to formally voice our concerns about the future of the Fine Arts Library. Your letter dated 18 October, although intended to ease fears and anxieties by correcting misinformation, has had the opposite effect. Indeed, the Dean’s Office’s resolve to relocate more or all of the remaining collection and “make better use of the space” on the fifth floor of DFA seems clearer than ever. In response to that letter, you have, no doubt, begun to receive letters from current COFA students and alumnae alike, and perhaps from faculty across campus. As the elected representatives of the Art History graduate students, it is our duty to join this on-going discussion, to share with you not simply our personal thoughts, but also those of our colleagues.
We would first like to address the “rallies to pad the numbers of circulating items or library visits,” which you claimed “only highlight already low counts.” We believe that the foundational issue should be the fact that students felt such efforts were their only option; that it had become clear that the value of the library had, in the eyes of the administration, come to be determined primarily by such data. To our mind, this is a grave misunderstanding of the value of libraries—value that lies not in the number of materials used, but in the preservation and availability of even the most esoteric knowledge. A move to strictly digital forms of searching hurts researchers of any discipline and any level of experience by de-democratizing the visibility of different materials. Digital searches return results based on “relevance” and popularity; limiting the results to what is most popular, limits the diversity and range of research and works we might develop. Although this definition of a library may seem idealistic, we think it is one befitting a major research institution.
Finally, please accept the letters and statements here enclosed as further demonstration of our concern. These letters do not demonstrate the full outpouring we have heard from our colleagues these last few weeks, but they do represent, in full, the views of our departmental graduate student body, artists and art historians alike. These MFA candidates and advanced doctoral students each write about utilizing the Fine Arts Library’s collections and spaces in different ways. But all—resoundingly—cannot imagine creating, researching, and teaching at UT successfully without the library as it now stands. The dissolution of the library, in any capacity, would not only affect our ability to do research (and ultimately the quality thereof); nor would it simply mean eradicating the only shared work space of our expansive department and college, weakening our unique scholarly community, a community so important for the exchange of ideas; no, not only our personal work and careers as artists and art historians would suffer—the quality of the undergraduate education would also, inevitably, suffer. We could list a number of reasons, but we will leave it at one, very practical reason, for now. As these letters demonstrate, the Fine Arts Library has been one of the major reasons our colleagues chose UT over other institutions. Without it, fewer graduate
students will accept admittance here, lowering the number of available teaching assistants and assistant instructors, which will hinder the College’s ability to grow their undergraduate enrollment.
Thank you for your time and careful consideration in this matter. We look forward to hearing more about how we can contribute to the success of the “Future of FAL” working groups.
Francesca Balboni, PhD Co-Chair
Katherine Field, MA Co-Chair
Madeline Joiner, Treasurer
Elizabeth Tuggle, Secretary
Kaila Schedeen, Outreach Coordinator
Grace Sparapani, Social Coordinator