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University of Texas at Austin’s Plan to Gut Fine Arts Library Sparks Protests

Curators and staff members from the Blanton Museum of Art have joined the ongoing protests against the University of Texas at Austin’s decision to downsize the holdings of its Fine Arts Library by moving thousands of books and other materials to an off-campus storage facility. In an open letter, the group urges Douglas Dempster, the dean of the College of Fine Arts, and Lorraine Haricombe, the vice provost and director of libraries, to halt the removal of books.

The signatories claim that this move poses a threat to the work that is accomplished at the museum, including organizing exhibitions, growing the collection, and producing new scholarship. They also argue that dismantling the library idealizes the use of computers to gain knowledge, which is a problem in the field of art and art history since many exhibition catalogues and other publications are rarely reproduced in digital format.

The March 15 letter stressed the importance of having all of the fine art books in one place and not in multiple locations. “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.”

The university’s Butler School of Music faculty, theater and dance faculty, and art history faculty have also penned separate letters to the school’s administrators raising their own concerns about the changes being made to the library. They can all be found on the Save UT Libraries website. In addition to the letters, an online petition, signed by nearly six thousand people, was launched last week. The signees “adamantly oppose any future attempts to reduce, remove, or encumber the Fine Arts Library’s physical collections, which contribute immeasurably to UT’s internationally renowned excellence.”

Following an emergency meeting held by the university’s faculty council on Monday, March 19 to address the controversy, Joey Williams, a university spokesman, told Melissa B. Taboada of The Statesman that the school’s officials are listening to the faculty’s and students’ concerns about the library and have formed two task forces to find a resolution. They are expected to provide their findings to the university's provosts in April.