Save the University of Texas-Austin Fine Arts Library

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Recently the University of Texas at Austin has suffered a misfortune that may be unique in modern American academic history:  the concerted attempt by its administration to eliminate an entire research library of several hundred thousand holdings and inestimable scholarly value—all without consultation of faculty and students.

The attempt, planned in at least three stages, has been completely successful in the first two.  It may yet succeed in full.

In 2016 and 2017, Dean Douglas Dempster of the College of Fine Arts, with the approval of Vice Provost and Director of Libraries Lorraine Haricombe, ordered the removal of about 75,000 volumes from the library to repurpose the fourth floor for a new School of Design and Creative Technologies.  Before that the dean had appropriated part of the third floor for a new maker space, The Foundry, a shared project between UT Libraries and the his developing School.

Why colonize the library space? Because The College of Fine Arts had been unable to raise sufficient funds to finance a new building. Both stages—the appropriation of the third-floor space and the complete eradication of the stacks on the fourth floor—were undertaken without the consent of the faculty and students in the College of Fine Arts. Instead, they were presented to them as a fait accompli. 

Already in 2016-17 virtually all of the journals from the library—and some proportion of books—were shipped to the Joint Library Facility shared with Texas A&M, over 100 miles away. Evidently books and journals sent to the facility are no longer solely owned by UT Austin and cannot be physically recovered. Duplicate books and journals are deaccessioned.

Now, Dean Dempster and Vice Provost Haricombe are aiming to remove the main book stacks on the larger fifth floor, currently the heart of the Fine Arts Library, to make space for the expansion of the Dean’s new School. 

The reduction of the Fine Arts Library has dealt a serious blow to the constituent units of the College— the Butler School of Music, the Department of Art and Art History, and the Department of Theatre and Dance.  Among the faculty and students the reaction oscillates between anger and disbelief that administrators in a Research 1 institution could have undertaken such a foolish and self-defeating action. 

The impact of this decision for scholarship and teaching, as well as for research, recruitment, and retention is immeasurable. Therefore we, the undersigned, condemn these actions in the strongest terms.  Further, we 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.