Fine arts community debates future of Fine Arts Library

Maria Mendez

Almost 100 students voiced opposition to the removal of fine arts books and collection materials at the UT Fine Arts Library, FAL, town hall Thursday.

The town hall was prompted by concerns about changes to the FAL, which has relocated more than 75,000 books, music scores and library materials over the past year.

Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, explained the college needs more space for innovation and programs in a four-page letter in October. At the town hall, students continued to strongly oppose changes to the FAL in the E. William Doty Fine Arts Building.

“Destroying a collection is the farthest thing from anyone’s mind here,” said Dempster at the town hall when students began shouting.

Since the number of materials checked out from the on-campus Fine Arts collection dropped from 216,000 to less than 100,000 in the last couple of years, Dempster said changing the library space to meet student needs is necessary.

“Circulation has crashed,” Dempster said at the town hall. “The library exists to meet the demands of these students and faculty. If we’re not meeting those needs, then we’re failing, and I’m failing as dean.”

Sixty percent of collection materials have already been moved to storage facilities off-campus, according to an October FAL memo. The materials can be retrieved within three business days upon request. Students and faculty like Mary Ellen Poole, the director of the Butler School of Music, worry that moving more music scores and materials from the Fine Arts Library to off-campus storage facilities will hinder student learning by exploration.

“As addicted as we have become to the process of Googling something, the physicality of standing next to things you did not know you would discover is critical,” Poole said at the town hall. “The issue of discovery is paramount for our students.”

Grace Sparapani, graduate art history student, admitted FAL CDs and DVDs were no longer used on campus, but she said maintaining paper collections on-campus is necessary for student projects and research.

“If I just see a list of books online, I can’t browse through it,” Sparapani said. “It’s a different experience. You’re literally just moving (collections) to a place to where they’re less accessible and not digitizing them.”

Over the summer, the fourth floor of the FAL was cleared to create classrooms and offices for the School of Design and Creative Technologies.

Grayson Rosato, theatre and dance sophomore, said he hopes to complete a future Bridging Disciplines Program certificate in design strategies. He said many students cannot register for the needed design classes because the lack of space in the College of Fine Arts limits the number of seats available.

“One of the reasons I decided to come to UT was for this new program,” Rosato said. “So while losing this browsing space sucks, I’m having to fight to get into these tiny classes because we do not have enough space.”

As Dempster explained that the University has said it will not fund the construction of a new building, students asked how they could get more University support for the college. He said two UT Libraries and a College of Fine Arts taskforce will assess how to resolve the lack of space.

“You can write to your legislators — they are actually the sources of funding,” Dempster said. “This is just the predicament of higher education.”

Editors's Note: This story previously said the College of Fine Arts offered a certificate in design and creative technologies. The design startegies certificate will actually be offered through Bridging Disciplines Program in the Fall of 2018.