Students protest Dean of College of Fine Arts at SXSW Edu, call to save Fine Arts Library

Maria Mendez

Chanting “You can’t take our books away!” about 50 UT students and faculty members protested the removal of materials from the Fine Arts Library at SXSW EDU on Wednesday.

Members of the group Save UT Libraries picketed outside a talk by Douglas Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts, for the local education conference. The picket came in response to a current discussion about the future of the college’s library and the relocation of 75,000 collection materials that happened over the last year.

Studio art sophomore Logan Larsen, one of the protest organizers, said they decided to picket the dean’s talk “Redesigning a Modern-day College of ‘Fine’ Arts” because students feel Dempster is not listening to their concerns as he attempts to transform the college.

“It’s about the fact that he is trying to remove our library to make room for design and (the arts and entertainment technologies major),” Larson said. “It feels like an insult.”

Last summer, the fourth floor of the Fine Arts Library, in the E. William Doty Fine Arts Building, was cleared to create classrooms and offices accommodating students and faculty in the School of Design and Creative Technologies, which includes the new arts and entertainment technologies major. Along with the transformation of part of the FAL third floor into the Foundry “makerspace” in the fall of 2016, this change sparked rumors about the closure of the library last fall. 

At a town hall discussion last November, Dempster and Lorraine Haricombe, vice provost and director of UT Libraries, explained library materials were moved to off-campus storage facilities to cope with space constraints. Responding to concerns, the University created two task forces to examine housing the materials at another campus library or to find more space within the Fine Arts building.

The deadline for concerned students to voice their concerns to the task forces via email is March 21. The two task forces, comprised of UT Libraries staff and Fine Arts faculty and students, will then produce a report outlining possible solutions by April 2. Dempster, Haricombe and the Provost will use the report to develop a plan, said Fine Arts spokesperson Alicia Dietrich.

Students requesting access to relocated materials can view them within three business days, according to UT Libraries. But protesting students like Grace Sparapani said they do not want to see further changes to the FAL or other UT libraries, including the Perry-Castañeda Library.

“We want to save the FAL not just for us, but because this is a dangerous trend across higher education,” Sparapani said. “This may not be the last library to lose our books.”

Many university libraries across the U.S. are also storing or recycling more materials, according to a February Associated Press story. Of public Texas universities, UT saw the most dramatic decrease in circulation of materials from 1.9 million in 2007 to about 242,500 last December, according to the Houston Chronicle. 

Communications junior Abby Sharp said the numbers do not reflect the whole picture. Because books are heavy, she said students may prefer scanning or looking at books in the library.

“Just because we’re not checking them out does not mean we’re not using them,” Sharp said. 

UT Libraries spokesperson Travis Willmann said despite rumors about the PCL, the only campus library currently in discussion is the FAL.