I learned how to read in third grade, much later than most of my peers in elementary school. As a person with Dyslexia, my path to reading wasn’t as simple as everyone else’s and it took years to be able to read and comprehend what came naturally to others. Eventually, I did overcome my learning disability, and I am now an active researcher in the study of art history. Books, which used to be inaccessible to me as a kid, are now essential visual and textual objects for my profession and practice. That’s why I felt so physically threatened when I found out about the impending destruction of the Fine Arts Library.
It was a struggle just to learn to read, and now that I could actively use books, my access to these essential resources was being pulled out from under me. Why would a University I came to because of its collections and libraries want to take them away from me? Excuses of the lack of space and the figures of falling circulation rates are not enough to justify the ousting of an essential and one of a kind collection like the Fine Arts Library.
Earlier last semester, I was walking in the stacks looking for a book on Botticelli and wandered upon an entire stack filled with books of varying quality. Each book, which would have been virtually listed as the same book in the online catalog, offered something different, and they allowed me to see what I wanted and what I needed for my research. They also led me on totally unexpected paths, giving me rarely seen works which were virtually unrepresented on the Google search of the artist. This discovery became the cornerstone of months of research and this discovery still subsequently impacts my work. In the thirty minutes it took me to make this discovery in the stacks, it would take a minimum of 24–48 hours to make the same discovery with the libraries’ proposed system of keeping books in off-site storage facilities, had I even known what I was looking for. As a researcher, the book-less, and browse-less ‘Library of the Future’ promoted by the University is simply not viable.
Specifically, as a studio art and art history major, the most fundamental part about having access to a physical book is the act of looking and analyzing a variety of images. Publishers work to give the most accurate reproduction of an artwork and these images simply don’t translate through a scan to an online format. The physicality of a printed image is vital and the act of discerning differences between an image printed fifty years ago and an image printed in just the past few years is irreplaceable.
The Fine Arts Library and all libraries on campus must remain as easily accessible, open-stack collections on campus. If we lose these resources, it will not only impact my study, but it will also directly hinder the study of all students after me. UT is putting the quality of my education and the future value of my degree in jeopardy and doing a disservice to its students by actively dissuading research.
This is not just a problem for the current and future students of the College of Fine Arts — it’s a problem for every student that comes to this university expecting to do research and finds the resources they need have been boxed up and shipped out, lost to an online catalog. There is no alternative for libraries on campus, and these spaces must remain a cornerstone to this Research 1 University.
Larsen is a studio art and art history sophomore from McKinney.