Thursday, August 20, 2009

UCLA Grads on Art LIbrary Closure

Art History Graduate Students Association
Department of Art History
University of California, Los Angeles
100 Dodd Hall
PO Box 951417
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1417
August 15, 2009

Gary E. Strong
University Librarian
University of California, Los Angeles
11334 Charles E. Young Research Library
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1517

Dear Mr. Strong:

On behalf of all the graduate students in the Department of Art History at UCLA, we are writing to express our concerns and objections regarding the proposed plan to close the Arts Library. We are aware that the California State Legislature came to an agreement last month that will result n the UC system suffering a twenty percent loss of our state funding. As a result, the UCLA library system is being forced to reduce its budget by nearly two million dollars for the 2009-2010 fiscal year. As we understand it, our library system has announced a number of drastic changes and reductions. Most alarmingly, it has come to our attention that UCLA has begun to examine the “service and collection issues” associated with the decision to permanently close the Arts Library. We are outraged at this decision.

We are aware that these deep budget cuts are not the result of a decision taken lightly but are part of a larger trend. Due to California’s fiscal crisis, the UC system has announced that, among other changes, it is raising student fees by nine percent, reducing enrollment, and making drastic cutbacks in nearly all areas of the ten UC campuses. These cuts will inevitably result in a massive reduction in services and resources across the board. While we understand that in the face of this dire economic situation certain losses must be sustained, we also believe that UCLA can and ought to devise more creative solutions to scale back resources rather than making sweeping cuts that will eliminate them entirely.

There are seven degree-granting departments that turn to the Arts Library as their primary research resource: Architecture and Urban Design, Art, Design and Media Arts, Ethnomusicology, Music, World Arts and Cultures, and the department of Art History in the Humanities Division. The Arts Library is an integral part of the prestige of these programs. The Art Department, for example, is consistently ranked in the top five in the nation, and the Art History Department is consistently ranked in the top ten. No other school, program, or university of comparable caliber has been stripped of its fundamental resources in a similar manner despite equally severe budget cuts. Furthermore, UCLA is home to three internationally acclaimed arts institutions: the Hammer Museum, the Fowler Museum, and UCLA Live, a major performing arts program. These institutions also rely on the Arts Library for reference and research. Closure of the library would therefore not only impact the UCLA community, but the broader community of Los Angeles as a center for art and culture. We urge you to be aware that this loss would not be a small sacrifice but a move that would send a clear message across both the campus and country that UCLA does not value the arts or humanities. If UCLA wants to continue attracting world-class scholars, garnering prestige as one of the finest and most prominent universities in the country with Arts and Humanities programs that are competitive with many Ivy League schools, as well as continue to support a series of celebrated performing arts programs, then the retention of our vital resources is crucial.

The importance of a dedicated Arts Library cannot be underestimated: the need for such an institution stems from the special nature of costly exhibitions catalogues, artists books that are often oversized or fragile, reference journals that are often out of print, and materials that are not available online. To move the contents of the library to a difficult to access storage facility would defeat the original purpose of the Arts Library as an archive of images, a visual resource for research unlike any other at UCLA. Furthermore, we would like to underscore the necessity of retaining dedicated Arts Librarians who not only understand the special care required for artists books and related materials, but are also responsible for acquiring new books and materials and filling in the gaps in UCLA’s collection. A librarian with less specialized training cannot effectively accomplish these basic duties.

The Arts Library and similar resources are at the core of academic life at UCLA. Each year, hundreds of undergraduate students enroll in arts and humanities courses where they enhance their general education and research skills by learning to engage with the print and visual resources available to them in the reserves and stacks. Graduate students and faculty alike rely heavily on the library for teaching materials and their own research. Aside from the obvious negative impact closure will have on those of us who make use of the Arts Library daily, it will also inevitably make it difficult to provide the exceptional undergraduate education that is the current standard at UCLA. Similarly, it will impede the production of the stellar research for which UCLA is renowned worldwide. Reduction of resources will be difficult, but elimination would be devastating.

We are also concerned with the manner in which this decision is being carried out: there has been a total lack of communication between the UCLA library system and the students, faculty and staff who will be most directly impacted. It is unconscionable that the input and opinions of those that the library is supposed to serve have not been solicited at all. We believe that the impact of this decision will be lasting: undergraduates and graduate alike will be less likely to come to or to remain at a university where their teaching and research is not only undervalued,
but severely impeded. Elimination of this branch of the UCLA library system is an unacceptable affront to all.

We recognize that at this stage it is not clear whether or not the library will be eliminated completely, or whether the facility will be closed and the materials absorbed by YRL and its librarians, or whether the books will be buried in a more difficult to reach and nearly impossible to browse location such as SRLF.

Regardless of where they end up, we would like to point out that moving the entire contents of the library would be incredibly costly, particularly as YRL and SRLF are unequipped to deal with the special needs of these materials. We are concerned that closure will not in the long run accomplish its stated purpose of saving money; at the very least it seems a huge loss with debatable gain.

Furthermore, it is a drastic decision that may soon prove to be incredibly short sighted as the financial crisis may be, as many hope and believe, beginning to make a turn for the better.
As we all know, when public universities such as the University of California are under strain, the once robust emphasis on rigorous academics declines, enrollment falls, the university becomes less accessible to the public, fewer students graduate, and jobs are lost within the university community, the State of California, and the U.S. as a whole. While UCLA expands in some directions—for example, the proposed renovation of Pauley Pavilion to the tune of nearly two hundred million dollars, with a significant portion of that money coming directly from increased student fees—it contracts in others. Clearly this is an unfair situation, one that threatens the integrity of academics at UCLA. In light of these impending changes, it is our belief that the UCLA library system needs to assert its commitment to academic excellence and a diversity of intellectual pursuits even more strongly. To fail to do so would be an unacceptable addition to the long list of impending changes that will negatively affect us all.

We believe that in the face of both a differential allocation and money across the campus and the permanent elimination of certain resources, we must continually insist at all levels and at all times on the importance of maintaining the high caliber of academics that are the backbone of the UC system. When academics are not prioritized, the public university fails to meets its promise to provide a wellrounded education to students, is unable to offer a diversity of resources to faculty, staff, and the broader community. Closure of the Arts Library is exactly the kind of decision that dramatically undermines the most basic tenets of a public university: open access to information and a commitment to the belief that facilitating rigorous and diverse academic pursuits is not a luxury but a fundamental necessity.

Given the negative impact it is certain to inflict across various sectors of the UCLA community and beyond, we the Art History Graduate Student Association emphatically urge you to reconsider the proposed decision to close the Arts Library.

Sincerely,
Art History Graduate Students Association
UCLA Department of Art History

cc: Dell Upton, Chair of the Department of Art History
Russell Ferguson, Chair of the Department of Art
Chancellor Gene Block
Executive Vice-Chancellor, Scott Waugh
Vice-Chancellor Claudia Mitchell-Kernan
Timothy Stowell, Dean of Humanities
Christopher Waterman, Dean of the School of Arts and Architecture
Barbara Drucker, Associate Dean, Academic Affairs
Shane Butler, Faculty Chair of the Senate Library Committee
Robert Gore, Art Librarian
Linda Warren, Art Librarian

1 comment:

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