Friday, March 22

Cutbacks prompt strong response

Suggested closure of Arts Library results in outcry from faculty, staff, students

The impending closure of the UCLA Arts Library has some UCLA students and faculty outraged over the loss of what, to them, is one of the university’s greatest treasures: the UCLA Arts Library.

Controversy over the library’s future began with a statement that was released to the UCLA community on August 4, in which university librarian Gary Strong said he would assemble a study team to assess the feasibility of closing the library and relocating its collection.

Steven Nelson, an associate professor of art history, said he was shocked to read Strong’s statement.

“The Arts Library is such an integral resource to many of us at UCLA. It’s the hallmark of a great university, and it was one of the things that attracted me to UCLA,” Nelson said.

Dispersing the Arts Library’s collection to other libraries on campus would eliminate the accessibility of many books, he said. The librarians whose expertise students and faculty rely on for research assistance would also be likely to leave, he added.

Worse yet, many of the Arts Library’s books would be in danger if they were moved off site, Nelson said.

“These are rare and valuable books that tend to disappear or get defaced when they go into general library collections,” he said.

The Arts Library, which spans five floors in the Public Affairs building, contains more than 270,000 volumes, including a number of rare and expensive collections.

“Scholars from all over the world come here to research, and we hear from our users that they like having all the arts material in one place,” said Janine Henri, a librarian at the Arts Library.

The library caters to a number of academic fields, including art and art history, architecture and urban design, theatre, film and television, and photography, Henri said.

Strong said it is not his wish to eliminate any libraries on campus, but a five percent cut to the library system’s operating budget means tough choices must be made.

“The library collection is a key element, but that is a different consideration from where the collection gets housed,” Strong said. “The chancellor has indicated that we will end up being smaller.”

Strong said he has made efforts to consult the UCLA community before making budget cut decisions, and added that he has “always welcomed feedback.”

George Baker, a colleague of Nelson’s and an associate professor of art history, called this claim untrue.

“(Strong) didn’t consult with faculty. We found out about this by mistake or chance, when Strong mentioned it in a blog entry,” Baker said. “There has been no official attempt from the administration to talk to us about (the library’s closing).”

On August 19, 69 UCLA faculty sent a letter to Strong in which they accused the library management of “secrecy and opacity.”

“We understand that library management, like the rest of the university, has had to make enormously difficult and painful decisions regarding reductions,” the letter stated. “We do not understand library management’s failure to communicate its decision (or the process in its making) directly to the UCLA community.”

In the letter, faculty demanded that an open meeting be held at the beginning of fall quarter to discuss library budget cuts with the community.

Wes Pinkham, a fourth-year world arts and cultures student, said the Arts library has been a valuable resource to him since his first year in college.

“My freshman year, I was writing a paper on the history of graffiti in New York, and the arts librarians were just incredibly helpful in tracking down pieces of work from throughout the library,” Pinkham said. “It allowed me to write my first big paper of college.”

Pinkham said he was very upset to learn of the library’s impending closure in Strong’s e-mail, and said he believes a number of questions remain unresolved by the library administration, including how eliminating the Arts Library would save money.

“The university is going to invest all this manpower to remove these volumes, then is going to have to spend space on another facility,” Pinkham said.

On August 18, Nelson, Baker and Pinkham teamed up to create the Facebook group “Save the UCLA Arts Library” as a means of rallying support for the library.

In four days, the group grew to more than 2,200 members.

Group members have taken the opportunity to publicly voice their appreciation for the Arts library.

“I cannot even count how many happy hours I spent in (the Arts) Library just next to the sculpture garden. … I remember paging through the fantastic collection of film volumes on silent cinema in graduate school that I still use to this day for my courses on modern Germany,” one member wrote on the group’s wall page.

Others expressed concern that closing the library would damage UCLA’s reputation.

Group members have been encouraged to write letters to Strong, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block, and other university administrators.

So far, only short and sympathetic mass e-mails from Strong have been returned, Pinkham said.

Nelson, Baker and Pinkham are also circulating an online petition to the UCLA administration that has amassed more than 2,100 signatures. Supporters include a number of prominent figures in the arts community, including the chair of the art history department at Yale University, the curator of the California Museum of Contemporary Art, and actor Leonard Nimoy.

Looking forward, Nelson said he plans to speak with the Undergraduate Students Association Council and contact members of the UC Board of Regents.

Pinkham did not rule out the possibility of staging protests come fall quarter, and said he believes more students will have become involved in the campaign by then.

Baker agreed that the movement will continue to grow as fall quarter approaches. The stakes, he said, are too high to be ignored.

“Los Angeles is the capital of arts in the world,” Baker said. “We can understand reductions, but to eradicate this library is a huge mistake.”

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