Update: Fate of UT's Fine Arts Library

Provost OKs recommendations to preserve, upgrade fifth floor

For months, the fate of the Fine Arts Library at the University of Texas has been unclear and the subject of much debate. Now, the reports are in, recommendations made and accepted, and the result is: The Doty Fine Arts Building's fifth floor will continue to hold the FAL collection and be upgraded to better serve faculty, students, and other users.

The fifth floor of UT's Fine Arts Library (Photo by John Anderson)

That was the decision handed down by Provost Maurie McInnis on Fri., April 6 in a memo to College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster and Vice Provost and Director of UT Libraries Lorraine Haricombe. McInnis was responding to recommendations made by Dempster and Haricombe, who, in turn, had based theirs on a report by the task force appointed by the CoFA dean in December to study the situation and explore "a range of scenarios for ensuring continued access to the Fine Arts collection."

The eight-member task force – consisting of two UT Libraries staffers, two Humanities liaison librarians, two faculty members (one from the Department of Art and Art History, one from the Butler School of Music), and two students (one undergrad from the Butler School, one grad student from the Department of Theatre & Dance) – had just three months to sort through all the complexities regarding the repurposing of the Doty Building's fourth floor for use by the college's new School for Design and Creative Technologies – a move that led to 150,000 items in the FAL collection being relocated off-site – and complete its report.

The 48-page document that was turned in to the dean and vice provost is remarkably thorough, given both the abbreviated time frame it was written under and the abundance of information and opinion circulating around the topic. It takes into account the many, many expressions of concern about the removal of so much of the collection and possible removal of the remaining open stacks on the building's fifth floor, and even includes more than two dozen excerpts from letters and comments on the matter. It also includes information about trends in usage at fine arts libraries drawn from a survey of 15 peer institutions, among them Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Northwestern, and Berkeley. It even provides a "snapshot" of usage of the fifth floor during the first quarter of 2018 (the numbers are so small as to be discouraging, but the report is quick to note that they "should not be considered comprehensive"). Most of this material relates to the fulfillment of the task force's first two charges: delivering information about and analyzing how university fine arts libraries are managing their collections and how UT's students, faculty, and other patrons are using the FAL.

Fourth floor of the Doty Fine Arts Building, renovated for the School of Design and Creative Technologies (Photo by John Anderson)

It's the third charge in which most people invested in this story likely have the most interest: the identification of scenarios for future use of the fifth floor of the Doty Building. The task force wasn't supposed to provide its own recommendations, but it was instructed to list pros and cons for each scenario. The five that are featured in the report involve: leaving the fifth floor as it is with no changes; keeping the open stacks on the fifth floor but upgrading the wi-fi, outlets, furniture, and study spaces; shrinking the collection on the fifth floor so some of it could be repurposed for the SDCT (with FAL collection materials sent to the third floor, other libraries on campus, or remote storage); moving the FAL collection on the fifth floor to an undetermined alternate space within the CoFA complex, so the entire fifth floor can be redeveloped for the SDCT; and moving the entire FAL collection to other libraries outside of the CoFA complex and expanding the SDCT to the entire fifth floor. The language that the task force uses is almost unfailingly neutral, but the scenario with the most merits and least demerits (only one, concerning the cost) is the one proposing that the the FAL collection remain on the fifth floor and that it be upgraded.

And that's the one embraced by Dean Dempster and Vice Provost Haricombe. In their memo to Provost McInnis, they recommend that the FAL collection on the fifth floor be kept where it is and that the floor be renovated and refurbished "to increase shelving capacity, improve wi-fi performance, increase electrical outlets, and provide furnishings and infrastructure appropriate for a modern research library." The provost gave it her approval, asking only for a statement of goals for said renovation and a breakdown of costs.

Entrance to the Fine Arts Library collection stacks on the Doty Fine Arts Building's fifth floor (Photo by John Anderson)

The memo from the dean and vice provost also included a recommendation to improve retrieval times for materials stored at either the Library Storage Facility on the Pickle Research Campus or the Joint Library Facility in College Station (a major bone of contention in the protests over the removal of FAL collection materials, with some faculty members complaining they had to wait a week or more for requested items to be retrieved). As McInnis had previously approved Haricombe's request for additional funding to improve retrieval times from 2-3 business days to 1-2, her acceptance of this recommendation was no surprise. Lastly, there was a recommendation for the establishment of an advisory council of students and faculty members "to assure transparent communications and to advise on all significant matters affecting collections management in the FAL." In her response of approval, McInnis stated, "I believe this is a vital step moving forward to ensure that conversations about the FAL and its collections occur in a collaborative, productive, and continuous manner."

McInnis followed up with her own observation, indicating that she sees the FAL debate as a teaching moment for UT. "Academic libraries are an absolutely critical resource for the research and teaching missions of UT Austin. As we develop a strategic vision for UT Libraries, we need to be thoughtful about how we engage the campus community and solicit broad and inclusive input." To that end, she plans to appoint a university-wide task force to look at and discuss the future of academic libraries across campus. It would begin work in the fall of 2018. If such a move could stave off the amount of conflict generated over the Fine Arts Library situation, that would be a good thing.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More UT College of Fine Arts
UT: Major Arts Commissions Announced
UT: Major Arts Commissions Announced
Landmarks will get new mural, CoFA a Spanish-language opera

Robert Faires, Aug. 4, 2017

More by Robert Faires
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Lessons and surprises from a career that shouldn’t have been

Sept. 24, 2021

"Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams" Tells the Story of an Artist
The first-ever museum exhibition of Daniel Johnston's work digs deep into the man, the myths

Sept. 17, 2021


UT College of Fine Arts, UT Fine Arts Library, UT Department of Art & Art History, UT Department of Theatre & Dance, Butler School of Music, UT School of Design and Creative Technologies, Douglas Dempster, Lorraine Haricombe, Maurie McInnis

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle