UT Austin’s Version of “Fahrenheit 451” Poses a Challenge for Their Diverse Student Population

The University of Texas at Austin has a library problem and the disabled community might be the biggest losers of the new plan.

In an effort to find new library space to meet current trends in circulation and technology, the college has determined that the resources in the Fine Arts Library, inside the Doty Fine Arts building, must go to make way for other growing college programs.

Sort of like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” where the government burned books in order to gain control by the media and the general population was censored. While UT does not actually plan to burn the books, they do plan to have them relocated, albeit “removed,” to a remote location.

Learning Disabilities and the Arts

In 2014, UT’s student newspaper, The Daily Texan, reported that approximately 2,100 students received services through the disability department. With society’s strong push for inclusion, this figure has likely risen during in the past couple years.

For the many students who have challenges and learning differences, the removal and storage of the these materials could have a profound affect on their academic success.

According to LDOnline, art in any form, opens the door for learning and states, “The arts are intellectual disciplines – requiring complex thinking and problem solving – that offer students the opportunity to construct their own understanding of the world.” This material is vital to this population of students.

Some occupations resulting from a degree in the Fine Arts include, graphic design, illustration, photography, culinary arts, music, performing arts, film-making, communications, and media. These employment opportunities utilize self-expression and solidify self-worth for many individuals who learn differently.

Agree to Disagree 

In addition, UT’s own website addresses the importance of diversity within the Fine Arts community.  Dean Douglas Dempster, states, “The College of Fine Arts should be a leader at UT in supporting and fostering an inclusive culture that is so central to who we are and what we do.” If this is true, the relocation of valuable resources seems counterproductive to his ideas for diversity.

It is interesting to note Dempster’s contradiction. While he supports the diversity program, in his response to the uproar over moving the library materials, he mentions that past enrollment was down, but now, “For the first time in decades, with the advent of new degree programs, enrollment in the College of Fine Arts are growing again rather than shrinking. We need to find or make room for these new students, their faculty and courses.” Why then would these resources be stored off-site and packed away?

Is this really about needing more space or about slimming down the Fine Arts department?

A Noble Attempt 

Last April, UT Libraries and the Diversity Action Committee held a seminar, “Breaking Down the Barriers to Information Access,” and discussed how “they provide access to information, including disability access, open access to material, web accessibility, and post-custodial access.” The question and answer panel also discussed current challenges they face while trying to provide access.

I have not been able to locate the results of this seminar, but the fact that this meeting was held, acknowledges the need for access to learning materials and support within this diverse learning community.

A committee to form another committee 

Dean Dempster, wrote a lengthy response to the rumors of removing the Fine Arts Library and resources from the Doty Fine Arts building. He is faced with an interesting challenge. On a positive note, he has formed two separate committees; the first is to discuss and brainstorm ways in which the Fine Arts resources could be relocated to the fifth floor of the Doty Building; the second to determine where and how these new programs might be accommodated in any of the buildings on campus. Their findings should be available by April 2, 2018.

The Dean’s acknowledgement that something must be done is evidenced visually and by discussions with staff members. For instance, when referring to the students usage of the Fine Arts Library he mentions that few students “linger after retrieving material or browsing.”  He writes, “Dozens of study carrels sit empty every day serving primarily as bookshelves for reserved material. Locked special-collection files, old shelving and furniture clutter the space, and more than 10% of the space is dedicated to library offices and processing facilities.”

I wouldn’t want to hang out in a cluttered, dirty, space either. UT does not give these students enough credit. The university assumes the reason students do not stay long enough in the library to access resources is due to enrollment and new trends, when in reality, it sounds like it is an unwelcoming environment and offensive to the many students who pay large amounts of money to attend the university. Offering more user friendly space is the first step to student support.  

Hurry Up and Wait

On the FAQ’s page, UT advises that if the resources are moved out of the Doty Building, there will be a one – three-day turn around to receive the materials. I don’t know any young college student that would plan that far in advance before needing a resource for an assignment. Keep in mind that some students have transportation and mobility challenges. They need resources readily available.

The response time is “passive aggressive” and will force students to use the online services even though, Dean Dempster acknowledges, that “Browsing through stacks can be a place of research discovery, as can digital access to millions of remote items.” Perhaps, this a reference to a good learning experience for his “diverse” community.

Hopefully, the needs’ of this population of students, who should be able to take advantage of these materials, do not get pushed aside like these old seemingly unwanted resources.

Instead of burning books, UT takes a modern approach and has already sent thousands of them to the closet of no return. These resources will be packed away nicely in a storage room somewhere on campus. 

See Dean Dempster’s response here 

Fine Arts Library Task Force 

FAQ’s 

 

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