Following the University’s announcement late last year to restructure the Art and Music Library, students from the School of Art and Design (SoAD) and the School of Music (SoM) voiced concerns that the move may place an existential threat to the Art and Music faculties at the ANU.
An ANU spokesperson told Woroni, the current Art and Music Library, which is currently closed for remediation work, will be repurposed “into a creative study space for students and academics”.
However, students, staff and alumni have written and signed an open letter calling the University to reverse its decision, stating, “convert(ing the Library) into a generic study space, is an insult to the generations of students who have used and loved this library”. Currently, the number of signatures on the letter sits over just one thousand.
While the University is adamant that the flexible study space reflects the “preference” of students and academics, students like Anna Rapp believe the relocation of the Library, “is another method for the University to undermine the SoAD”.
Rapp, who is completing a Bachelor of Visual Arts, explains the restructuring of the Library comes under the context of “disestablishment of majors and the restructuring of (Art and Music) degrees”.
In 2020, the ANU proposed changes to several courses offered by the SOAD. Furniture, Jewellery and Object majors were removed, in addition to courses on textiles, ceramics, glass blowing, print media and drawing. The University attributed the cuts to ensuring “financial stability” for the School, which was recording an annual $2 million deficit.
The School of Art and Design was also merged with the administration of the School of Music.
The move was met with widespread criticism and protest from ANU staff and students. The National Association for the Visual Arts additionally said the cuts and the amalgamation of the two Schools into more generalised faculties would diminish the distinctness of the arts scene.
Three years later, similar concerns are being raised in response to the restructuring of the Library.
Relocating the collection:
The ANU spokesperson told Woroni that the relocation of the Library’s collection will be “carefully coordinated”, however, students nonetheless shared disappointment pointing out both academic and accessibility issues arising from the relocation.
Following the closure, the Art and Music Library collection has been moved to Chifley Library which holds a humanities and social science collection, alongside some business and economics materials.
Chifley library is located in Kambri, 500 metres away from the ANU School of Art and Design Library building, Llewellyn Hall and the nearby Ellery Crescent parking space; facilities which are designated for SoAD and SoM students.
The remaining portions of the collection will be shifted to the ANU print repository. Located 13 kilometres away from the Acton campus, the repository is designated for “journals, records and lesser-known items”, and will store the “lesser used” items of the collection.
However, as Sian Hardy explains, items deemed low-use, may not be low-used in reality. “Students use books at the library, and return them before leaving–usage is often judged by borrowing rate not actually if (students) are using them”.
Hardy, another Bachelor of Visual Arts student, says this risks relocating texts that may have been important for students and places a further burden on students with disabilities who may lose access to much of the collection due to the additional travelling and administrative requirements.
This is particularly relevant for the repository. To access material from the repository, students must first locate the requested material on the online database, fill out a form and then subsequently pick up the material from one of the on-campus libraries.
Hardy additionally explains, SoAD and SoM students had a strong tendency to browse the library’s physical collection. She says the “inherent limitations for a digital collection” will render much of the Library’s relocated collection unused.
“Students pick up books as they go”, she explains, “the browsing culture is particularly strong for (SoAD and SoM) students because a lot of the art and music information used in academia is only in classical texts”, much of which exists in physical form.
Students also raised concerns that amalgamating the collection into Chifley Library will homogenise the art and music collection with the social sciences and subsequently diminish the former’s individuality.
Consulting with students:
Students and staff claim there was no consultation before the University decided to restructure the Library, however the ANU spokesperson told Woroni, students and academics “have been consulted about what they need the most”, stating, “They have made it clear that their preference is a flexible study space”.
While SoAD and SoM students who signed the open letter cannot confirm any such consultation, a likely consultation did occur with stakeholders, including the Library Advisory Committee.
The Library Advisory Committee meets twice a year and its members include representatives from the seven academic colleges, ex-officio University Librarian Roxanne Missingham and the ANUSA president and post-grad representative.
While the recent minutes released by the Committee do not explicitly mention any possible planned closure or restructuring, the Committee discussed the lack of after-hours attendance after the Art and Music Library was made available 24/7.
The cost for 24/7 access amounted to $15k.
In May of 2023, the Committee determined that there was no recorded attendance after 8 PM on weekdays, while weekend use was “reasonable” on Saturdays and “negligible” on Sundays. In September, the Committee found that the 24/7 access of the Art and Music Library had “mixed success”, while the Chifley and Menzies Library has relatively more success.
Whether the lower after-hours usage rate is the reason for restructuring the Library is unclear. However, the University has clarified, “no staff will be made redundant”, signalling that the decision was not motivated by cost pressures.
The usage levels at Chifley and Menzies libraries are higher likely because Chifley is located in Kambri and is used by students from most colleges, and Menzies is primarily dedicated to post-graduates and is conveniently located near post-grad residential accommodations.
The minutes, additionally, do not make it clear when the attendance rates were taken, since library usage is likely change throughout the academic calendar.
Can students save art and music at the ANU?
The repurposing of the Art and Music Library into a flexible study space parallels the redevelopment of Union Court into Kambri, which materialised despite protests. Kambri at present, while a popular campus location, is highly commercialised and inaccessible.
The University’s announcement of the closure came after the end of the second academic semester, which some students have interpreted as the University’s “attempt to be cryptic” and “avoid criticism”.
In protest of the restructuring, SoAD students and staff borrowed over 3000 books from the Library. “All these books had to be individually physically scanned”, Hardy says, “it demonstrates how much students and staff care about the current Library and their willingness to use the current collection”.
Students and staff additionally attended the SoAD Graduation Exhibition, Grad Show, wearing badges and putting up signs in support of the Library.
The Art and Music Library is dedicated specifically to SoAD and SoM students, and its disestablishment may see a major reduction in the Art and Music scene at ANU.
Borrowing to capacity and public displays of opposition has evidently placed pressure on the University, which in recent correspondence with staff, acknowledged “some members of our community are concerned about the impact of the closure”. The University subsequently provided a staff feedback page.
While the University is yet to ask for student feedback, it may open up a consultation window to discuss possible options for the flexible study space, where students and staff will have an opportunity to amplify their opposition.
However, as it is with much of the University’s consultation, it remains to be seen how extensive the consultation will be, who will be consulted with, whether the University will listen to student feedback and if ultimately the Art and Music Library can be saved.
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