First LACMA’s film program, now UCLA’s arts library. Although the former is more high-profile, the latter is an equally precious cultural resource that’s now at risk of closure. Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Times reported that UCLA is considering shutting down its arts library and merging its collection with “an existing facility at another library” as part of a cross-departmental effort to make up for what’s estimated to be a $131 million budget shortfall.

The university confirmed to the L.A. Times that it is considering eliminating the library, which contains over a quarter of a million volumes in the areas of art, architecture, design, film, television, theater and more. An excerpt from the Times story:
“This doesn’t mean we would stop serving the arts community,” said Gary Strong, the university’s head librarian. “We would do this from a different location. The fact is that we cannot support all of the separate libraries that we currently have.”
Strong added that UCLA’s chemistry library is also under consideration for elimination. No layoffs from the library staff are currently planned, he said, declining to elaborate on any other plans. “I don’t know what’s next in terms of the budget.”
The UCLA library system supports 12 facilities on an annual operating budget of about $40 million, according to the university. A spokeswoman at UCLA said study teams are being organized to examine the operational effect of closing the arts and chemistry branches. “What will not change, however, is the Library’s steadfast focus on offering collections and services,” she said in a statement.

But many of UCLA’s faculty strongly disagree with their spokeswoman’s assessment. In a follow-up story today on the L.A. Times’ blog Culture Monster, David Ng reports that two professors in the University’s art history department, Steven Nelson and George Baker, have launched a campaign that includes a Facebook page and an online petition to garner support for keeping the library’s collection right where it is. In a letter written to University library Gary Strong and signed by over 69 fellow faculty members, Nelson and Baker say that

“It is unconscionable that this library, one that services the myriad needs of hundreds of faculty and thousands of students in some of our nation’s best departments in the arts and humanities could even be considered for closure.”

Nelson told the Times that because the UCLA library system is operating near capacity, “There is nowhere to put the books and what will happen is that they will become inaccessible.”

What Nelson probably means by the word “inaccessible” here is that the books won’t be shelved in stacks but will instead be housed in an off-campus facility, available only by specific request. Anybody who’s used a University library before knows what a huge pain in the ass that is, and what’s more–if you’ve spent any amount of time researching you know how important is can be to flip through books in person or browse entire categories straight off the stacks. And of course, what’s also being eliminated is study space, and a designated area that is named, labeled, and devoted exclusively to the arts on a campus where so much critical research and activity in these areas goes on.

This story is particularly shocking because UCLA’s art, architecture and art history programs are so internationally prestigious. But then again — so was LACMA’s film program, and that didn’t seem to matter much.