December 5, 2013

No heart for the Arts: TAFE cuts threaten the survival of the Adelaide College of the Arts Library

By Miriam Amery-Gale

On Tuesday the 19th of November, Adelaide College of the Arts students rallied outside the Dame Roma Mitchell building on Light Square to protest against the closure of their campus library. Their demonstration attracted media attention and was features on that evening's broadcast of the channel seven news. TAFE management claims that it is not closing the library, but merely relocating it to the lasrger Adelaide City Campus Library situated on Currie Street in order to make services operate more effectively and efficiently. The books, however, are not simply going to be moved to the main library, they are in fact being culled in order to fit the smaller shelving area allocated for AC Arts resources. These resources consist of a 40 year old collection of art reference books and journals from all the different Arts campuses that have been closed over the years.

Although AC Arts is attached to TAFE SA, it was designed and built as a separate institution, on a different campus, specialising solely in educating students in the Creative Arts up to degree level. Courses offered at AC Arts are diverse. Areas of study include film and television; music and sound production; performing arts; technical production and design; visual arts and design; and writing. Having a separate library dedicated to these professional fields of study is of great importance not only to students but also to the wider arts community. Taking away the library not only diminishes the significance of the students' career choice, and the importance of the institution in which they study, it also reflects badly on our society's attitude towards the arts in general.

If we are serious about supporting the arts scene in South Australia, shouldn't we be maintaining funding and services of the institutions where many artists' creative careers begin and flourish? Isn't South Australia after all supposed to be the festival state? Can you imagine South Australia without the Fringe, SALA or the Adelaide Festival of the Arts?

But you don't just have to look to a festival to see the influence of the arts. Every advertisement, every poster, every book, every movie, every TV show, every song, every game, every website, every iPhone app etc has had the creative input of an artist.

Along with its library, AC Arts will also be losing its librarians. The librarians at the AC Arts Library are guardians of a vast collection of art reference books, journals, DVDs and sound recordings and have specialist knowledge about the contents of these learning resources. The friendly and experienced library staff support the students in their reasearch and provide a method of communication, more direct and personal than a computer search engine. To quote author Patrick Ness, "Librarians are tour-guides for all of knowledge." The assistance of a librarian is especially important for students with learning difficulties or those who are print handicapped. Furthermore, the students at AC Arts come from many different backgrounds and vary in age from school leavers to mature age so have different needs and learning styles. The human interface between librarians and the students makes the library a more equitable and user-friendly place. The ratio between library staff and students at AC Arts also ensures that each student can access individual help if needed. At the Adelaide City Campus Library, however, the ratio between staff and students is much less proportional, and the heavy demands on librarians will be even greater with the influx of extra students from AC Arts. In addition, library staff will not be able to provide the same level of specialist assistance, as they are not familiar with the Arts collection.

What's more, the library's current location is extremely convenient to the mode of study adopted by AC Arts. Unlike many other educational institutions, AC Arts has studio classes as well as lectures. Studio classes constitute a large amount of self-directed learning and require students to use the books, computers and photocopiers located in the library whilst classes are in session. The sit eof the library therefore has to be close to the studios.

AC Arts is a tight-knit community. The library may be small in comparison to that of the campus across the road, but that is precisely what makes it so special. The AC Arts Library provides a niche of resources for arts students in a friendly, familiar setting, surrounded by likeminded individuals. At AC Arts the library is a communal area where students meet and collaborate on projects together. The centrality and convenience of the library's current location encourages camaraderie and the development of friendships between fellow students. To quote the classical scholar Desiderius Erasmus, "Your library is your paradie."

One of the most distubring aspects of the pending library closeure at AC Arts is the lack of transparency of the process and the resulting Chinese whispers amongst upset students and staff. It seems decisions have been made with little thought to the opinions and feelings of the student population who will be most affected by these changes. As students watch their fees increase they are also observing a slow, but steady decrease in services.

The fate of the AC Arts Library is unfortunately just another example of the slashing of government funding to the TAFE sector throughout this country, with decisions made for economic reasons, rather than on sound educational and social grounds. AC Arts students believe that the changes will be of no benefit to them and that TAFE management is simply cost cutting.

"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." - Oscar Wilde

Miriam is a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Design student at the Adelaide College of the Arts.

To support AC Arts students in the fight to save their library head to their Facebook page and add your name to their online petition.