UCLA Faculty Rally to Support Endangered Arts Library

Some 20 years ago, I spent a month in Los Angeles doing research for my dissertation on early sound comedy and the vaudeville aesthetic. I have vivid memories of time spent in some of the great libraries and archives in the Los Angeles area and one of the many things which appealed to me about moving to the west coast was the thought that I might be able to dig deeper into the collections housed at USC, UCLA, the Academy, and the American Film Institute, among many others, in this great city. I was much distressed earlier this week when Janet Bergstrom, a film colleague at UCLA, contacted me with the news that as a result of a budget crunch, her university was taking steps to close down the UCLA Arts Library, which houses many collections central to the fields of film and television studies. Bergstrom solicited my help in spreading the word about this tragic decision and about the efforts of UCLA faculty members to rally support behind the Arts Library.

She shared with me this description of the situation:

The Film, TV and Digital Media section of UCLA's Arts Library (that entire library is now on the chopping block) is one of the finest and largest research libraries of its kind anywhere - books, periodicals, microfilm going back to the pre-history of the cinema, with deep international holdings. (The library holds some 160,000 volumes.) The reference room provides a place for students and researchers to consult print resources that are not on-line, and often held nowhere else in LA. The library is geared to integrating web-based research with traditional library research and special collections. Just take a look at this portal, put together by our Film/TV/DM librarian Diana King.

Unique, primary materials are housed in Arts-Special Collections (in an earlier move, the two units were separated). People come from all over the world to use the RKO papers, the Fox Studio Files, Republic, the collections of Walter Lanz, Jean Renoir, William Wyler, Preston Sturges, to name a few, enormous strengths in TV (and after), scripts, photographs, and onward. See here for a partial list These collection are likewise without a place to go, and are likely to remain in boxes for who knows how long.

Our library collections, in coordination with the UCLA Film and TV Archive, have been an area of great strengh and pride to UCLA as a research university and needless to say, crucial to the Dept. of Film, TV and Digital Media. The sudden announcement that the Arts Library would be dismantled, with no other facility on campus large enough to accommodate the collections, was made indirectly (it turned up in the librarians' internal blog, and was their first notice of the decision), with no regard for standard UCLA procedures such as consultation with faculty, staff and UCLA's Academic Senate about the impact it would have on our teaching and research mission. Please help by signing the petition put together by our colleagues in Art History, who are similarly impacted.

I would normally not get involved in the internal discussions of a university of which I am not a faculty but let's face it -- this decision will impact media researchers all over the world, who have come for many years to use these collections. I should I have wanted to expand on my early film comedy project by returning to the papers of Carol Burnett, Caesar's Hour, Jackie Cooper, MGM Studios, Milton Berle Show, Paramount Pictures, RKO Pictures, Smothers Brothers, Twentieth Century Fox, not to mention a score of television and film scriptwriters who helped to shape the movement of vaudeville performers into other media. And if I wanted to pursue my research into science fiction on film and television, I might have been able to Irwin Allen, Harve Bennett, Dan Curtis George Pal, or Gene Roddenberry.And I might just dream up a new project if it meant getting to thumb through the archived collections of Dorothy Arzner or William Wyler! If you study film, television, or radio, take a look at the list of UCLA's collections and then contemplate what the consequences for your research would be if UCLA blocked or limited access to these materials.

It is a painful cliche that when budgets get slashed, the arts are the first to go. But it is disappointing to see a place like UCLA which has always been a leader in supporting film and media studies make a decision which can have such a dramatic and lasting impact.

The passion which many have for this great collection is suggested by this powerful comment from filmmaker Stanton Kaye:

This is an atrocious violation of the filmic trust of the students, the teachers, and the Filmic greats who have left this legacy of history and dreams.... How can I remember a Kindle the way I remember Edward Craig's book on the Ubermarionette?or his son's .Edward Carrick's on the Art of the Scenic Filmmaker? What substitutes for reading the collected works of Henrik Ibsen --Book by Book? or Strindberg;etc....Who will ever know the annotated copies of Capra's films or Joseph Von Sternberg's?...Or Preston Sturges's unpublished screen plays? or the history of Victor Saville's greatest productions......or Jean Renoir's Toni?...and it's influence on GW Pabst or viceversa..or on De Sica....???/ Many of these men taught here..Ann carefully built it up as a worthy collection for the guys who hung out at the food wagon near the old army bungalows May you fear to go outside forever knowing the Film Giants might throw a reel or two down at your heads for shutting out the filmic light and history the students need so desperately.

UCLA faculty, staff, students, alums, and friends are organizing a public outcry against the potential shutting of this great resource. According to an announcement sent out yesterday, they have already collected 1,250 members to their Facebook community and 1,500 signatures on a petition they have drafted.

For more information, check out the Save the UCLA Arts Library Facebook page.