Music Library to Davis, HARC to MCFA—Some Background on the Project

I received a request for further information about the plan (recently approved by the Board of Trustees) to move the Music Library to the Davis Family Library, and then to house the History of Art and Architecture Department (HARC) in the space vacated by the Music Library. Although the CAMPUS carried this news, and MiddBlog picked up a LIS blog post on the project, these reports were pretty general. So it makes sense to provide a more detailed account of the project here.

The most important thing to know about this project is that it is aimed at strengthening two areas of the arts curriculum, and that it will unfold in multiple stages. In the first stage of the project, the music library collection will be relocated to Davis Library; that will happen some time this spring or early summer. Then, over the summer, the Music Library space will be renovated for use by HARC, and the department will move out of the Johnson Building, thereby freeing up space in Johnson for the Studio Art Program and Architectural Studies (though this program is part of HARC, it will remain in Johnson). HARC’s newly configured space in the MCFA will include an office suite, and at least one classroom. After the design for that space is complete, a program committee—including faculty from all the arts departments in MCFA—will undertake a review of the teaching spaces in the building to make sure that the classrooms adequately support the full arts curriculum. In a final stage of the project—discussed but not yet formally approved—we plan to renovate the Johnson Building, improving the studio spaces for Studio Art and Architectural Studies and upgrading the building systems.

There are several benefits to this project:

• Moving HARC to the MCFA will bring the department closer to the Art Museum, which is an important teaching resource for Art History, now one of the larger majors on campus. When the program for MCFA was first conceived, the College planned to include HARC in the building, but had to drop that part of the program due to budget constraints in 1988. Returning to that original plan now will be a clear gain for students and faculty.
• Relocating HARC to MCFA will also increase traffic in the building, which is off the beaten path for most students. The atmosphere in MCFA will not change overnight, but over time, I think we can realistically hope to see a significant uptick in the energy
• Creating more and better studio space in the Johnson Building for Studio Art is a major enhancement for that program, as the College has struggled in recent years to find adequate space for the art curriculum. The Architectural Studies Program will likewise benefit from the improved studio space.

One could say—as someone commenting on Middblog already has—that music students and people who just happen to like the Music Library are the losers in this proposition. This is true only in an absolute sense, for while the Music Library will certainly be missed, it is also true that the library’s collections and functions will be well supported in the Davis Family Library. When the Music Library was planned two decades ago, we did not have a cutting-edge, almost new library or one large enough to house music and dance materials. We do now, and so taking advantage of this resource to meet other pressing curricular needs—without constructing new facilities—is the smart thing to do.

Some have asked whether the administration surveyed students to see how they would feel if the Music Library disappeared. We did not, and the details offered above suggest why. We are moving forward to address significant curricular gaps that have been long in the making, and making full use of all our facilities to strengthen the overall profile of the arts at Middlebury without having to build costly new buildings and expand the College’s physical infrastructure.

2 thoughts on “Music Library to Davis, HARC to MCFA—Some Background on the Project

  1. Curious Faculty

    Hi Tim,

    I’m curious about an assumption that seems to have been made as part of this process — why will moving art history offices increase traffic in the CFA significantly? Or, put differently, what evidence do you have that this will occur?

    There are at least two related questions:

    First, is traffic that comes to the CFA for brief periods (office visits, classes) and immediately leaves “quality” traffic, by which I mean, traffic that meaningfully changes the social and human environment of the space? Or is it just transient traffic?

    And second, is it possible that this move might result in fewer student visits to art history faculty? As you say, the CFA is “off the beaten path.” I imagine that in many departments, easy student access to a central location such as Johnson contributes to a certain number of productive visits between students and faculty that would not otherwise take place. Will students be less likely to “drop in”? Will there be less hallway interaction between students and faculty because they are not passing through?

    It would seem obvious that this move is good for art history faculty and the museum, but at what price to students?

  2. Tim Spears

    The question of what makes an academic building a hub of activity is a good one. Why do students hang out in Bi-Hall, even though it is located on the northwest edge of campus? Classes, labs, faculty offices, Armstrong Library, interesting spaces—all these factor into the building’s appeal and make it more than just a place where students filter through

    I don’t know if Bi-Hall counts as evidence that the moves we’re planning for the MCFA will increase student traffic in that building, but the example is instructive. A building can be removed from the so-called center of campus, but succeed as a destination for students (and faculty and staff) if the building has the right mix of program and infrastructure.

    It’s important to note in this case that we’re not just talking about moving the HARC offices to the MCFA. We’re also looking at how we can hold more HARC classes there (which would include developing additional teaching spaces in the building), and how we can strengthen the connections between HARC and the Museum. HARC now has over 100 majors—I believe it’s the fifth largest major on campus—and these numbers obviously don’t include the non-majors who take Art History classes. So there is good reason to think that we can make the MCFA more of a destination—for more students—than it currently is. And I agree fully that the mark of success will not be the number of students who walk through the building, but the quality of interactions that take place once they get there.

    It will take time to achieve these goals and to reorient the student perception that the MCFA is a ways from the center of campus. But, hey, if large numbers of students are happy to walk to the athletic complex, which is even farther away, then there is hope for this plan.


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