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Library transfers, art critics critiqued

Readers feedback 6.2.04 

BOOK DROP CONCERNS

I wish to correct some statements and impressions from your article "Book Drop" (May 19) about the pending Swasey-Rhees Library merger.

            • "It has become impossible to maintain the library's $425,000 budget."

            The Ambrose Swasey Library's budget for Fiscal Year 2004 is $323,753, not $425,000. This represents 5.94 percent of the operating budgets of the three supporting schools (Colgate Rochester Crozer, Bexley Hall Seminary, and St. Bernard's School of Theology and Ministry). This is not to deny that CRCDS has had deficit budgets or cash-flow problems.

            • "The school will only keep the 40,000 to 50,000 titles needed to maintain the standards required by the Association of Theological Schools."

            The Association of Theological Schools, which accredits seminaries, does not indicate how many volumes are required for seminary accreditation. ATS dropped quantifiable measures for accreditation in 1996 in favor of internally developed institutional benchmarks. Its library standard reads: "Each school shall have the resources necessary for the operation of an adequate library program. These include human, financial, technological and physical resources."

            CRCDS, in other words, must develop its own understanding and defense of the word "adequate." The ATS standard for libraries at other junctures refers to "appropriate collections" and "sufficient human and physical resources." Again, it is the institution which must interpret the terms "appropriate" and "sufficient" --- to ATS's satisfaction.

            • The proposal to merge the Swasey Library with Rush Rhees is not "similar to the one made between Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University in New York City this past March" (actually, 2003)

            The merger differs in several important respects: 1) the Union-Columbia model keeps all library resources at Union Seminary; 2) the Union-Columbia model retains all Union public services and administrative staff with a complex formula for gradually shifting Union staff to the Columbia payroll; 3) Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary are literally across the street from each other (not 2 miles apart, as are CRCDS and UR), and 4) the Union-Columbia library merger is taking over 15 months to develop and plan before implementing. (The public announcement of the agreement occurred in early 2003; the plan goes into effect this coming July).

            • If "Divinity School officials say the merger will give Colgate students the full library privileges shared by UR students and staff members for the very first time," they know better, and deny having said this. Colgate and UR students, faculty, and staff have had complete reciprocal borrowing privileges (our students are treated as their students) for years.

            Swasey has provided electronic access to digitized resources from home for years. ASL offers patrons self-initiated renewals, e-reserves, and other digitized reserves as well. ASL library patrons know this; Rush Rhees staff members verify this. Perhaps the phrase "full library privileges" refers to databases in the medical, business, and other specialized fields subscribed to by UR. It is true Swasey does not provide these; our theology patrons have little need for them, either.

            It should be mentioned that Swasey librarians, in addition to CRCDS students, drew up several alternate proposals to the administration's initial proposal, which was crafted without ASL librarians' input or knowledge. Some of our suggestions have been incorporated into the administration's current proposal; many have not. However, the conversations around specifics continue in a climate of good will.

            The eventual merger of the Swasey Library with the Rush Rhees Library may be the only way to salvage this remarkable collection more or less intact. Swasey itself is the product of multiple mergers (of libraries from Rochester Theological Seminary, Colgate Divinity School, Crozer Theological Seminary, Bexley Hall, St. Bernard's Seminary, and the Baptist Missionary Training School), and it knows the value of mergers. Seminary students and library staff, myself included, do not dispute that.

            Disagreement has been around the process by which this merger has come to be. The process has been administratively "top down." Swasey library staff (and perhaps Rush Rhees staff as well; I don't know), seminary students, and some faculty would say their professional expertise and needs were excluded from deliberations, at least initially. They would say the process has been less than effective: there would be no occasion for articles in City if it had been.

            Christine Wenderoth, Director, Ambrose Swasey Library, Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

            Editor's note: Colgate Rochester spokesperson Christine Doyle says that the $425,000 budget figure includes $75,000-$100,000 in the library's share of overhead costs: utilities, insurance, and similar expenses.

            In an interview for City's May 19 article, Colgate Rochester President Thomas Halbrooks said that students and faculty at the divinity school "do not have access to all of the materials that students and faculty at the UR have." The merger, he said, "would give us the same level of access that their faculty and students have."


ART, REVIEWED

I am writing to register my dismay over Alex Miokovic and Heidi Nickisher's review of the "Maternal Metaphors" exhibition at the Rochester Contemporary (May 19). Their failure to discuss any of the art in the show raises a real question about how they understand the role of the critic.

            While potentially interesting, their meditation on the curator's statement does not substitute for a consideration of the work itself. Any work deserves better than this, but it is an especially disappointing way to treat art as serious, as interesting, and as substantial as that appearing in the "Maternal Metaphors" show.

            Rachel Ablow, Weldon Street, Rochester

I was deeply disappointed in the tenor of the review of the "Maternal Metaphors" group exhibition at RoCo.

            The writers begin their piece with the assertion, "Group shows are rarely about the artwork." One could make the same case about this review. The writers admit that "the work itself plays a role as viewers decide what they like or what they don't like," but this statement is tempered by their failure to mention one single artwork. Although the reviewers mention two of the artists by name and reference the varying media on display, they never once engage with any of the excellent work that was the subject of the exhibition.

            The writers sought to use their review to consider questions of diversity and provocation, as well as notions of the maternal. There is nothing wrong with this approach as a function of art criticism. By failing to ground their questions in the artwork of the exhibition, however, the writers failed to explore how the artists themselves were likewise interrogating these questions in the very exhibition under review.

            The reviewers, in essence, supplanted the artists. This represents a failure of the writers to fulfill their basic contract with readers to review the work and its place in the contemporary culture. Moreover, it stands as a disservice to the individuals whose work should be the determining factor for "viewers [to] decide what they like or don't like."

            In focusing their review so much on one sentence --- indeed on one word ("diverse") --- of what was a longer curatorial statement than the writers implied, they missed the opportunity to participate in a valuable critical dialogue. Instead, they opted to consider a complex topic from a strikingly limited perspective that negated the context of the work on display.

            I encourage readers to attend this show to see the artwork and to engage with the questions that these artists themselves pose through their work. I think they will find it compelling viewing.

            Stephen Brauer, Browncroft Boulevard, Rochester

            Alex Miokovic and Heidi Nickisher respond: In a lot of ways, all artwork is not just about the artwork. It is also about tastes, agendas, and the politics of individuals and institutions that frame them. Artists and their artworks are, of course, part of those frames, but they are not necessarily what gives the viewer the "final answer" to what it's all about. How things are presented or, should we say, represented, includes the frame, i.e., the institution, which is always an integral part of the work and how it is seen.

            We thought that if we addressed the framework and the many good works in the exhibition, it would be too much in an already small forum. We totally encourage "readers to attend and see the art work" as well as to look not just at the "pictures" but also into the details that surround them and make them even more complex (e.g., social issues, language issues). These details, as well as those that make up the "actual" work, are what make it all interesting in the first place.

            (There is also the issue that all the works in the exhibit have been removed from their contexts to varying degrees, and that has very little to do with the works of art themselves and more to do with the institutional frame.)

            As to our contract with the readers: these reviewers hope to include the complex issue of how artwork is something that always exceeds its visible frame. In other words, there is always more to it than what meets the eye.


QUIET, PLEASE

A special thank-you to James F. Kaufmann, founder of the Rochester Soundscape Society, for planning the conference titled "Noise: How it Affects Us and What We Can Do About It" at the Franklin Academy. Presenters included psychologist Arline Bronzaft of New York City; Dr. James Feuerstein, Department of Audiology, Nazareth College; artists Adrienne Wilson and Dave Veslocki, who provided unamplified sound programs, and Frank Champion, meditation workshop facilitator. Mayor Johnson attended and issued a proclamation for Noise Awareness Day.

            Working together, we can improve the quality of life by reducing the high decibels that are affecting all of us negatively.

            Teresa Marie Feller, Norton Street, Rochester


WRITING TO CITY

We welcome and encourage readers' letters for publication. Send them to: themail@rochester-citynews.com or The Mail, City Newspaper, 250 North Goodman Street, Rochester 14607.

            Our guidelines: We don't publish anonymous letters --- and we ask that you include your street name and city/town/village. We don't publish letters that have been sent to other media. While we don't restrict length, letters of under 350 words have a greater chance of being published. We do edit letters for clarity and brevity. And in general we don't publish letters (or longer "op-ed" pieces) from the same writer more often than once every three months.

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