Thursday, April 23, 2009

Save Smith's Josten Library!!

Smith College is considering closing the Werner Josten Performing Arts Library as a cost saving measure. Unfortunately, it seems that the money they would save closing the library would actually be negated by the cost of moving the materials and accomodating music listening needs and theater and dance viewing needs in the main library on campus.

For those who are on Facebook there is a page you can join to get more info or sign a petition to keep the library open. Just go here: Save Smith's Josten Library.

I worked at Josten from 1998-2000 as a graduate assistant. Josten supports the music, theater, and dance programs. Josten has an amazing collection and is recognized as one of the best performing arts libraries at a liberal arts college in the country. The college is planning on moving the collection into the main library. The main library is already overcrowded and part of the collection is in a storage facility. Josten's collection of 114,000 books, 60,000 sound recordings, and 2500 video recordings are going to go where?? And how is the main library going to accomodate listening stations and listening rooms (which Josten can currently accomodate) in this already overcrowded library? Josten also has a rare book room. Josten is used a lot by other members (students and faculty) of the Five College system. Plus it is used by a large part of the Smith College community, not just those majoring or minoring in music, theater, or dance. Lots of students participate in the arts at Smith and take classes in the arts or participate in ensembles and productions, without actually being a member of those departments.

I personally can't even imagine seeing the Josten collection squeezed into the Neilson Library. All those books, CDs, LPs, scores, and videos!! And down in the basement of Josten is a nice collection of orchestral and choral scores and parts that few know about. I remember taking the tunnel under the music building that went through the Josten basement into the theatre/dance area and walking by those locked cases of scores and parts. It's a huge part of the collection, and unlike most academic music libraries, the Josten library takes care of those scores and checks them out to the ensembles that use them. So will the music department take those over or will Neilson have to do it??

Josten is one of my favorite libraries. I have worked in three music or arts libraries and visited several others, and Josten is on the top of my list for a wide variety of reasons. As a graduate of Smith, I have a personal attachment to it. Actually, one of the pictures that is often used in promoting the libraries is one of Josten. It's the same picture that is on the Facebook page. It's taken from the mezzanine level looking down into the reference stacks. I know that picture well, since it looks like it was taken from the same location as the study carrel I had checked out to me for four semesters. As a librarian and a subject-specific librarian, I am very disappointed that a college would put so little value in the needs of specialized subject areas. Listening areas for individual and group study needs of music students are absolutely necessary. Someone suggested putting the sound collection behind the front desk in Neilson. 60,000 recordings?? Give me a break!! And video viewing areas are very important for dance students and theater students. Smith's video collection is mostly dance and theater oriented. You need places for these students to use those materials. And reference work for music, dance and (to some extent) theater is very important and very specialized. Music librarians have the specialized background to assist patrons with their music needs. It can't be done by just anyone!!

There is also a very historic component to the Josten Library. Josten is the only library I've worked in that actively keeps four classification systems going. Only two of them are being added to, but there have never been plans to convert the other two classification schemes, instead all items are left as they are. So the print book collection is in Dewey (older) and Library of Congress. The music score collection is in Cutter (older) and Library of Congress. The Cutter Classification is very unique!! The sound recording collection is in another scheme. I believe the video collection is in LC, but I'm not 100% certain on that one. So the Cutter Classification is truely historic and unique to Josten. Charles Cutter (one of the "big" names we learn in library school) worked at the Northampton public library and developed this classification system. The Public Library (just down the road from the Josten Library) still uses this system (I can't remember to what extent, I wasn't in there a whole lot) but I remember that a good part of the music collection in that library was still in Cutter. There may be a few other libraries in the Boston area that have some Cutter classification, but it is no longer widely used. Josten has kept it up because of the uniqueness. This is unique to the Library world, and should be preserved. I worry that moving the collection to the main library would mean re-classifying that part of Josten's collection into LC to make things "easier" for the main library. It is practical, but would be a great loss.

This whole mess is very disappointing and seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to budget issues rather than a well thought-out response to economic problems. Please consider signing the petition on the Facebook page. For those not on Facebook you can still express your concern by writing directly to Smith College President Carol Christ at

Thanks for reading this and I hope you will consider supporting this effort.

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