Closing of VKC library reconsidered

The opening of the doors at the Von KleinSmid Center Library Monday represented a huge victory for the students and faculty members who rely on the library’s specialized collection.

In late November, Catherine Quinlan, dean of the USC libraries, announced that the VKC Library would be closed and converted into music practice rooms, citing space considerations. The current music practice facility is slated for demolition and administrators chose the VKC Library as the new destination, thinking they could easily redistribute the library’s resources to  the Doheny Memorial Library and other university libraries.

Daily Trojan | Sunil Murali

But within a week of the announcement the university reversed its decision, leaving the library intact. The fate of the music practice rooms, however, remains uncertain.

“The unresolved issue is the school of music still needs to find a space for the [Music Practice and Instruction Center] building because it’s being torn down to accommodate an athletic training facility,” said Dr. Robert Labaree, head of the VKC Library.

Thornton School of Music Dean Robert Cutietta said the Music Practice and Instruction Center is no longer effectively serving the needs of Thornton’s students.

“The practice rooms are the core, the heartbeat, of a school of music because the students use them so much, so it should be a nice facility for them,” Cutietta said. “If we are going to stay in that building, it needs major renovations, and we would rather move.”

The PIC building, which borders Cromwell Field, the Howard Jones Practice Field, the intramural field and Heritage Hall, has been on the demolition list for a long time, according to Rob Cooper, vice provost for planning and budget.

Though relocating to the VKC Library would have been a better situation for Thornton, Cutietta said the situation was still not ideal. He added that he was not surprised when the administration later reversed its plans.

The November announcement immediately spurred resistance from staff and students, who began mobilizing efforts to petition the closure.

“There was just a huge eruption of anger over the decision,” Labaree said. “There was a broad spectrum of constituents who rose up in protest in relocating our materials and our personnel.”

Tim McNally, a senior majoring in international relations,  launched the Save VKC Library website. The International Relations Undergraduate Association and Model United Nations team were involved in petitioning the university’s initial decision, McNally said. The groups soon gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

“USC is a school that is very concerned with its reputation, and it doesn’t look good for a major school to be shutting down one of the best IR libraries in the world to build music practice rooms,” McNally said.

Lindsay Patin, co-president of IRUA and a sophomore majoring in international relations and economics, said converting the VKC Library into music practices rooms was a “misallocation of space.”

“The administration could see that it is a decision that affects a lot of people in a negative way,” Patin said.

Ultimately, the student petitions and protests might have helped drive the administration to backtrack on its initial decision.

“The students felt at home in that location,” Quinlan said. “While we would have tried really hard to make sure they had their resources and services close to them, the idea of having a space that they really felt was a part of their community was important to the students.”

Professors also protested the move. John Odell, director of the School of International Relations, wrote a letter to the university librarian expressing his discontent with the initial decision.

“Our problem was the decision was made without affecting the academic mission of the university without consulting the academics, the faculty who use the library and who teach students how to use it, or of course, consulting the students either,” Odell said.

But Cooper said student and faculty reaction did not play a role in reversing the decision.

“Upon further analysis of the space, it did not meet the needs of the university for the practice rooms,” Cooper said.

The decision was officially retracted on Nov. 23 in an announcement from Sue Lewis, associate vice provost for planning and design.

“The library’s faculty, staff, collections and users can not be sufficiently accommodated in the spaces available in Doheny and 3434 Grand,” the memo read. “The VKC Library is not ideal for the uses to which it was to be put for the students of the Thornton School of Music.”

The administration is now considering new locations for the practice rooms, though Cooper would not discuss the possibilities at this time.

Cutietta said he was unaware of any alternative locations being considered right now.

Odell said he believed the university made the right decision in the end, though concerns still remain.

“The decision to keep the library intact was certainly the right decision, but I’m also concerned about the problem at the music school,” Odell said. “They do need a solution.”