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Closing the book at the FAC

There's nothing like the cold, ruthless, relentlessly efficient, surpassingly nasty world of the modern corporation, is there? Consider the case of Roderick Dew, who toiled faithfully for his bosses for 27 years, a man of sterling character, devoted to performing his job to the best of his ability. Last Friday at 4:45 p.m., he was summoned to the office of the big boss, fired, and given two weeks severance in lieu of notice.

I mean, how typical is that? These big, soulless corporations, so different from the cozy world of, say, small nonprofits ... wait a minute! Rod Dew was the librarian at the Fine Arts Center, dedicated to the betterment of the community through the arts.

And why was Dew tossed out the door? Because his job has been eliminated. But, er, doesn't a library need a librarian? No problem! According to FAC spokesperson Robin Macaluso, volunteers and docents will take charge, and everything will be just fine.

If, like many of us, you didn't even know the FAC, just north of downtown, had a library, a little background information is in order.

When the museum was founded in the 1930s, a small, specialized library was seen as integral to its mission. Books and reference materials about the arts would be readily accessible to artists, scholars and the public. Thanks to the FAC's founder and principal benefactor, Alice Bemis Taylor, the library had a respectable collection to begin with, and it has since become an extraordinary collection.

When Taylor died, she left the bulk of her personal library to the FAC -- a collection so important and so extensive that its description in her will is 143 pages long. And for many decades, the FAC's library participated in exchange programs with other museum libraries, thereby vastly strengthening its own resources.

According to University of Colorado at Colorado Springs librarian Judith Rice-Jones, the FAC library is a unique treasure, both figuratively and literally. In its small but beautiful space, there are thousands of carefully maintained, meticulously archived publications, books, catalogs and primary source materials, many of them unique. "It's one of the best in the world," she says.

And it's extremely valuable, as well. Several years ago, experts from Sotheby's estimated that the library, if auctioned off, would bring close to a million dollars.

Under Dew's careful stewardship, the library flourished. So why eliminate the position? Budgetary considerations, says Macaluso. The FAC board directed CEO Mike DeMarsche to cut costs, and Dew's position got the ax. "The library is still a central part of our mission," says Macaluso. "It's not going anywhere. We're committed to keeping it."

But there are a lot of rumors floating around out there, all of which Macaluso firmly denied. One has it that the collection is being shopped around to other institutions and that the FAC has asked Colorado College if they'd like to take it over. Another is that the library space is slated to become restrooms.

But leaving aside the rumors, I asked Macaluso about security in the new, librarian-less library. Wouldn't there be a danger that the most valuable parts of the collection might simply disappear? She thought not, stressing that library volunteers would be well trained.

Still, there's something about this whole situation that just doesn't feel right. Would the FAC fire all of its arts curators, announce that art remained its core mission, and expect us to believe 'em?

Let's be blunt -- the FAC library is an artifact, a historical accident. It needs to exist; it doesn't need to be in the FAC. It needs a librarian, not well-meaning amateurs like you and me. So here's a suggestion, courtesy of Rice-Jones.

Many years ago, Julie Penrose's sister gave the FAC the Carpenter house, a fine Victorian mansion on Cache La Poudre Street across from the Honnen Ice Rink. Why not simply hand over the Carpenter house to Colorado College, along with the contents of the library, and get a grant from El Pomar (the foundation that Julie Penrose founded/funded) to fix the place up? It'd be a win-win-win situation: The library would be preserved and secured, the FAC would have more space, a magnificent historic building would be preserved and put to an appropriate use, and the historic links between the FAC and the college could be strengthened. The college could locate its art history department there, and the library could remain open to the public. That's five wins right there, and I can even imagine a sixth:

Rod Dew gets his job back.

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

  • Closing the book at the FAC

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